I make no apologies for the title of this story. For those who understand the Big L reference, kudos to you for knowing the best M.C. that nobody knows about. For those who don’t, the late, great Lamont Coleman came up in Harlem with the likes of the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, battling them both on local radio stations in the early 90’s. Suffice it to say, his career was short-lived. He passed in a way befitting of one of his songs. He was the king of punchlines, like a hip-hop version of Andrew Dice Clay. You know, the kind of punchline that Mike Glennon has become...
As we near the halfway point of the 2017 season, the Chicago Bears are starting to show the kind of improvements and growth that we were expecting from them. Draft picks and young undrafted free agents are playing to their potential. Several free agents that looked like busts, have turned their luck around. Well, on the defensive side of the ball anyway.
Offensively, this team has a few more question marks. Obviously, wide receiver comes to mind first and foremost. There is probably some work to be done on the offensive line as well. At the very least, they need some better depth there. With Mark Sanchez on a 1-year contract, and Mike Glennon being a cut candidate, back-up quarterback is going to be high on the off-season shopping list as well.
Speaking of lists, here are the biggest needs that I see for this team heading into the off-season:
Wide Receiver x 2 or 3
Outside Linebacker (EDGE) x 2
*Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are pending free agents
I don’t think that the list of needs is huge and the Bears have built some pretty solid, young depth pieces going forward. Obviously, you can always use more depth, but keep in mind that Diondre’ Hall is a nice player in the secondary who is out for the season. Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan are two more players on Injured Reserve that should provide solid depth next year. Don’t forget Cameron Meredith and Kevin White, too.
In my mind, Ryan Pace absolutely needs to sign two of the top free agents at wide receiver. I really don’t see any way around that. For my money, I would re-sign Kendall Wright too. The good news is, the list of free agent wide receivers is pretty solid. Are there any Hall-of-Fame names on this list? No, but there are significant upgrades. Adding two of the bigger names, a mid-round draft pick, Meredith, Wright, and White, and all of a sudden, the receiving corps looks pretty darn good.
Cornerback falls into a similar category, although the Bears have more talent and depth there. The issue here is that both Amukamara and Fuller are going to be free agents at the end of the season. Despite playing well at times, Marcus Cooper hasn’t shown me that he can be a legit starting boundary corner on a great defense. The good news is, you can re-sign Fuller and the list of free agent cornerbacks is also solid at the top.
The trickiest position to fill, of the big needs for the Bears, is outside linebacker or EDGE. Typically, edge defenders that can rush the passer, do not reach free agency. They are either re-signed or have the Franchise Tag applied to them. Here is a list of the free agents expected to be available, it isn’t great. The only place to truly find these players then, is in the NFL Draft.
Given the complete wasteland of depth behind Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee, coupled with McPhee’s and Willie Young’s health issues, the need is obvious at this position. My belief is that Pace will need to target this position, not only in the 1st round, but also in the middle rounds as well. He needs to add two players to the mix, preferably another speed rusher, and a power player, similar to McPhee.
Targeting skill-position players in free agency is an expensive proposition. The Bears are going to need to find salary cap space, and lots of it, if they are going to compete for the best players. According to Over The Cap, the Bears are going to have $40,710,296 in cap space based on a $178,000,000 cap projection — a $10,000,000 increase from 2017. I generally prefer to use Spotrac for salaries, so I am going to use their contract information coupled with the cap projection of $178,000,000.
The projected cap space for the Bears then, with 35 players under contract, is $43,106,196. On the surface, that sounds like a lot of room to maneuver, but consider that figure does not include Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Kendall Wright, and potentially other players that could figure into 2018. So that begs the question: who could be the casualties of Ryan Pace’s game of roster roulette?
There are a lot of options here, ten to be exact. Now, I don’t believe that all of these players will get cut, but most of them probably will. I firmly believe that all of these players either have a replacement already on the roster, or are easily replaceable via free agency or the NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at the list, shall we?
