Predicting the Chicago Bears’ 5 Biggest Free Agency Moves
Predicting the Chicago Bears' 5 Biggest Free Agency Moves
The Chicago Bears made some immediate splashes early in 2014 as they resigned kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammetta before agreeing to contract extensions with quarterback Jay Cuter, cornerback Tim Jennings and left guard Matt Slauson. The total bill for these five players was nearly $36 million of cap space with $22.5 million allotted to Cutler.
The player on the Bears with the next highest cap number in 2014 is Julius Peppers at $18.18 million. On a list of 52 defensive ends, Pro Football Focus ranked Julius Peppers No. 36 overall in the NFL last year and gave him a negative overall score. Peppers was below average rushing the passer and was below average defending the run according to PFF. With just 7.5 sacks (his lowest total since 2007) and two forced fumbles (with one returned for a game winning touchdown by the Green Bay Packers), Peppers does not look like an $18 million man.
To say they’re going to have to get creative to find ways to improve their team this offseason is an understatement. The good news for the Bears is that in general, salary cap room can be created when necessary. For the Bears, it is very necessary. The following is a prediction of the five biggest moves the Bears will make this offseason.
5. Cut Julius Peppers
This is the obvious move that you will hear anytime Bears free agency plans are discussed. There is no way around it, if the Bears want to have any breathing room to make moves this offseason Peppers will have to be cut, or at least take a severe pay decrease. After already restructuring his deal last year, I do not think Peppers is going to want to take another cut in pay, although his willingness a year ago may mean he would be willing to again make a sacrifice for the team. If he does not, he’s likely gone as the Bears will save a little more than $9 million worth of cap room by releasing Peppers.
If the Bears release Peppers after June 1, they can spread out the remaining dead money of his deal over a two year period. In this case the Bears would be able to free up a little over $4 million of additional cap space by designating Peppers as a June 1, cut ($8,366,668 worth of dead money). The Bears can do this for any number of players but the league allows teams to designate up to two players as June 1, cuts prior to that date in order to help both the team and the player plan for free agency.
4. Sign Brandon Marshall to Extension
Another way to create cap room is to extend a player by reworking his contract. Brandon Marshall is in the last year of a deal that pays him $9.1 million and has a cap hit of $9.3 million in 2014. With the success Marshall and Cutler have together, there is no doubt the wide receiver would like to remain in Chicago at least throughout the duration of Cutler’s three guaranteed years. Marshall will likely be open to a back-loaded contact that is team friendly in the first year or two in order to create as much cap room as possible for 2014.
3. Sign Dexter McCluster
Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett is currently taking up $2.45 million of cap space. For a receiver who caught two balls a game on average, that is simply too much money. Earl Bennett is a reliable receiver, however, without great size or speed he doesn’t have much of a role on this Bears offense. If Bennett does not agree to restructure his deal, he will likely be cut.
The man who can replace Bennett in the slot is the multi-talented Dexter McCluster. The lightning quick McCluster has experience lining up in the offensive backfield in addition to his role as a wide receiver and was elected to the Pro Bowl this past season as a punt returner. Offensive guru Marc Trestman would have a lot of fun drawing up plays to get McCluster involved and he would bring a new level of explosiveness to the Bears offense.
2. Re-Sign Charles Tillman
Charles Tillman is the face of the Bears defense, and while that shouldn’t matter to Bears GM Phil Emery, letting your best defensive player next to Lance Briggs leave via free agency after how bad the defense performed last year should not be an option. Cornerback Zach Bowman performed adequately filling in for Tillman, but a team can’t replace the difference-making ability that Tillman brings on Sundays. Tillman’s 42 forced fumbles are the most in the NFL since 2003, he is also the only current player in the NFL with 30+ interceptions and 30+ forced fumbles. Since 1991, only Tillman and Brian Dawkins have recorded that feat.
Tillman is a turnover machine and at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds he is also built from the same mold as the big cornerbacks the league is favoring now after the success of the Seahawks Legion of Boom. It is surprising then, that Tillman is not mentioned prominently on any top free agency lists this offseason. While his lack of mention is likely due to his age (he will turn 33 on February 23), Tillman is still at the top of his game having been elected to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012. In 2012 he was mentioned in the conversation for defensive player of the year. Even though Phil Emery wants to get younger on defense, he really doesn’t have a choice here as it would be difficult to explain how letting Tillman walk is the best move for the Bears.
1. Sign T.J. Ward
To make this happen, Bears lead negotiator and salary cap guru Cliff Stein will have to make some magic happen, but he’s done it in the past and this is a move the Bears desperately need to make. The Bears ineptitude on run defense last year is well documented and downright laughable by NFL standards. According to Pro Football Focus, Chris Conte and Major Wright ranked second to last and dead last in the league last year in run defense at No. 85 and No. 86 overall.
There were 84 safeties better in run support than both Bears safeties. Let that sink in for a moment. According to PFF, the No. 1 safety in run defense last year was T.J. Ward. Ward was also tied with Eric Berry as the third best overall safety in football this past season. This is a move the Bears need to make and I believe there is no better use of their limited resources.
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