This offseason, the Chicago Bears wasted little time re-signing key veterans to long-term deals. Shortly after the end of the 2013 season, the team announced the re-signings of Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings and Matt Slauson. This past week, they signed veterans Roberto Garza, Dante Rosario and Kelvin Hayden to one-year deals for 2014, via ChicagoBears.com.
Despite locking up those six players, as well as Robbie Gould and Tony Fiammetta prior to the end of 2013, the team still has 19 players set to become free agents.
|Henry Melton||Charles Tillman|
|Devin Hester||Major Wright|
|Corey Wootton||D.J. Williams|
|James Anderson||Blake Costanzo|
|Patrick Mannelly||Craig Steltz|
|Jonathan Scott||Nate Collins|
|Sherrick McManis||Zackary Bowman|
|Jordan Palmer||Josh McCown|
|Eben Britton||Anthony Walters|
The Bears will more than likely not try to target all 19 of their remaining free agents. They still have plenty of holes to fill on this team and will likely need to clear some cap space to be able to improve this offseason.
One thing that will benefit the Bears this offseason is the jump in the salary cap. Over the weekend, the NFL Network's Albert Breer tweeted:
The NFL has notified clubs that the salary cap for 2014 will be $133 million.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 28, 2014
The $133 million salary cap would be an increase of nearly $10 million per team over the 2013 season and would benefit teams like the Bears that were pressed up against the cap heading into this offseason.
While the increase in the salary cap will help, as it currently stands Sportrac.com lists the Bears with having roughly $9.68 million available under the cap. That is based off of the assumed jump to $133 million salary cap that was suggested by Breer and others around the NFL.
The estimated $9.68 million in cap space is an improvement on where the Bears originally believed they would be, but it still might not be enough for the team to overhaul the defense. In order to clear more space and find additional money, the team may need to make some cuts to free up more space.
According to Joel Corry of CBSSports.com, Julius Peppers has a $14 million salary in 2014, and his cap number is over $18 million. The Bears will gain $9.82 million of cap room by releasing him before June 1.
Additionally, according to Jeremy Stoltz of Bear Report, cutting wide receiver Earl Bennett ($2.45 million cap hit in 2014, no dead money), running back Michael Bush ($1.85 million in savings), punter Adam Podlesh ($1 million in savings) and wide receiver Eric Weems ($1.1 million in savings) would help open up $6.4 million more in cap space.
If the team opts to part ways with Peppers, Bennett, Bush, Podlesh and Weems, the money saved, combined with the projected current cap space, would equal out to nearly $26 million under the salary cap.
The increase in money by releasing those five players would help increase the likelihood that the Bears try to re-sign some of their own impending free agents.
Two of the biggest names the Bears could use the increased salary-cap money on are Henry Melton and Charles Tillman. Both finished the year on injured reserve, and according to the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs, Melton is willing to return, tweeting at the NFL Scouting Combine:
Emery upbeat about Henry Melton and says #Bears would like to re-sign the DT. Melton told me this week he'd like to return.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) February 20, 2014
There has been speculation that Melton would test the free-agent market, and there have been rumblings that Dallas could be a potential fit with former Bears defensive line coach and coordinator Rod Marinelli there. Melton's agent, Jordan Woy, told ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer, "Henry’s from Dallas, he played for [Marinelli], obviously there would be interest from Henry’s side -- but who knows at this point?”
In addition to the Bears possibly getting into a bidding war for Melton, they need to determine what they want to do with Tillman. I wrote last month about why the team absolutely must re-sign him, but there has been little said from the Bears as of late on trying to re-sign him.
Tillman did go on 670 The Score's McNeil and Spiegel Show commenting on how the team's financial state will determine his re-signing, with the station tweeting:
Charles Tillman on Bears: "I don't think that they don't want me back ... It's a matter of finances working out."— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) February 19, 2014
Along with trying to re-sign their own players, there are plenty of holes on the defense with Tim Jennings and Lance Briggs appearing to be the only two known starters in 2014. There will be plenty of options to improve their defensive line with impending free agents like Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Michael Johnson or their secondary with Donte Whitner, T.J. Ward and Malcolm Jenkins.
However, in order for any of that to happen, the key will be to clear as much cap space as they can for 2014.