When your team has about $13 million in cap space, tying up $8.45 million in the short term is a great way to cut up the spending pool available for others. As I wrote yesterday, the tag buys time for the team and player to come to an agreement on a long term deal, with a cap hit that'll essentially max out at the tag.
In the meantime, though, the money has to be accounted for - and while it is, it means the team just doesn't have the cap space to be players for any big talents. It also means the names they do sign will be of the "buy low sell high" variety. That's not necessarily a bad thing; but it probably does mean you should put that Bears' Andy Levitre jersey off your Bears' merchandise lists.
The Bears do have methods to free up cap space - the plenty-mentioned Kellen Davis probably won't be around in 2013 with 2.5 million in savings awaiting the Bears, and Devin Hester's contract may not be around too much longer either. Not to mention a couple of potential extensions between Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings as well as a restructure of Julius Peppers' contract.
The only catch is that until any of those moves advance beyond "consideration" or "available," any cap savings are merely theoretical.
The Bears could simply be underplaying their hand by waiting to make these moves until they have a corresponding bigger move in the line, as a means of sheltering their intentions, as well as a backup plan in case those "bigger moves" just don't pan out. But, without the cap space available, that bigger move can't happen anyway.
So until you see some dominoes start to fall, don't expect a big play from the Bears this offseason.