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2015 Bears Salary Cap: The Current Outlook and Making Room

As we progress to free agency, we're looking at the current salary cap picture, the Rule of 51, and some of the moves the team could look at to free up some more space.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we took a look at some of the upcoming free agents the Bears will have to deal with (or not) in the upcoming offseason. This week, we'll take a look at the Bears' overall cap picture as well as some of the popular options for the Bears to make some additional cap room, because make no mistake, there's a lot of work to be done this offseason. And just like last week, we'll be using some of the contract data from our good friends at Spotrac.

(On a somewhat related note, stay tuned in two weeks for our Combine coverage.)

Anyway, on to discussing the cap!

Current Situation

While the 2015 cap as of this writing is not yet released, Spotrac has the cap projected at $142 million, plus rollover from 2014. The Bears have a rollover from 2014 of about a million and a half - or $1,545,934 if you enjoy exact numbers. That leaves the Bears' actual cap number at $143,545,934 based on the projection.

Currently, accounting for Bears currently signed through at least 2015, plus the upcoming draft class slot hits, the 2015 cap hit stands at $120,858,146, with the Rule of 51 limiting their current hit to $119,553,146.

The Rule of 51, if you aren't familiar with it, is the rule that limits hits against the salary cap to only the top 51 contracts on the team. Currently, all the draft slots would count in that 51, so three players currently signed do not have their cap hits counting against the cap (and only two would once the team hit 53).

This means the Bears have a lot of spots to fill (they can go to camp with 90 players, many of whom will be on minimum deals, UDFA deals, or other smaller deals), but they also have a little more flexibility than you might think, although a "splash" might be a little tricky to work around.

Their current projected Rule of 51 cap space (currently what matters) sits at $23,887,633, with another 36 players to sign aside from the (as of now) six draft picks. Including the draft slots, the Rule of 51 is also satisfied, so keep in mind that players will be bumped off of counting against the cap for these purposes. For instance, there are three players currently counting on the Rule of 51 with cap hits of $435,000, so a new (hypothetical) player signing for $1,000,000 counts for his million, but it's an addition of only $565,000, because the first $435,000 was already in the cap since that player was included before being bumped off just now.

(I should point out Spotrac's main summary Projected Cap Space for Each Team has a minor discrepancy from the main team page, which is answered by the direct subtraction in the main summary - it doesn't account for the salaries dropped off due to the Rule of 51.)

Just a couple of things to keep in mind as we head into the meat of the offseason. So next, let's start looking at some players who could free up some cap space. Keep in mind in most instances, we're just looking at the money freed up.

Matt Forte
2015 Cap Hit: $9,200,000
2015 Dead Money: $1,000,000
Savings: $8,200,000

If the Bears really found themselves in a bind, this is one option, as Forte is hitting the 30 barrier. That being said, he's still a very dangerous back coming off a career receiving year (and that's saying something for Forte's career), still a strong runner in space, and without any kind of established backup plan behind him.

Martellus Bennett
2015 Cap Hit: $6,125,000
2015 Dead Money: $2,250,000
Post-June 1 Cut: $1,125,000
Savings: $3,875,000 / $5,000,000

Bennett is kind of in the same area as Forte, in that he's a strong producer without much of a proven backup plan behind him. He's still in the prime of his career and still expected to produce for just a little over six million, which isn't easy to replace.

Matt Slauson
2015 Cap Hit: $3,267,500
2015 Dead Money: $1,252,000
Savings: $2,015,500

Slauson's coming off an injury at a position the Bears were playing a revolving door at last season, so it's hard to believe they'll drop a guy they just signed to an extension the season before, and a fairly inexpensive option with another two years and little guaranteed money as well. That being said, it's an option if they feel he won't come back as strong.

Ryan Mundy
2015 Cap Hit: $1,450,000
2015 Dead Money: None
Savings: $1,450,000

No guaranteed money would make him an easy drop with no negative cap implications, but just under a million and a half for a second or third safety isn't a terrible option. Jeremiah Ratliff's $1,859,375 with no dead money in the final year of his deal is in the same boat, but Ratliff might be a little more prone to staying in that case based on last year.

Roberto Garza
2015 Cap Hit: $1,450,000
2015 Dead Money: $100,000
Savings: $1,350,000

Garza's minimal dead money on a one-year deal is an option as well, if the Bears can find another option for less than the very inexpensive one and a half million. That's a difficult task.

We should also look at a couple of the implications for some popular targets, so, let's put some expensive options out there.

Jared Allen
2015 Cap Hit: $12,500,000
2015 Dead Money: $12,500,000
Savings: None

The Bears get no relief in 2015 by getting rid of an aging and not-quite-as-productive Jared Allen, aside from the roster spot. However, if the Bears keep him through 2015, releasing him in 2016 or 2017 creates no additional dead money and clears up $8.5 million and $8 million, respectively. 2015 is basically an audition year for Allen in a Bears' uniform.

Lamarr Houston
2015 Cap Hit: $6,990,000
2015 Dead Money: $9,910,000
Savings: ($2,920,000)

No. Houston's PUP-list spot is being kept warm for him, at worst. In 2016, it becomes a little more palatable to cut him if his performance/recovery should come to it.

Jermon Bushrod
2015 Cap Hit: $8,050,000
2015 Dead Money: $6,600,000
Savings: $1,450,000

The more likely of these "unlikely" moves, I'd say, but even then, it creates a fairly sizeable block of dead money to work around, and the replacement isn't on the roster or likely available for less than a million and a half.

Brandon Marshall
2015 Cap Hit: $9,575,000
2015 Dead Money: $13,125,000
Savings: ($3,550,000)

Jay Cutler
2015 Cap Hit: $16,500,000
2015 Dead Money: $19,500,000
Post-June 1 Cut: $16,500,000
Savings: ($3,000,000) / $0

We'll put these two together. Dane put together a couple of key dates on these contracts (and Houston's above) in this piece here. Houston's contract became fully guaranteed on February 3. Marshall's 2015 becomes fully guaranteed on March 12. Cutler's contract for this year already became guaranteed, plus $10,000,000 of next year's contract will guarantee on March 12.

It's hard to imagine anything gets done with these deals in the near future, as the money just doesn't match up for 2015 to equal a move. In 2016, Marshall's dead money hit becomes $3,750,000, and in 2017 it's $1,875,000. Cutler's extra vesting money in 2016 bumps his dead money hit in 2016 to $13,000,000, with the final six million of 2016 guaranteeing in March of that year, but after that, 2017 is $2,000,000 and 2018 is a measly $1,000,000. There are more specifics on Cutler's contract here, including the possibilities for additional restructuring to spread out some of this year's salary into future years. Something like that could easily be done if the team needed some additional room this year - even converting $5,000,000 to restructured bonus gives another $4,000,000 this year, although it would increase his cap hit in future years in the event of a move later.

Moving Cutler and Marshall in 2015 for the sake of moving Cutler and Marshall creates additional dead money and additional voids to fill. It just doesn't fit at this point.

All in all, there aren't a lot of options to free up space immediately should the Bears find themselves in a spot to require it, and it certainly doesn't help that last year's big contracts didn't come through.