Mike Glennon: Cap Savings - $12,500,000 — Dead Money - $4,500,000
This is an almost certainty. We all knew this was a 1-year audition for other teams around the NFL, and that audition has gone poorly to say the least. Prediction: 100%
Pernell McPhee: Cap Savings - $7,075,000 — Dead Money - $1,000,000
McPhee is tricky. He is coming off of an injury and appears to be rounding into form. Personally, I can no longer trust his knees and for that amount of money, I need more surety. Prediction: 60% (Although I want to see how the rest of the season plays out)
Josh Sitton: Cap Savings - $8,000,000 — Dead Money - $666,668
From a purely monetary standpoint, this is a no-brainer. That is a big chunk of money for an aging, and beat-up offensive lineman. I believe that Cody Whitehair is a guard and should take over the left guard position next season. Prediction: 85%
Bobby Massie: Cap Savings - $5,500,000 — Dead Money - $500,000
I have a kind-of-like/hate relationship with Massie. Some games, he seems fine — not dominant, but fine — and others, he seems awful. Given that Ryan Pace tried to replace him with Rick Wagner last off-season, I feel this is likely. Prediction: 90%
Dion Sims: Cap Savings - $6,000,000 — Dead Money - $666,667
Sims has looked like a bust so far. He was known for his blocking — which has been poor — and I, like many others, thought he had potential as a receiver. So far, he has shown little and costs a lot. This looks like a mistake that will be rectified quickly. Prediction: 80%
Markus Wheaton: Cap Savings - $5,000,000 — Dead Money - $750,000
Do I really need to say much here? Wheaton has been sidelined with injuries since he got here and has contributed more negative plays than positive ones. Prediction: 100%
Marcus Cooper: Cap Savings - $4,500,000 — Dead Money - $1,000,000
Here is another tough one. Cooper hasn’t been great but he hasn’t been bad either. His money isn’t prohibitive, but do you really want to pay a 3rd cornerback that kind of money when you have Hall and Cre’Von LeBlanc on your roster? Prediction: 50%
Jerrell Freeman: Cap Savings - $3,500,000 — Dead Money - $500,000
Since Freeman has gone down with a torn pectoral muscle, we have seen Danny Trevathan live up to his contract and Christian Jones (finally) play up to his potential. Nick Kwiatkoski was the eventual successor and should return to the lineup soon. Prediction: 90%
Quintin Demps: Cap Savings - $3,666,666 — Dead Money - $666,667
The way that Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson have played this season, it is difficult to see the 32-year old (33 next season) Demps working his way back into the lineup. With a player like Deon Bush, and potentially a younger free agent or draft pick, this seems like a sure thing to me. Prediction: 90%
Willie Young: Cap Savings - $4,500,000 — Dead Money - $900,000
Willie not-so-Young anymore has been battling injuries the past 2 seasons and he will be 33 next season. This would be a tough cut at a thin position, but as mentioned earlier, they need to invest heavily at the EDGE in the 2018 NFL Draft. Prediction: 75%
That is a lot of high-priced talent either on the bench or easily replaceable. The beauty of the way that Pace constructed the 2017 roster, is what this article is all about. The ease with which he can create cap space is tremendous. Now that the draft picks and young free agent signings are starting to look legitimate, he can shed the dead weight and add the right pieces to an otherwise solid roster.
By my count, cutting these 10 players would save $59,008,332 and give the Bears just over $102,000,000 to spend with 25 players under contract. Now, all of these players are unlikely to be cut but the majority will be. I think we can fairly assume somewhere between $80-90M to finish off this roster and make a run at the NFC North crown in 2018.
Say what you will about Ryan Pace but his gambit appears to be paying off. The players that needed to perform are and the rest are easily cast aside. There were no contracts that couldn’t be easily terminated or players that cripple an organization with a massive contract. How’s that Stephon Gilmore contract looking right now?
The Pace era was always going to come down to the 2018 season. The next question is, can he pull it off?
That, however, is a question for another time.