Though the NFL’s wage cap is set to rise more than 10 percent next season, the Bears are unlikely to be set up for large free agent spending next spring.
The manager in charge, be it Ryan Pace or a new general manager, will face surprisingly limited flexibility despite potentially losing five of his seven highest-paid players after the disappointing 2021 season.
Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham become either free agents or compelling trade / release candidates after making $ 55.6 million in salaries and bonuses this season.
Coupled with raising the cap by $ 25 million (to $ 208.2 million, according to Tom Pelissaro of the NFL Network), this would make it easier for the bears to fix weaknesses in the offensive line and secondary while also having an or add two wide receivers. But Pace has made a habit of pulling out of contracts in an unsuccessful attempt to put a competing team together, and that has some negative consequences in 2022 and beyond.
Khalil Mack’s restructured contract had a cap hit of $ 14.6 million this season, according to Spotrac. That climbs to $ 30.2 million next season – a $ 15.6 million increase, leading a trend where six veterans will be on the books for $ 50 million more in 2022 than this season.
There goes the flexibility.
Safety Eddie Jackson, an all-pro in 2018 and ’19, hasn’t been intercepted for the last two seasons but is only halfway through a four-year $ 58.4 million deal. His cap hit is set to rise from $ 5.1 million to around $ 15.1 million in the next season. He’s only guaranteed $ 5 million if the bears release him, but his contract includes a nearly $ 18.6 million dead-cap hit.
Center Cody Whitehair ($ 7.1 million), linebacker Robert Quinn ($ 5.8 million), nose tackle Eddie Goldman ($ 4 million), and linebacker Roquan Smith ($ 3.7 million) have much bigger cap hits next season than this year. These increased cap hits will consume most of the savings from player departures.
Foles, who was to replace Mitch Trubisky when Pace acted for him after the 2019 season, reminded fans of his worth as he led the Bears to a 25:24 win in Seattle on Sunday. But quarterback spending remains an aggravating factor for the immediate future.
Foles had signed a four-year $ 88 million deal with Jacksonville prior to 2019 but was traded to the Bears after Jaguar rookie Gardner Minshew played well while Foles recovered from a broken collarbone. He restructured his contract to a three-year contract for $ 24 million – and cleared $ 10.3 million of capacity limits – but the deal included a $ 12 million signing bonus that was spread over three seasons.
He only has to pay $ 4 million in 2022 but has a cap hit of $ 10.67 million if he stays as a backup of Fields. If the Bears try to extend Dalton or go elsewhere, he’ll still be on the books for a nearly $ 7.7 million dead-cap hit. Dalton’s $ 10 million one-year deal included two void options that allowed the Bears to spread his cap hit over two seasons. He will claim $ 5 million in cap space for the next season if he’s not expected to stay on the team.
The Bears’ immediate outlook is more complicated than just revising the names in the company’s masthead. Pace seems to have painted himself – or his successor – in a corner.