Moves expected as the Bears need to create cap space

With the 2021 NFL Draft in the rear window, the Chicago Bears now need to get on with signing their new draft picks to contracts to keep them here for at least the next 4 seasons.

There is just one little problem, the Chicago Bears currently have the lowest current cap space available in the league. At the last count, the Bears were sitting at just over $400,000 in space, and that is before they have put pen to paper with the new guys.

I would guess that the cap space needed to sign the new draft picks alone would be somewhere between $7-9 million. In addition, they would need space to allow for transactions during the season. This means that we should expect some moves in order to make that happen.

The big question is, what will these moves be? Will there be cuts? Trades? Extensions?

We’re going to take a look at some of the candidates that the Bears could move on from in order to create some wiggle room.

Cuts/Trades

Akiem Hicks

Akiem Hicks has been one of Chicago’s best players for the past number of years. He is a dominant force up front and his involvement has turned losses into victories, he’s a huge impact player.

With Hicks turning 32 before the end of the season, it may be seen as a good time for the Bears to move on from him before any inevitable decline in play becomes a factor.

It was reported during the opening days of free agency that the Bears had given Hicks the opportunity to look for a team who would be willing to trade for him. Apparently, that never materialised. While teams would still absolutely covet his talents, they know that if the Bears have given him the green light to look for a new team, then the chances are he may be cut if no trade partner emerges.

With teams maybe less than willing to take on his $12 million deal; playing the long game in order to sign him to a more team friendly deal may prove wiser.

If the Bears were to cut or trade Hicks, they would save $10.5 million on their cap, effectively clearing enough space to sign all of their draft picks.

With the return of Eddie Goldman this season and the emergence of Bilal Nichols, the Bears may find it easier to let Hicks walk if needed.

Prediction: Traded for a late rounder or cut saving $10.5 million.

Charles Leno Jr

The former 7th round pick has started every game a left tackle for the last 5 seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018, the year after signing a four-year $38 million deal.

He allowed 5 sacks last season and has looked distinctively average as the senior member of the offensive line.

With Leno turning 30 this year and not likely to improve, the Bears may wish to move on from him. They selected Offensive Tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom in the 2nd and 5th rounds of the draft this past weekend, respectively. Jenkins is seen as a day 1 starter, and although he played primarily on the right side in college, it seems that the Bears and willing to let him compete for Leno’s spot on the left hand side. This could allow Borom to fill in a RT, but he is seen as more of a project than Jenkins.

If the Bears cut or trade Leno before June 1st, they save $6.2 million in cap, with $5 million dead cap. If they cut him after June 1st they save $9 million, with the $5 million dead cap spread over two season.

Prediction: The Bears hang onto him, for now.

Jimmy Graham

Graham is in the last year of his 2-year $16 million deal. The deal was viewed by many as pretty outrageous last off-season, but Graham has proven himself to be a useful addition to the squad.

He started 15 games last season, contributing 50 receptions for 456 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also played a huge part in mentoring the 2nd round draft pick from last year, fellow TE Cole Kmet.

With Cole Kmet expected to make a big leap this coming season, and Graham turning 35 before the season is done, it would be a good idea to move on from Graham at this point.

If cut or traded, he would save $7 million against the cap, with $3 million in dead cap.

Prediction: Likely to be cut, saving $7 million in cap space.

Nick Foles

Bears need perspective and performance from Nick Foles

With the free agency signing of Andy Dalton and the Bears trading up in the draft to land Justin Fields, it is fair to say that Nick Foles doesn’t have any chance of playing in Chicago this year.

This makes him an ideal candidate to be moved on in the coming days and weeks.

Foles has around $9 million guaranteed to him over the next two seasons in Chicago. That type of money is somewhat reasonable for a good back-up in the league, and a team like the New York Jets may have interest as Foles could be used as a mentor for Zach Wilson.

If he were to be traded before June 1st he would save $1.3 million on cap space, but incur $5.3 million in dead cap. If he is traded after June 1st they save $4 million with $5.3 million in dead cap spread over 2 seasons. Cutting him would mean negative cap savings, so a trade is the only way.

Prediction: Foles is traded for a late round pick before June 1st. Saving $1.3 million.

Anthony Miller

In Miller’s first season in Chicago he caught 33 balls, for 423 yards and 7 touchdowns. In 2019, his yards per reception went down by 0.2 and his touchdowns output was just 2. This past season his yards per reception fell by another 2.7 and his touchdown production did not increase. For a 2nd round receiver that the Bears traded up to get, it’s not really good enough.

Added to the fact that he annoyed the coaches and front office with his antics in the wildcard game against the Saints, it is safe to say that Anthony Miller is a prime cut candidate.

Miller has not made the strides expected of him since joining the team in the 2018 draft. He does however have all the necessary tools to be a solid player.

If the Bears cut or trade Miller, he saves $1.2 million in cap space.

Prediction: Miller sees out his contract, one last chance to prove his worth.

Extensions

Allen Robinson

Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson

Allen Robinson has been the best offensive player for the Chicago Bears since he arrived here in 2018, so it came as no surprise when the Bears slapped the franchise tag on him a few weeks ago.

This past season Robinson had 102 catches for 1250 yards and 6 touchdowns, improving on his output from the previous two seasons. He was also the 5th highest rated wide receiver for 2020 based on PFFs rankings.

Considering his production, it’s no wonder that Robinson is seeking a deal which reflects his contribution to a team where not many others have been contributing.

The franchise tag carries a cap hit of $17.8 million. If the Chicago Bears were able to get an extension done, then they could structure it in such a way as to reduce his overall cap hit for this year.

With Allen Robinson still only 27-years old – and compared to similar players at his position, age and production – you’d imagine that they’d like to get him on something like a 3-year deal at around $21 million per year, with a huge chuck of that fully guaranteed.

Now I’m not sure if that’s agreeable for Robinson and his camp, but you’ve got to imagine that this is something that both sides will want to settle before the deadline for negotiating with franchise tagged players passes in July sometime.

Total savings

All of these predicted cuts would save the team around $18.8 million in cap space. Added to that a few million for a Robinson extension, then the Bears will be in good shape for the season ahead. Whether any of these moves – or other moves – happen remains to be seen, but I’d expect some activity to start relatively soon.

What do you think? Would you make the same moves? Let us know in the comments.

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