2013 Chicago Bears Free Agency

Bryan Cox Chicago Bears

A Chicago Bears free agent failure...

Before thinking or talking about the 2013 NFL Draft, one must first think about what the Chicago Bears might do in free agency. Especially after last season, we learned that the focus in the draft can be heavily dependent on what a team is able to get done in free agency. In 2012, the Bears considered trying to sign Mario Williams, then made a push for Jeremy Mincey. When they couldn’t land either of those defensive ends, they drafted Shea McClellin.

At least over the last decade, the Bears have managed their salary cap situation intelligently, unlike the Cowboys and 49ers of the 1990′s and the Washington Redskins every year since Daniel Snyder took over. San Francisco and Dallas have a few Super Bowl rings to show for their manipulation of the cap, but it took ten years for the 49ers to get back to respectability, and the Cowboys are still trying.

Before discussing Chicago’s current cap situation, I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the Bears’ foibles going back to 1993, the first year of free agency and the salary cap.

That year, the Bears’ first foray into free agency had them spending money on their own free agent-quarterback Jim Harbaugh. New coach Dave Wannstedt deemed Harbaugh the Bears quarterback of the future and signed him to a four-year, $13 million deal with $5 million guaranteed. Then Wannstedt quickly cut Harbaugh in March 1994.

But the Bears didn’t get themselves into their first cap trouble until after the 1996 season. That year for the first time the Bears signed a marquee free agent in Miami linebacker Bryan Cox. Cox surpassed Harbaugh’s franchise-record contract with a four-year, $13.2 million deal. What also set the Bears up for a fall was the signing of defensive end Alonzo Spellman that year. Spellman was entering his first year of unrestricted free agency, and the Bears made him their transition player, giving them the right to match any other offers he received. After the Jacksonville Jaguars offered him $12 million for four years, the Bears matched.

As we all know, the investments in Cox and Spellman were horrendous mistakes. These signings, along with the trade of a first round pick in 1997 for quarterback Rick Mirer, put the Bears in a salary cap mess when all three players were cut prior to the 1999 season. (Cox and Mirer didn’t even make the ’98 season). This is because while salaries are not guaranteed, signing bonuses are spread over the length of the deal and at the time accelerated to the year they were cut. This put the Bears in a bind for investing in top-notch free agents in 1998-1999.

Following terrible seasons from 1997-1999, the Bears were ready to spend again in 2000 under then VP of Player Personnel Mark Hatley. In the opening days of free agency that year, Hatley broke the bank by signing DE Phillip Daniels, CB Thomas Smith and S Shawn Wooden to mega-deals. In return, the 2000 Bears finished 5-11. Wooden never started a game for the Bears, Smith was cut just one season into his $20 million deal, and Daniels was an unspectacular player in his four-year tenure with the team.

Since the splurge in 2000, the Bears have been perhaps the best team in the NFL at managing their cap situation. This doesn’t mean they don’t spend for players, but they have always structured their deals wisely so they’re not pushing money back and back until it’s time to pay the piper. This is exactly what happened with the 49er collapse in the late 1990′s. Hell, even the Carolina Panthers who haven’t been any good for three years have terrible cap problems.

Prior to the Bears signing Julius Peppers to the largest contract in their history in 2010, and taking on Brandon Marshall‘s $30 million salary, the Bears were said to be between $20 and $30 million under the cap.

But I was surprised to read Brad Biggs’ article that this may be changing. According to Biggs, the Bears really need to restructure the contracts of Charles Tillman and Peppers in order to fit a possible franchise salary of DT Henry Melton under the cap.

Then where does that leave the money to go get that left tackle, receiver or guard the Bears need? Or to sign or replace Brian Urlacher?

Hey, maybe we need to start talking draft after all.

7 Responses to “2013 Chicago Bears Free Agency”

  1. I remember all those moves from the 90′s….terrible.

  2. Rick Mirer. What were they thinking? It took us five years just to get over that one.

  3. If we haven’t learned yet, throwing money at free agents doesn’t work in the NFL. You can also had Phily and the so called “Dream Team”. Look how well that turned out. The Packers have signed two major free agents in 20 years. The only reason why they even signed Woodsen is because they had so much cap space that they had to use some of it. NE does sign some FAs, but they normally flop. The best teams draft their core players and use FA to sign complementary players or fill short term holes.

    And yes, Bryan Cox is my all time least favorite Bears player. There is a reason why he left Miami. Jimmy Johnson would’ve cut his ass.

  4. I am very Happy as a Chicago Bears fan this organization hired a new coach Marc Trestman who want to see this team become great again in not only reaching the super bowl , but win is also and build on that platform for years to come. I was told through other bears fans our new head coach wants to run a two back offensive, build a better offensive front line and get the biggest, fastest TE’s and WR’s possible. I believe this is the right direction to take in focusing on what is best for our team. Now we are in the mist of free agency and to be honest I do not have all in information pertaining to current free agents. Why isn’t the Chicago bear pursuing wide receiver Greg Jennings? Having three quality receivers and a good tight end is going to put all lot of pressure on other teams defensive systems. This opportunity is humongous. We have even stretch the surface on the running backs opportunity to run wild in defensive back field. Again what is wrong in trying to Greg Jennings in the bear offensive system?

  5. Hey Bob-I’m sure the Bears would love to have Jennings on an affordable deal. But he still thinks he’s going to get big money, and with the splashes the Bears made, they’re not flush in cap space.

  6. Since Jennings is sign to the Vikings. I believe there are several golden nuggets out there in the free agency world such as.

    1. WR big mike Williams 6″ 5″ age 29 with the right incentives ( one year contact) can be a steal and a target down the middle of the field/end zone.

    2. WR Brandon Lloyd 6″ age 31 similar to West Welker same incentive as Big Mike could move the chains and get first downs.

    3. TE Leonard Pope 6″ 8″ Age 29 tall football player with the right role model Pope could improve greatly. Just image J Cutler throwing to the corner of the end zone to a 6″ 8″ TE . One year contract with a package of productive incentives.

    Did our Head Coach said to us (in my own words) we are going to get biggest WR/TE excluding Brandon Lloyd. to help our QB?

  7. Please pick up Tim Tebow can be the X factor in many ways and ask him change position either RB , TE , etc NFL many teams knows what Tebow can do , but they are afraid to try . A great example of a great play is the football is placed on the 1 yard line, 4th down and inches to go he is the number two RB sweeps to the right QB pitches Tebow the ball. He either runs as an option or throws to the open man for the TD . There are hundreds of possibilities at the Bear’s table of life. as an added bonus fewer concussions for Cutler. Also( place Tebow as the holder for the kicker would make the opponents sweat a bit more.)

Leave a Reply