We all know the Bears have a ton of cap room in 2023. Currently they sit just under $100M in cap space which is over $30M more than the next closest team (Atlanta).
What fans may not know is that the cap space extends beyond 2023 and will likely keep the Bears very comfortable until at least 2025 - even with heavy free agent spending in 2023 and 2024.
The basis for this is the paltry $61.9M the Bears have in 2024 cap liabilities. This number includes $13.25M for Cody Whitehair who has a 50/50 shot at being on the 2023 roster and is an underdog to still be employed by the Bears through the 2024 season.
Projections for the Bears 2024 cap space using three different scenarios:
- Whitehair will be released either before 2023 or 2024. Releasing this off-season will results in $48M in 2024 liabilities, release before 2024 will leave us with $52M in cap liabilities. I split the difference and assume a starting number of $50M in cap liabilities for 2024.
- I project a 20% cap increase in 2024 for players added in 2023. I am using the total projected amounts of new contracts, understanding the actual number of cap increases maybe higher but will also be offset by one year contracts or cuts following the 2023 season
- I generally round to the nearest large number to make the math easier to follow. For example, the Bears have $100M in cap room right now.
- 2024 base cap will increase from $226M to $235M. This follows Spotrac's projection and would be a smaller percentage increase compared to the 2022 to 2023 increase.
Projection #1 - Spend it all in 2023
- In this scenario, Ryan Poles gives $95M worth of new cap hits in 2023.
- These new players' cap hits grow at 20% to $114M in 2024 - add the $50M in existing cap hits = $164M in 2024 cap liabilities.
- The Bears adjusted cap with a small carryover will be $240M - $164M in cap liabilities = $76M in cap space.
If Ryan Poles spends virtually every penny of cap room this year the Bears are still coming at ~$75M in 2024 cap space
Projection #2 - Very aggressive, but not all in
- The Bears issue $80M in new 2023 cap hits.
- The new cap hits grow to $96M in 2024 - add the $50M in existing cap hit = $146M in 2024 cap liabilities.
- The Bears adjusted cap space with $20M carryover is $255M - $146M in cap liabilities = $109M in 2024 cap space.
Even if Ryan Poles spends aggressively in 2023 the Bears will have more cap room next year than they do this year.
Projection #3 - The Bears are moderate spenders in 2023
- The Bears issue $60M in new 2023 cap hits.
- The new cap hits grow to $75M in 2024 - add the existing $50M in existing cap hits = $125 in 2024 cap liabilities.
- The Bears adjusted cap space with $40M carryover is $275M - $125M in cap liabilities = $150M in cap space.
I believe this would be an NFL record for cap space.
What does this mean?
Looking ahead to 2025 when the Bears will need to pay Fields' 5th year option, there will almost certainly be significant carryover. Keep in mind every dollar the Bears do not spend in 2024 flows into 2025. The Bears should be in a position to be major players in free agency in the 2023, 2024, and 2025.
- Front loading contracts isn't a thing anymore after the CBA added the ability to carryover excess cap room from year to year. There's no benefit to front loading if you can just use the money next. I have not seen a single significant contract where year 1 exceeds the APY.
- The Bears do have some extension opportunities, but extensions only add the prorated signing bonus to the last year of the rookie contract (for example if Cole Kmet receives a three year extension with a $10M signing bonus, only $2.5M would be added to 2023). First years of contract generally have smaller cap hits, because team do not want to both give a large singing bonus and high first year base salary. The Bears will add some cap due to extensions in 2023 and 2024, but not as big as some have been projecting.
- For the same reasons as the rookie extensions, first year cap hits are quite a bit lower than the contract APY. The three most recent large contracts, Roquan Smith, Jack Conklin, and Elgton Jenkins, all had year one cap hits of 50% or less of the APY). This will significantly enhance the Bears buying power in 2023 and 2024.
- Ryan Poles simply needs to spend big this year. And next year. The Bears have this money because they are not paying anyone right now. In fact, the Bears need to spend more cash than the cap itself this year just to hit the league's spending minimum.