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The State of the Bears: Commentary

The next GM for Chicago is going to have to rebuild a team that is missing starters at multiple positions with less cap room than normal and with just over half of the draft power that was spent on Kevin White. Not the 2015 draft...just Kevin White.

NFL: SEP 10 Falcons at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the last piece like this, I gave nothing but raw numbers. I tried to remain objective. In this piece, I am not even attempting objectivity. I am reacting like a fan who is truly disgusted by the state of the franchise I cheer for.

The Chicago Bears have a difficult roster situation heading into 2022, and it’s not just because they have a number of holes to fill without any of those holes being cheap. In addition to that obvious problem, a number of players have been signed to void-year contracts with cap hits that will either accelerate against the cap when those players are cut or that will simply be kicked down the road, reducing flexibility in future years. Additionally, the greatest leveling advantage the NFL offers—the draft—is not available to them in a meaningful way as a chance to find quality starters in the 2022 draft, even if inevitably some of those players will be forced to start because of the state of the team.

Since 2011, a team’s best chance to make a playoff push is when they have peak have peak flexibility from their quarterback being on a rookie salary. Instead, the 2022 Bears have limited options and are locked into deciding among basic needs.

The Roster

First, here is a look at the 2022 roster in terms of who has been signed. I have included players who have signed futures contracts, as well as players for whom there are conflicting reports regarding the length and nature of the contracts that they have signed. Players with void years on their contracts are marked with asterisks indicating exactly how far into the future their void years extend.

The Offense

Quarterback: Justin Fields (2025), Nick Foles (2023), Ryan Willis (F)

Left Tackle: Teven Jenkins (2025), Tyrone Wheatley (F)

Left Guard: Dieter Eiselen (F)

Center: Cody Whitehair (2025)*

Right Guard: ???

Right Tackle: Larry Borom (2025)

Wide Receiver 1: Darnell Mooney (2024)

Wide Receiver 2: Dazz Newsome (2023 or 2024)

Wide Receiver 3: Nsimba Webster (F)

Tight End 1: Cole Kmet (2024)

Running Back: David Montgomery (2023), Khalil Herbert (2025)

The offensive line is in pathetic condition. The only left tackle actually signed to a contract has played 161 offensive snaps, or just around 2 full games’ worth of play. There are no guards actually signed to contracts. Depth, if you want to call it that, comes from Dieter Eiselen and Tyron Wheatley–both on futures contracts (they combine for 6 special teams snaps in total NFL experience). After Cody Whitehair, Larry Borom (drafted nine months ago) is the veteran on the line. To be clear—the quarterback whom everyone is hoping can step up and save the franchise is going to be protected by a line that does not meaningfully exist yet.

Meanwhile, after Darnell Mooney, the remaining receivers combine for 23 receiving yards. To put it another way, in 2014 Alshon Jeffery had more 50 more yards and and twice as many touchdowns as every 2021 Bears receiver who is contracted to return. Cole Kmet is the only tight end under contract. The offense looks more robust than it is because Chicago also has Andy Dalton** and Jimmy Graham****, Damien Williams***, and Jesse James*** listed some places because they still have void years on their contracts.

The Defense

DE: Angelo Blackson (2024)*, Ledarius Mack (F), Charles Snowdon (F)

DT: Eddie Goldman (2024), Khyris Tonga (2025), Auzoyah Alufohai (F)

DE: Mario Edwards (2024)**, LaCale London (F)

OLB: Khalil Mack (2025)*, Jeremiah Attachu (2023)**

OLB: Robert Quinn (2025), Trevis Gipson (2024)

ILB: Roquan Smith (2023), Caleb Johnson (F)

ILB: Danny Trevathan (2023)***

FS: Eddie Jackson (2025)*

SS: ???

CB1: Jaylon Johnson (2024), Thomas Graham (2022 or 2023)

CB2: Kindle Vildor (2024), Bopete Keyes (F)

NCB: Duke Shelley (2023), Michael Joseph (F)

The team is “only” missing one starter on defense, because there just isn’t a strong safety on the roster, except for Tashaun Gipson*** who still has void years left on his contract. The secondary depends on either Kindle Vildor finally playing with some level of ability of Thomas Graham (with all of 112 snaps on defense so far) suddenly stepping up–and they better hope they don’t have an injury anywhere on defense, because someone who trusts Ladarius Mack, Caleb Johnson, or Bopete Keyes is asking for trouble.

Special Teams

The Bears currently do not have a long snapper or a punter signed, but they do have Cairo Santos** signed through 2025 (but really only 2023 because the last two years are void years). There’s also Tarik Cohen, signed through 2023, presumably slated to be a returner in some capacity if he ever manages to be healthy enough to play again. He could also, arguably, add depth as a receiving weapon if he ever finds the field.

Limited Resources

The Bears need to find starter-level players at no fewer than two offensive linemen (three would be better in case Jenkins struggles either in terms of health or in terms of adapting to the NFL), a wide receiver, and a safety. Filling those four slots with the 10th-ranking free agent in each group (based on their 2021 salaries) would cost $17million, or half of the remaining cap room the Bears have for 2022, with another $5million needed to cover their rookie pools (and yes, there could technically be some overlap there, but not having a starting roster heading into the draft would force a GM to draft for need and hope). This would leave Chicago with five or six roster spots to fill and just under $2million per spot to fill them–all without doing anything to extend their home-grown talent. They would not have a veteran tight end, yet, and they would presumably be dealing with an off-the-street punter.

Pace’s Dirty Dozen

There are twelve different players signed to contracts with void years right now, and even if the bandage is ripped off for the five of them who are not signed for 2022, there are still the other contracts waiting to complicate the cap down the road. Void contracts are a difficult concept to understand in many ways, and Over The Cap does a pretty good job of summarizing their advantages and their limitations here. In short–signing a player to a void contract is another way to kick the cap burden down the road, and while when used cunningly it can be a useful tool, at some point these zombie contracts choke off future options.

If you don’t believe that carrying a great future burden hurts a team regarding signing free agents, then you don’t understand the nature of competition between teams for free agents or the idea of multiple infinities. I can’t help you. Perhaps Jason Fitzgerald, from the linked article, says it best:

Every dollar saved this year is going to now be allocated to future contract years both in terms of cap costs and potential dead money costs. The cost is just driven up each year by taking the shortsighted approach and using the void contract structure. The salary cap ramifications of prorated money should provide fiscal restraints to most cap managers in the sport. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case for some teams even as they stare at millions of dollars of dead money on their cap books year after year and no trophy to show for it.

Draft Power

The Bears are going into the 2022 draft with less draft capital than all but three teams. Because it’s hard to understand what that means on a consistent basis, Chicago has five picks (R2, R3, R5, R5, and R6). The 2022 draft carries 828.2 points of draft value; Kevin White cost the Bears 1500 points.

If a GM were simply to replicate the trends I found in studying six years of draft results from 2012-2017, the Bears would come away from this draft with less than a 50/50 chance of landing a single Pro Bowler, with 1.7 starters, and only three players (3.17) who ever play in at least 30 games. A truly lucky GM would be able to fill two of the roster spots here with “replacement-level” talent, but they would need to gamble with the development of Justin Fields if they did so on the offensive side—because there are no sure things in the draft.

Conclusion

I keep hearing from a few select voices that Emery decimated the franchise and left the cupboard bare. Using that metaphor, the 2022 Bears have a cupboard stocked with cookies and potato chips but not enough of the basic, healthy staples a franchise needs—and they have a maxed out credit card with which to try to go shopping.