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Bears Signing of Julius Peppers Puts Pressure on Bulls to Sign Free Agents

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IMarch 6, 2010

When the Chicago Bears signed DE Julius Peppers to a six-year, $91.5 million contract, they made a number of statements.

One, the Bears indicated to the rest of the NFL that with Peppers, Chester Taylor, and Brandon Manumaleuga, they're trying to win.

A franchise that had historically been referred to as "cheap" gave Peppers the highest total of guaranteed money in the history of the NFL ($42 million).

Two, the Bears showed their fans that, between Peppers and Jay Cutler, they want to sell jerseys. This is the second consecutive offseason that the Bears have made a significant move to improve their team in an overwhelming way.

The third statement the Bears made was subtle, but very direct. Bears' GM Jerry Angelo just made life hell for Bulls GM Gar Forman for the next six months.

Consider the professional sports landscape in Chicago for a moment.

The best thing going in the Windy City right now is the Blackhawks. This past summer, the Hawks spent big money to add a superstar in Marian Hossa, and then locked up their emerging young stars Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane with significant contracts.

The Bears not only traded for Cutler, but then gave him a substantial pay raise during the season. Between Cutler and Peppers, the Bears have spent more money in the past two seasons on two players than they had in the previous decade.

The Cubs and GM Jim Hendry have been huge spenders over the last few years. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano lead a group of eight Cubs who will make more than $10 million each in 2010.

Even the notoriously frugal White Sox are spending money in ways they traditionally haven't. While their payroll is down nearly $30 million from 2009, the additions of Alex Rios ($9.7 million) and Jake Peavy ($15 million) are two contracts that the South Siders have not considered on the trade market in the past.

With the Sox adding a former Cy Young Award winner in Peavy, the Hawks locking up their young stars, and now the Bears signing the biggest free agent on the market, the Bulls are stuck between a rock the size of the Sears, I'm sorry...the Willis Tower and a hard place.

Why?

If you follow sports at all, you know that the coming summer's sports news will be dominated for a couple weeks by perhaps the greatest free agent class in the history of any professional sport hitting the NBA .

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh , Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer are just a few of the marquee names with expiring contracts, and every NBA team was trying to cut payroll at the trade deadline this year in anticipation of spending like a Kardashian this summer.

The Bulls were among the teams dumping salaries at the deadline. John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas were unloaded for players with expiring contracts to open up enough space so the Bulls could be serious players for a megastar.

Contracts are a little different in every professional sport, and the NBA has its quirks. In the coming months, the phrase "max contract" will be thrown around a lot as analysts talk about which teams can spend how much on these big time players.

There isn't such a thing as a "max contract" in the NHL, NFL or MLB, but each league has some limitations on how much teams can spend (this statement excludes the New York Yankees).

The NBA has a "max contract" to level the playing field in free agency. The most money any team can offer LeBron James this summer is 25 percent of the salary cap, which would be roughly $136 million for six years starting next year. The same can be said for Bosh and Wade, based on their experience in the Association.

Any team can offer as many of the "max contracts" as they can afford, but still have to fill a roster. In the case of the Bulls, they can afford to offer one "max contract" but will have plenty of spending room to offer another star a fairly substantial payday as well.

Derrick Rose has become of the better young stars in the NBA, and was honored with a selection to this season's All Star Game in Dallas . Playing next to Rose is certainly attractive, and playing in the building where Michael Jordan won three of his six rings has a prestige that not many arenas in the league can offer.

Wade's in Miami . On South Beach. With no state income tax. Yes, he's a Chicago kid, but coming home might not be the best move for him or his family.

Bosh plays in Canada, so he's fair game. He has already told Toronto he's not going back, and will entertain offers from all over the NBA.

He's a good, young power forward that produces and runs the floor well, so the Bulls wouldn't be the only team throwing a lot of money at his feet.

LeBron was born and raised in Ohio. Whether or not he would leave his hometown, despite it being Cleveland , is a huge question mark, and the prospect of playing at Madison Square Garden and resurrecting the Knicks might be too much for the Bulls to outbid.

There are going to be a lot of options for all of these guys this summer.

But look around Chicago. The Bears are spending money on big names. The Cubs and Sox have added some expensive players recently. And the Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the NHL and might win a Stanley Cup.

Now, the Bulls aren't only competing with other NBA teams for the attention of these players, but now they're competing with every other team in Chicago for the fans' hard earned dollars.

Six months ago, nobody figured the Bears would land the biggest free agent on the market (or guarantee him $42 million). But they did.

Forman and the Bulls now cannot afford to not land a big-time player this summer. They have an emerging superstar in Rose, but they need to keep up with the rest of the city.

Good luck, Bulls. Go get us a winner!

For more great coverage of Chicago sports, check out Tab's blog on ChicagoNow: the Daily Chicago Sports Tab!

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