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NFL Chicago Bears

How The NFL’s Salary Cap Expansion Affects The Bears Offseason

Bruce Kluckholn-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, the NFL broke the news that they would be increasing the league wide salary cap. The number was set around approximately $123 million this past season; as of today’s change, it will be up around $130 million, which is about a five percent increase for the upcoming season.

Take a look back to the start of the 2000-01 season — the league’s cap was sitting at just over $60 million per year. Since then, the cap has practically doubled to where it currently sits.

This news couldn’t have come at a better time for many teams around the league. A lot of organizations are looking for ways to re-sign major pieces and others have already had to part ways with mainstays on their rosters. Particularly, the Chicago Bears haven’t made any drastic roster moves yet, but the speculation has been abundant for paths that they should take to improve their roster.

At the head of that list has been the running storyline that defensive end Julius Peppers should be released for his upcoming hit on the Bears’ salary cap. While feeling that may be a little extreme at the moment, a third restructuring of his contract is certainly warranted before you ax him from the roster completely.

This season, Peppers is set to count around $18 million against the Bears’ cap ($13.9 million in base salary, $4 million in a guaranteed signing bonus, and a $100,000 workout bonus). For a defensive end to make that kind of money, they need to put up All-Pro numbers consistently.

At 34 years old, Peppers finished this past season with 7.5 sacks. For a young player those are good numbers, but nothing to pay top dollar to an aging star for. That certainly gives the team much power over the situation to negotiate a restructuring of his deal.

Releasing him is a bit extreme at this point though, because you would be giving up the only real pass rush that the team has been able to generate recently. On top of injuries, the lack of pressure into the opposing team’s backfield was a big reason why the defense struggled this season. Defensive tackle Henry Melton is working his way back from a major ACL injury, and fellow lineman Corey Wootton’s future with the team is uncertain, as he is currently a free agent. Earlier today, the team announced that Shea McClellin would be moving from defensive end to linebacker. In my opinion, there is just a great deal of uncertainty on this defense to get rid of your top producer.

The cap increase and a restructuring of Peppers’ big contract could really make it more likely that the team can now bring back players that they need to return, or chase quality free agents. Their cap situation, however, will still make it hard to picture many guys returning at the price they will be asking for. The list of prominent Bears players set to become free agents include James Anderson, D.J. Williams, Nate Collins, Roberto Garza, Josh McCown, Melton, Wootton, Jeremiah Ratliff, Charles Tillman and Major Wright.

The realization that many players are not going to be returning to the team may be becoming more apparent as the offseason continues on.