I saved the NFL Players Association public "League Cap Report" webpage as a bookmark weeks ago, and was looking at the numbers this morning. Initially, I just laughed at the Steelers, who have 7 open roster spots but only $250K in cap room for 2014. Then, I laughed at the Browns and Jaguars who sit with over $25 Million in cap space, but no players worth spending the money on. It was at that time the caffeine from my morning coffee kicked in...
A neglected column (as far as WCG discussions) in the report is Cap Carryover. This number reflects the amount of unused 2013 cap space that each team elected to "rollover" into 2014, increasing the money available to them in 2014. Then it occurred to me that this year's Cap Room is next year's Cap Carryover, and I threw up a little in my mouth when I spotted the team that will remain unnamed from Wisconsin. That team has $14.8 Million in cap space! They will have a $10 Million advantage over the Bears in the 2015 Free Agent market.
The Bears do have $5.6 Million in 2014 Cap Space/2015 Carryover. The cap is expected to rise significantly over the next two years, but that extra money will be the same for all teams. There will be increasing pressure to hit on draft picks, as free agents will be paid more - much more. After all, the new Salary Floor specifies that teams must spend 89% of the cap over the four year period spanning 2013-2016 (They should have an average carryover of between $12-15 Million - with a total across the four years around $55 Million, based on current and projected cap numbers).
This also means that teams like the Browns and Jaguars have already (nearly) hit their carryover limit and will essentially be required to spend all their cap money in 2015 and 2016. The team from up north is managing to stay right at the salary floor after 2 years. The Bears are significantly above the spending floor, and rank 10th in terms of salary spending.
The Bears have 34 players with contracts that expire at the end of the 2014 season. Of those, Lance Briggs, Stephen Paea, Charles Tillman, Chris Conte, Roberto Garza, D.J. Williams, M.D. Jennings, Nate Collins, and Brian de La Puente are expected to start or assume the starting position before the start of 2015. There are also a number of contributors or solid backups who will be free agents (McManis, Palmer, Britton, Hayden, Rosario, Frey, etc...). Dead money from Peppers, et al, opens up about $12.6 Million
So, a $10 Million increase in cap room, along with $12.6 Million in dead money and $5.6 Million in carryover will give the Bears about $28 Million next year, with about $5-6 million needed for the Draft. Of the 8 starters listed above, who gets re-signed? Who has a replacement already on the roster? Who will be replaced in the 2015 Draft? Who will need to be replaced in Free Agency?
My conservative guess is for 1 drafted starter (DT or LB), 3 developmental players from the 2012 or 2013 drafts (CB, S, and DT) grow into starters, and de La Puente is re-signed to be our C, This leaves the Bears to find FA players to start at LB, S, and DT. 3 starters, $22 Million. I think Emery has put himself in a situation that is manageable, with a little room for any unforeseeable needs that may arise.