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Bears Tue Mar 04 2014
With free agency set to begin one week from today, the salary cap situation of every team is under scrutiny from fans and agents alike looking to cash in on the most sought after players. An unprecedented jump in funds available to every team is expected to make this season's talent grab one of the wildest.
All season long, many front office folks were figuring a small jump from $123 million last year to something around $126-127 million this season. Predicting future year cap figures is important for front offices so they can construct contracts that leave them flexible in future years. Instead, swirling rumors early last week were confirmed by the NFL: the salary cap was rising to $133 million in 2014, and is now projected to make an even more significant jump next year.
The Bears had been doing all the right things when locking up their free agents. None of the contracts they've signed this year (barring the Robbie Gould deal inked in Week 17) have a single dollar in signing bonus money -- meaning after the early guarantees in the deals with Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, and Matt Slauson evaporate, the Bears could cut them without taking a massive cap hit (like they might take if Julius Peppers is released). This kind of restraint is a breath of fresh air in an NFL that has been known as a win now, pay later league, and set the team up with a fantastic cap sheet in future years when compared to other teams.
Instead, the entire league is now swimming in cash. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New Orleans Saints, who are all near or over the cap, have a much easier time navigating under the $133 million number. And with a huge bump scheduled for next year via the league's new television contract, teams thought to be in salary cap jail are fully released with no parole.
The instant reaction for many when they saw the new figures was probably euphoria, thinking the Bears could now go out and buy big name free agents like Michael Bennett and T.J. Ward without a second thought. But all 32 NFL teams got that money, not just the Bears. They don't have a monetary advantage over others in the league, and might have a difficult time besting contract offers from their opponents.
The one transaction the expanded cap number might enable the Bears to make is to bring back Charles Tillman. The team wants him, and he wants to retire in Chicago. There is a major need at cornerback, and it would be nearly impossible to upgrade the defense to league average or better levels without the former Pro Bowler in the fold. Sure, Phil Emery said they want to get younger on defense, but it's hard to do that all in one offseason when they conceivably need seven new starters.
The NFL is flush with cash, and the players should be huge beneficiaries. Whether or not any new, playmaking blood will be on the Bears by the end of next week is an entirely different story.