Although Bears GM Phil Emery has said that he wants to win "now", to keep this team intact while making improvements is going to cost a lot of money in 2013.
According to Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com, defensive end Julius Peppers will earn $12.9 million in base salary next season and will count $16.3 million against the salary cap if Emery doesn't cut him or renegotiate his deal.
Peppers had already renegotiated his contract once, so asking him to do it a second time may be tricky. But a player of Pepper's caliber isn't easy to find on the open market.
However, unless he renegotiates, 2013 will probably be the 33-year-old Peppers' last year with Chicago, as he will have a cap number of $17.383 million in 2014 and $19.683 million in 2015.
He had 11.5 sacks last year and his presence contributed to Henry Melton's effectiveness at tackle. Although he averages less than a sack per game, his leaving would have an impact on a Bears defense that could lose Brian Urlacher.
Speaking of No. 54, Emery has refused to comment on his future. I expect him to return, although that is far from certain. Just based on talent alone, the wise move may be to let Urlacher walk. But his leadership, knowledge and experience could overcome any concerns about his age and injury status.
Apart from Peppers and Urlacher, Israel Idonije is also without a contract for next season. With Corey Wootton scheduled to start at one DE spot next year, Idonije is likely expendable.
Another potential issue that Emery faces is whether or not to extend QB Jay Cutler, who Emery said he wants to build around. Following the 2013 season, Cutler becomes a free agent, although the Bears could place the franchise tag on him.
Will the Bears cut Devin Hester? While I don't think he will follow through on his threat to retire, his original contract had him set to earn a $10 million roster bonus this offseason, though that was based on his being a No. 1 wide receiver, and the new bonus number has not been reported.
Jason Campbell will be a free agent, so the Bears may be looking for a new backup QB. Meanwhile, Kellen Davis needs to go. Lance Louis is a free agent and needs to be re-signed. Henry Melton also needs a new contract.
D.J. Moore, Chris Spencer and Amobi Okoye may be allowed to walk as free agents, while Nick Roach and Jonathan Scott should be offered new deals. Emery praised Scott during his presser and Roach will be especially valuable if Urlacher leaves.
If Emery wants to sign a big money left tackle—such as Jake Long—he will need to create some cap space. Unfortunately, I do not think that will happen, even if Long is available, which is far from certain, though personally I would jump at the chance to sign Long if he's allowed to go on the market.
Instead, I expect the Bears to try and fix their offensive line issues through the draft. Still, they have little cap flexibility as it stands now, so these and other contract issues will definitely come into play this offseason.
And Emery thought that finding a coach was challenging.