New CBA Rule Could Boost Bears Activity in Free Agency

We're still a ways off from the Free Agency Period kicking in, but this weekend I saw something that could help new General Manager Phil Emery in his first offseason at the helm of da Bears. One of the wrinkles in last year's new CBA allows for teams to carry over their remaining cap space from one year to the next; we'll call it the Cap Carryover Clause, or triple C if you want, but regardless, this new method for circumventing the salary cap ceiling could help the Bears get the guys they need in free agency to round out an already solid roster. Let's jump to look at the details of the new rule and how it could affect Chicago and our NFC North rivals.

The Cap Carryover Clause essentially states that teams can use any cap space that remains from the previous season and spend it this year. The beauty of the CCC is that the cap amount carried over does not fall under the current year's cap limit, so a team could in essence spend well above and beyond the cap limit for the current year without having to do a lot of renegotiating with current players and pushing back balloon payments.

A simplified way to look at this is how it could affect the Bears. The Bears have $7.74 million remaining from the 2011 cap limit. If the Bears chose to, they could request to carry over that money and use it this year, without that money factoring into the 2012 cap limit. The 2011 cap limit was $120.375 million, and the 2012 limit isn't expected to be drastically different, so if the 2012 limit ends up at $122.26 million, the Bears could spend up to $130 million in cap dollars for 2012.

How would this be beneficial? Well, obviously, having more money to spend than your opposition is a huge factor. The Bears $7.74 million left from the 2011 cap is a tad more than the Packers ($5.48 million) and way more than the Lions ($1.47 million) and Vikings($1.95 million). The Bears, strictly from a divisional standpoint, would be at a huge advantage over two teams and have a slight advantage over the Packers in free agency. The Lions can regain large chunks of cap space by extending Stafford and Megatron, but the Bears have the simplest route to gaining an advantage in free agency by using the CCC.

The Bears are also in an enviable position to use the CCC when compared to a majority of NFL teams. Five teams have over $20 million in cap space left from 2011, making them unlikely to go from penny-pinchers to Pacman Jones in a year's time by using the CCC. An additional six teams have between $10-20 million dollars in 2011 cap space, which means that they could use the CCC to their advantage, but they may just utilize the space they have available. Eleven teams have less than four million in 2011 cap space, making the CCC a minor help to them. That makes twenty-two that either have so much 2011 cap space left that they probably wouldn't use the CCC, or have so little space left that the CCC wouldn't help them much. That leaves ten teams with between $4-10 that could realistically use the CCC and have it benefit them.

The main reason to carry over the cap space: if you are a team on the brink of a playoff berth or Super Bowl run looking for an edge (i.e. the Bears). Out of the ten teams that could carry over four to ten million dollars, only six teams (Bears, Pats, Ravens, Saints, Packers, and Jets) fall into that category. Obviously there are a multitude of factors that can impact a team's cap space: the Steelers are already clearing space for next year by renegotiating contracts and releasing players (they have the least 2011 cap space at $506,000), the Lions can extend guys to reduce cap numbers, and the Vikings can part ways with some of their aged big money players as they rebuild their roster. Regardless, an opportunity exists with the CCC for the Bears to splash into the Free Agency pool and round out their roster or go big (Nicks, Mario Williams, Bowe, Colston... oops, drooled on my keyboard). And if you are thinking the dollars spent don't matter: the top-five biggest spenders last year all made the playoffs. Just sayin'.

The Cap Carryover Clause is not automatic: a team must submit their written request to exercise the clause fourteen days prior to the start of the new league year, meaning that February 28th will be the last day to request the CCC. The McCaskeys have suffered from a penny-pinching image, rightfully or not, but they could signal to Phil Emery that they believe in him by giving him some extra dollars for free agency. And before you act like an Extreme Couponer at a Black Friday sale, that $7.74 million that the Bears could carryover? It could solve offseason issue #1, since that amount is almost exactly the same number that Forte is likely to be franchised at.

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