An initial look suggests the Chicago Bears might remain rather quiet during 2014 NFL free agency. However, there are signs to the contrary.
Phil Emery has Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler options in back pocket
No team has more in-house free agents to tackle than the Bears and at present they only have $6.6 million in salary cap space handle it with. That is not a lot of room to maneuver, let alone think about adding other outside free agents to help their beleaguered defense. However, unlike other teams so close to the cap, GM Phil Emery is in a rather advantageous position in terms of being able to create vast amounts of money if he so desired. The most obvious established method centers on defensive end Julius Peppers. His contract has become bloated, counting over $18 million against the cap. If Emery wished he could restructure the deal for an additional $6.47 million, cut the 33-year old outright to save $9.8 million or he could very well designate Peppers as a June 1st cut and rake in $14 million, spreading the dead money hit across 2014 and 2015. Then there is the option regarding quarterback Jay Cutler. His new deal allows for the Bears to convert money into cap space at their leisure. So hypothetically, if the team were to take the June 1st cut route on Peppers and then convert the largest sum possible of Cutler’s deal, their cap number would rise from $6.6 million to over $38 million. This isn’t counting the additional options of extending Brandon Marshall or cutting other big contracts like Michael Bush or Earl Bennett. It’s safe to say the Bears can get the cash if they want to.
Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett deals reflect cap savvy
The thing to remember though is that Emery has proven during his first two seasons as GM that he can work the salary cap like a master strategist. Never was that clearer than in 2013. Heading into free agency the Bears had somewhere between $10-11 million to work with. It wasn’t a lot of space in the grand scheme of things and offered the possibility of signing perhaps one quality player. Emery then proceeded to surprise everybody when he managed to land two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, tight end Martellus Bennett, left guard Matt Slauson, and linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson. That amounted to five opening day starters. Bushrod , Bennett and Slauson all were key contributors to reviving the Bears offense to rank 8th in the league while Anderson led the team in tackles and Williams was a big help before going down with injury. The maneuvering signaled that Emery does indeed do his homework and clearly has a knack for finding and negotiating with quality, under-the-radar talent. If he could pull off such a feat with $11 million, what could he possibly do with $20 million or even $30 million?
Chicago Bears fans may get a chance to see in 2014 NFL free agency.