Breaking Down the Chicago Bears' 2013 Salary Cap: Where Is Money Best Spent?
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The Bears have gone into extensive detail in finding their next head coach. General manager Phil Emery has interviewed a host of candidates and is taking his time through a meticulous process that will eventually end soon.
The man chosen to lead the Bears next season could have a very different roster than what was on the field in Detroit when the team finished the 2012 season. Coaching style and philosophy will have a lot to do with how the roster shakes up next year.
The Bears have some money to play with and could be big spenders on the market. They also have some questions to answer with their own personnel.
Begin the slideshow as we go through where the money is spent, where cuts could be made and where it might be spent going forward.
What's the Breakdown?
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The Bears stand to be one of the top 10 teams in terms of cap space in the league. While the official numbers are not out yet, the team came into last season under the cap and the top two-thirds of the roster is significantly under the cap.
There will be a small increase in the salary cap around the league next season. The number will go up to $121 million. When you combine the team's current players under contract and what they saved from last season, the Bears could be around $14.5 million under the cap.
What further helps the team is they could offer flexible contract extensions to current key players to create more space. Charles Tillman and Brandon Marshall are two players who quickly standout in that category.
The Julius Peppers Factor
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One player who could pose a serious question to the team is Julius Peppers. Back in 2010 he signed a six-year, $84 million contract. This was the biggest free-agent contract in team history. Peppers has been productive but also turns 33 on January 18.
Since coming to Chicago, Peppers has started every game with the team and has gone to three Pro Bowls. For the second year in a row, he has recorded double-digit sacks. While still very productive, Peppers will also take a big chunk of next year's salary allotment.
Peppers' cap number will hit $17.6 million next year. That is over 14 percent of the team's salary. Should the Bears want to trade or release him, it would still cost them $9.5 million.
The question becomes, do you want an aging star under contract through 2015 or do you save $8.1 million now and part ways with him?
Who's Up and Who Could Be Cut
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The Bears don't have an insurmountable list of free agents on their roster to sift through. Most of the group will not be brought back and if some do re-sign, it will not put a large dent into the cap...except for one.
Henry Melton is one of the biggest free agents on the market in the NFL. He was named to his first Pro Bowl this past season, and at the age of 26, he still has his best football ahead of him. The Bears will look to bring him back in a deal that will give him anywhere from $6 to $8 million a year.
A decision will have to be made on the other players: Zack Bowman, Jason Campbell, Kelvin Hayden, Geno Hayes, Israel Idonije, Johnny Knox, Lance Louis, Josh McCown, D.J. Moore, Amobi Okoye, Nick Roach, Chris Spencer and Brian Urlacher.
There are a lot of names on defense, which of course means a couple of those guys could come back depending on what style of defense the Bears decide to run next year. Team leader Brian Urlacher's future with the team is very much in limbo.
In order for Urlacher to come back, he will have to take a pay cut from his $8 million salary in 2012.
Other players, like Devin Hester, Matt Spaeth, Kellen Davis, Matt Toeaina and Adam Podlesh, could be released to create space.
What About Jay Cutler?
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Now Jay Cutler is under contract for next year, but you have to think the Bears would like to get something done with their franchise quarterback this year.
Cutler's cap number is $10.4 million next year. With no head coach in place, this becomes an interesting and tricky contract negotiation. The team is going to want to lock in Cutler considering what they gave up for him and their past players at the position, but they also have to make sure the marriage between him and the new coach is a good one.
Last season, the Houston Texans gave quarterback Matt Schaub a five-year, $29 million deal. That could be a comparable number for Cutler. Then again, he could wait to see what Dallas does with Tony Romo and Baltimore with Joe Flacco.
Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will most likely set the market in the upcoming months. Cutler won't get their level of pay, but he should factor in along that second tier. It will be interesting to see if the team can get this done and get it done at their price.
Making the Team Better
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The whole point of discussing the salary cap and pointing out the large amount of money the Bears have to spend is in hopes of them addressing their needs via free agency.
Should the Bears choose to hit the market hard, there are a variety of quality players out there for the taking.
The team needs a left tackle, and it is a deep market headlined by Ryan Clady, Jake Long and Branden Albert.
If the Bears look toward getting another weapon on offense, they can go after Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Martellus Bennett.
The new head coach will ultimately sit down with Phil Emery and decide what direction they want to take the team. They could choose to gut the roster and bring in a host of new names or keep the same nucleus that brought them 10 wins last season.