Bears' Top Contracts to Consider Cutting Ahead of NFL Free Agency
Super Bowl LV on Sunday proved that having a top-tier quarterback doesn't necessarily guarantee a title. Patrick Mahomes suffered the most lopsided loss of his pro career at the hands of Tom Brady—who won the MVP while playing the role of efficient game-manager—and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that played nearly flawless football.
The Chicago Bears have to look at the Bucs defense and think that they too could win a Super Bowl if only they had a quality quarterback to pair with their feisty defensive unit. Chicago has to be in the market for a new signal-caller this offseason, but it's likely to require some serious housecleaning to land a veteran.
The Bears are projected to be just over the salary cap.
Here we'll examine three players whose contracts the Bears must at least consider cutting. Financial savings will be the biggest factor in determining why that is, though performance and upside have also been considered.
DT Akiem Hicks
Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has been a Bears mainstay for the past five seasons. He was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and remained a solid contributor through this past season. In 2020, Hicks amassed 3.5 sacks and 49 total tackles.
However, Hicks is also 31 and is slated to carry a cap hit of $12 million in 2021. The Bears can save more than $10 million by parting with him this offseason.
On one hand, Hicks is the type of underrated defensive player who can help pieces like pass-rusher Khalil Mack shine around him. Keeping him would help maintain continuity on the defensive side of the ball. On the other hand, Hicks is unlikely to be a big part of Chicago's future and may depart in 2022 free agency anyway.
While it's never easy to say goodbye to a familiar face and a great team player like Hicks, the potential savings here could be instrumental in landing a long-term replacement for Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback.
TE Jimmy Graham
The Bears added former Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham last offseason, and the one-time rival proved to be a valuable asset in the red zone.
Graham hauled in eight touchdown receptions this past season and helped mentor rookie second-round pick Cole Kmet in the nuances of being an NFL tight end.
"The kid really has unlimited potential, and I'm excited to see where he's headed, and hopefully I can still continue to help him get there," Graham said of Kmet on Countdown to Kickoff (h/t Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire).
However, Graham wasn't a major component of the passing game between the 20s and finished with just 456 yards on 50 receptions.
While there would be value in keeping Graham for another season, Chicago could save $7 million in cap space by dumping the final year of his contract. This would require the Bears eating $3 million in dead money, but the cap savings could be hard to pass up.
Given Chicago's need for cap room, it's probably time to move on from Graham and to embrace Kmet as the team's top receiving tight end.
CB Teez Tabor
Cornerback Teez Tabor joined the Bears practice squad in December and signed a futures contract with the team following the season. While he's set to carry a cap hit of just $920,000 in 2021, there's little reason for Chicago to keep him.
Tabor was a bust for the rival Detroit Lions as a second-round pick out of Florida. He hasn't appeared in an NFL game since the 2018 season and has only logged five games in his pro career.
It made some sense for the Bears to have Tabor on their expanded practice squad while chasing the postseason in the pandemic-affected 2020 campaign. However, Chicago should be able to find either a more proven or more promising practice squad option.
Every cap dollar is going to be valuable for the Bears as they look to find their next signal-caller. Saving nearly $1 million by moving on from Tabor could be huge.
Contract and cap information via Spotrac.