Bears' Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders
The Chicago Bears have made the decision to run it back with head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace in 2021. Now Chicago's focus must be on improving a roster that went 8-8 in 2020 and, most importantly, finding a quality answer at the quarterback position.
Bringing back Mitchell Trubisky is an option, but, presumably, the Bears would prefer to find an upgrade under center. Whether Chicago makes the right decision at the game's most important position remains to be seen, but some in the Chicago media aren't optimistic.
"Expect the worst. Be pleasantly surprised by anything else," Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times recently wrote.
There's more to be done than just solidifying the quarterback position and adding a few new pieces, though. The Bears will also have to address their own pending free agents, both unrestricted and restricted.
Here, you'll find an in-depth look at Chicago's top candidates for the franchise tag and for restricted-free-agent (RFA) contract tenders.
On Tags, Tenders and Chicago's Salary-Cap Situation
Before we get into specific players, it's worth explaining how the franchise tag and RFA tenders work, along with Chicago's current cap situation (if you're familiar with how tags and tenders work, feel free to skip to the bottom of this page for team specifics).
The franchise tag is a tool utilized to keep players in place without the use of a long-term deal. This can benefit a team that is unsure about a player's future or a team looking to keep a player off the market while a long-term deal is negotiated.
The tag comes in three forms—non-exclusive, exclusive and the transition tag—and can only be used on one player per team. The exclusive tag keeps a player off the market altogether, while other teams can negotiate with a player on the non-exclusive or transition tag. If a player with the non-exclusive tag signs elsewhere, his team receives two first-round picks as compensation. A team has the right of first refusal on a transition-tagged player but receives nothing as compensation if he leaves.
In terms of cost, the tags are as follows. The exclusive franchise tag costs an average of the five top salaries at the players' position or 120 percent of the offered player's current salary, whichever is greater. The non-exclusive tag cost the average of the position's top five cap-hit percentages over a five-year period applied to the current cap. The transition tag costs the same cap percentage but applied to the top 10 salaries at the position over five years.
In short, a shrinking 2021 salary cap may cause non-exclusive and transition tags to be cheaper, but they're still not going to be cheap.
RFA tenders have a sliding salary scale—full details can be found at NFL.com—but essentially lock in a player with three accrued NFL seasons for Year 4. If another team signs the player to an offer sheet and the team that tendered the player does not match, it receives corresponding compensation—a player given a second-round tender, for example, brings a second-round pick in return.
Tenders come in four basic forms, first-round, second-round, original-round and right-of-first-refusal.
RFA tenders aren't nearly as expensive as tags, but they could still prove problematic for a team like Chicago. As of now, the Bears are projected to be just a over $500,000 over the salary cap. If Chicago is going to retain any of the players on this list, it's going to have some salary-clearing work to do.
The Franchise Tag
Given the Bears' financial situation, there are really only a couple of viable candidates for the franchise tag. Again, Chicago will have to create a substantial amount of cap space to use the tag.
One potential option is Trubisky. However, this is a move that would only make sense if Chicago is inclined to give the North Carolina product one more chance to prove himself, the Bears are uninterested in signing him to a long-term deal and the team are worried that another team will sign him.
It's highly unlikely that all three factors hold true for Chicago.
The more likely franchise-tag candidate is wideout Allen Robinson II, who amassed 1,250 receiving yards in 2020 despite getting inconsistent play from Trubisky and Nick Foles at quarterback. The Bears should be interested in signing Robinson to a long-term deal, but they don't necessarily have the cap space to enter a bidding war on the open market.
"Robinson is looking for top wide receiver dollars. Chicago values Robinson but obviously not at that price," ESPN's Jeff Dickerson wrote.
This makes the franchise tag a logical option, if Chicago can free up enough cap space to utilize it.
This is a big "if," though, and it won't be a shock if Chicago doesn't use any version of the franchise tag this offseason.
Restricted Free Agents
The Bears only have two pending restricted free agents currently on the roster—wideout DeAndre Carter and kicker Eddy Pineiro. Neither of the two appears to be a heavy favorite for a RFA tender.
Carter was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Sacramento State by the Baltimore Ravens back in 2015. He didn't arrive in Chicago until November of this past season, when he was claimed off waivers from the Houston Texans.
Carter appeared in only four games for the Bears in 2020 and produced a mere four catches for 30 yards. The right-of-first-refusal-tender cost roughly $2 million last offseason, and it feels unlikely that Chicago would want to retain Carter at that price.
Pineiro didn't play in 2020 because of a groin injury, but the Bears thought highly enough of him to keep him on IR all season. There's a slim chance that Chicago tenders Pineiro and allows him to compete with Cairo Santos in training camp.
However, Santos was mostly reliable in 2020. He made 30 of 32 field-goal attempts and all but one point-after try. He's set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the Bears would likely prefer to invest in Santos than roll the dice on another kicking competition.
*Cap and contract information via Spotrac.