PUT ON YOUR SINK­ING CAP

De­spite squeeze, Bears gen­eral man­ager Pace con­fi­dent he’ll have some ma­neu­ver­abil­ity in 2021

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - PA­TRICK FIN­LEY BEARS BEAT pfin­ley@sun­times.com | @patrick­fin­ley

Bears gen­eral man­ager Ryan Pace isn’t wor­ried about next year’s sink­ing salary cap, or the ef­fect it will have on a team that al­ready was sched­uled to scrape up against it.

“It’s not go­ing to pre­vent us from do­ing the things that we want to do,” the everop­ti­mistic Pace said last week.

He has a lot of ma­neu­ver­ing to do if he wants to be cor­rect.

This year’s salary cap sits at $198.2 mil­lion. The 2021 cap, though, al­ready has been ad­justed to com­pen­sate for a mas­sive loss in NFL rev­enue as a re­sult of the coro­n­avirus. While the fi­nal doc­u­ment has yet to be com­pleted, the NFL and NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion have agreed to a $175 mil­lion salarycap floor for 2021.

One prob­lem: The Bears al­ready are pro­jected to have $186.6 mil­lion in cap charges on their ros­ter next year, ac­cord­ing to Spo­trac.com.

Some even big­ger prob­lems: That pro­jec­tion is miss­ing ex­pen­sive, es­sen­tial pieces.

The Bears have one quar­ter­back un­der con­tract for 2021: Nick Foles. Un­less he turns into a su­per­star at 31, the Bears will cer­tainly bring in another rel­e­vant passer to com­pete with him.

Will it be Mitch Tru­bisky? If he plays well this sea­son, the Bears could give Tru­bisky the fran­chise tag, which would pay him about $27 mil­lion for one sea­son. A free agent? Teddy Bridge­wa­ter, who rep­re­sented the mid­dle class of this year’s avail­able quar­ter­back crop, will cost the Pan­thers a $14 mil­lion cap hit this year and $23 mil­lion in 2021.

Draft­ing a quar­ter­back is the smartest fi­nan­cial tack — cap hits this year for first-rounders range from No. 1 over­all pick Joe Bur­row’s $6.6 mil­lion to No. 26 choice Jor­dan Love’s $2.3 mil­lion — but is fraught with ques­tions. If there’s no col­lege foot­ball sea­son, would the Bears be will­ing to spend their first first-round pick in three years on some­one who hasn’t taken a snap in 16 months? The salary-cap pro­jec­tion also doesn’t in­clude wide re­ceiver Allen Robin­son, whom the Bears will try to sign to a con­tract ex­ten­sion by the end of train­ing camp. The Bears’ best of­fen­sive player doesn’t turn 27 un­til later this month. Pace would be fool­ish to let him leave. If the sides can’t reach a deal, the Bears could use the fran­chise tag on Robin­son in 2021. It would be costly, though: This year, the price to give the tag to wide re­ceivers was $17.87 mil­lion. Pace and Joey Laine, the Bears’ di­rec­tor of foot­ball ad­min­is­tra­tion and chief con­tract ne­go­tia­tor, have av­enues to find cap money. They could cut tight end Jimmy Gra­ham af­ter only one sea­son and save $7 mil­lion.

The team could look at its two start­ing of­fen­sive tack­les, too. Bobby Massie has col­lected all the guaranteed money on his four-year con­tract. He car­ries a $9.3 mil­lion cap hit next year vs. $2.6 mil­lion in dead money. The

Bears could save $6.2 mil­lion by cut­ting Charles Leno next year, too, though the cost to re­place him would be greater.

The Bears likely will look at re­struc­tur­ing safety Eddie Jack­son’s con­tract to make it more cap-friendly. They’d also find some relief by ne­go­ti­at­ing an ex­ten­sion for de­fen­sive line­man Akiem Hicks, whose deal ex­pires af­ter 2021.

Pace has work to do.

“I think we know what the floor is for the cap in ’21,” Pace said. “And once we’re given the pa­ram­e­ters from the league in re­gard to the cap, we’re all op­er­at­ing un­der the same rules. We get that.

“I just have a lot of con­fi­dence in Joey Laine and my­self and how we’re fore­cast­ing and how we’re pre­dict­ing for the fu­ture, and I’m con­fi­dent we’ll work through it.”

AP

The Bears will try to sign wide re­ceiver Allen Robin­son to a con­tract ex­ten­sion by the end of train­ing camp.

Ryan Pace

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP

The Bears could cut tight end Jimmy Gra­ham af­ter one sea­son and save $7 mil­lion.

DUANE BURLESON/AP

The Bears could save $6.2 mil­lion by cut­ting of­fen­sive tackle Charles Leno next year.

Akiem Hicks

Eddie Jack­son

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