Naturally the draft gets the bulk of the attention during the off-season, but the Chicago Bears are set for an equally chaotic 2014 NFL free agency period. Given their current situation, they could have room to go after some upgrades.
Phil Emery faces only one big finance question with Jay Cutler
Experts were skeptical when it became clear GM Phil Emery was gearing the Bears roster to have a major exodus in 2014 with 30 expiring contracts on the roster. The fear was that a number of players would post big seasons and demand the money to go with it. Emery was resolute in his decision, stating it was a problem he looked forward to having. If anything, the situation has gone better than he could've hoped. Every big name up for a new contract in 2014 for Chicago has lost leverage with the team for a variety of reason, be it poor play or more often injuries. Henry Melton tore his ACL in the third game of the year. Charles Tillman suffered a variety of ailments including a torn triceps that ended his season. The only veteran player who has remained a consistently big contributor is corner Tim Jennings, and at age 30 his price tag won't break the bank. The only contract negotiation that Emery really should be focused on is the one awaiting quarterback Jay Cutler. At 8-6 the Bears are in control of their playoff destiny. Two wins nets them the division title and possible a lucrative new deal for the quarterback. However, missing five games and seeing his backup play well in his stead has not done Cutler any favors. Most are beginning to understand Emery has a lot of leverage that would either force Cutler to accept a more reasonable long-term extension friendly to the team or seek his big buck elsewhere.
Unloading Julius Peppers could give Bears serious spending money
Based on interviews and bubbling rumors, the belief is Cutler wants to stay. Why wouldn't he? The Bears offense is suddenly layered with talent at every position and has an experienced, intelligent coaching staff in charge of it. If he is smart, he won't want to leave just when things are looking up. Cutler has already hinted he'll offer a home town discount to stay, which bodes well for what the Bears can do in 2014 NFL free agency--aside from re-signing their own players of course. At present, current estimates say Chicago will have upwards of $40 million in salary cap room by next March. That is a healthy number by itself, but could get some serious padding if the team decides to part ways with defensive end Julius Peppers. His contract will command $18 million in cap space next year, by which time he will be 34 years old. That is too much money, even for somebody as decorated as the Pro Bowl defensive end. Cutting him loose could elevate the team number to over $50 million. That is more than enough to bring back select players with expiring deals and leaving plenty left over to go after one or two big names on the open market. It would certainly make rebuilding the defense easier.
Phil Emery vowed to build the Chicago Bears through the draft, but he's shown no hesitance about spending money to reach his goals. That should not change in 2014.
Photo Credit - Bear Goggles