The Chicago Bears front office has been busy inking contracts the past week as they signed Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Robbie Gould, Matt Slauson and Tony Fiammetta to multiple-year deals. The Bears still have a long list of their own free agents to consider, including Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, James Anderson and Roberto Garza.
But what about the players who are still under contract?
Should the Bears part ways with Julius Peppers? What about Shea McClellin, Adam Podlesh and Chris Conte—three players who posted underwhelming numbers in 2013? Do the Bears gain from cutting ties with them?
In the following slideshow you'll see the salary cap implications that will help you determine the answers to those questions.
Julius Peppers’ contract has already been restructured twice; in both cases the renegotiation freed up cap space in the short term by backloading Peppers’ payment schedule. The result: Peppers’ contract will count $18.2 and $20.7 million against the cap in 2014 and 2015 respectively, should the Bears decide to stick with him for the remainder of the deal.
Bears GM Phil Emery will have to think long and hard about whether the soon-to-be 34-year-old defensive end is still worth that kind of money. If the Bears cut him, they would still owe him $8.4 million, but the difference would save the team $9.8 million in 2014 and $20.7 million in 2015.
From purely a financial standpoint, the question is: Can the Bears find a better defensive end for less than $30.5 million over two years? If the answer is “yes,” cutting Peppers is the right move.
Shea McClellin, going into the third year of a four-year deal, is slated to count $2.25 million against the salary cap. Rated as the second-worst 4-3 defensive end by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), there's little confidence in Chicago that the former first round pick can turn it around in the Bears’ defensive scheme.
Cutting him doesn’t appear to be the answer, though. Because the majority of his total salary came in the form of a $4.45 million signing bonus (all of which is guaranteed and pro-rated over the duration of the contract), the Bears still owe him more than they’d gain if they cut him. In fact, they’d lose $1.9 million by releasing him.
So instead what Bears fans may see in 2014 is less of McClellin at defensive end and more of him at linebacker. Or the Bears may look to trade him to a team that runs a 3-4 defense. Back in October, Brian Urlacher, per Paul Roumeliotis of csnchicago.com, speculated that McClellin’s skills are better suited to either middle linebacker or outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Since signing a five-year, $10 million contract in 2011, Adam Podlesh’s punting average has fallen from 43.9 to 42.0 to 40.6 from 2011 to 2013. His net average has fallen from 40.4 to 39.4 to 37.9 in that same span. He ranked 33rd in punting average and 29th in net average this year, all according to pro-football-reference.com.
His contract counts $1.825 million against the cap in 2014. According to overthecap.com, of all punters, Podlesh earns the 12th biggest paycheck per year. Should the Bears cut him, they would save $1.025 million, which perhaps would be enough to land them a replacement.
Entering the final year of a four-year deal, Chris Conte is scheduled to count $788,400 against the cap. Cutting Conte would save the Bears $655,000. By NFL standards, that’s not a lot of cash, so in determining what to do with Conte, the main talking point among Emery and the coaching staff will likely be his performance and not his contract.
Conte ranked 82nd out of 86 safeties in 2013, according to PFF. However, in 2011 and 2012 Conte was much closer to the middle of the pack, ranking 43rd and 56th respectively.
The Bears’ other starting safety, Major Wright, ranked 55th, 23rd and 86th in that three year span. The Bears' front office may cut Wright, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and let Conte play out the duration of his contract. Or they may decide to roll out a brand new safety tandem in 2014.