The Chicago Bears season ended on a very down note, but as every season ends a new offseason begins, and new hope arises. Yet many fans, including myself, have been skeptical that Chicago Bears’ GM Phil Emery has enough cap room to make a real difference this offseason. With so many of their own free agents possibly leaving, NFL free agency knocking on the door, and the NFL draft just around the bend, Emery and Head Coach Marc Trestman have a lot of decisions to make. Luckily those decisions will be made with millions more in cap space.
It was recently announced that each team in the NFL will have a player salary cap of $133 million for the 2014 season. Being $6.7 above the original 2014 projected cap amount of $126.3 million and $10 million above the 2013 cap, the Bears breath a little easier this offseason. While this isn’t the cure all to Chicago’s roster issues, but it does provide some necessary spending money.
After Emery issued a few large long term contracts just after New Years, the Chicago Bears personnel moves became almost non-existent. Earlier this week with rumors of the cap possibly being higher than expected, Emery began to resign some of his own free agents. C Roberto Garza, TE Dante Rosario, and CB Kelvin Hayden all have been given one year deals. While these players begin the process of filling out the roster, there are still many hard decisions involving the roster and the cap.
Before the additional cap room was announced, it seemed a forgone conclusion that DE Julius Peppers would be cut, along with his $18.18 million cap number. Even though Peppers carries $8.3 million in dead money, it would still open up over $9 million in cap space. Yet Trestman and Emery have both been vocal about their disappointment with the defense while still being clear that Julius is a very valuable member of the team. If you read between the lines of Emery’s press conferences, having already restructured Peppers’ contract twice, neither restructuring contract again or cutting him are positive options. Here’s hoping that this once dominant defensive end can be the playmaker we all want him to be.
Another core player of the defense that would be sorely missed but hard to afford is CB Charles Tillman. Though hurt for much of last season, Tillman has proven to be one of the best cover corners in the NFL. It seems I have been watching Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson get frustrated by the excellent coverage skills of Tillman for many years. He also brings a whole new level of excellence when it comes to punching out the ball while tackling. While before there was little to no chance of the Bears having the money to resign Tillman, perhaps now there is now enough money for both sides to meet in the middle.
Yet these are only two of the many players have their eye on. Chicago has decisions to make on players like PR Devin Hester and HB Michael Bush, as well as many other players from their team. There are also many potential free agents that may become available which could change the playing field drastically. If Chicago picked up a player like Seattle’s DE Michael Bennett, it would be very unlikely Chicago would keep Peppers. If the Bears’ old head coach Lovie Smith, now with Tampa Bay, wanted to get in a bidding war with Chicago for Tillman, Emery is not likely to budge much higher and would let Tillman depart. For many of these situations it is a game of wait and see what the other teams do. Throw all of that in with the chaos of trying to identify quality college players available in this year’s NFL Draft, and you can easily imagine that everyone in Chicago’s front office is putting in lots of overtime.
Phil Emery and company have many hard decisions to make this offseason and everything they do will play a role in shaping the identity of the Chicago Bears going forward for years to come. While I have believed in Phil Emery from the beginning, I believe the Bears organization now has a little more to give him to work with. With the cap being announced as high as it was, many dominoes have been set in motion around the league, and I sure we are all very interested which people will and will not land in Chicago for the 2014 NFL season.