According to Spotrac.com’s estimated NFL Salary Cap tracker, the Chicago Bears have an estimated $80.3 million in projected cap space this offseason, which is behind only the Cleveland Browns ($111.7 million) and New York Jets ($94.9 million) throughout the NFL.
But with great cap space comes great responsibility:
Pace on upcoming free agency: “Just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you can be reckless. We still have to be calculated and strategic with these decisions.”
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) February 28, 2018
Free agency hasn’t been all that kind to Bears GM Ryan Pace since he took over for Phil Emery in 2015. Defensive end Akiem Hicks, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, cornerback Prince Amukamara, and guard Josh Sitton are examples of quality signings by the Bears’ front office under Pace’s watch. But the bad outweighs the good as quarterback Mike Glennon, safety Quintin Demps, linebackers Pernell McPhee and Jerrell Freeman represent the kind of big-money free agent flops that are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The silver lining in the failed signings is that none of them negatively impacted the state of the Bears’ salary cap in the big picture. In fact, parting ways with Glennon, Demps, McPhee, and Freeman has cleared more than $25 million in cap space in recent days.
So while it’s rich to hear Pace talk about not being reckless in free agency after handing out significant paydays to players who didn’t provide much of a positive impact to the point where they are being released before the expiration of their contract, it’s also worth pointing out that his biggest mistakes haven’t put the team in long-term peril. Bad contracts are bad. There is no escaping that. But there is a difference between a bad contract that hinders the team’s long-term goals and possible future spending and one that includes a quick (and relatively painless) exit strategy if things don’t go as planned.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Bears have spent $140.6 million in guaranteed money since 2015. That’s the fourth-most guaranteed money handed out by NFL teams in the last three years, but the return on investment simply hasn’t been there for Pace and the Bears. Make no mistake, Pace’s errors in free agency have had a direct hand in the Bears’ 14-34 record. But with a new head coach, new offensive system in place, and needs throughout the roster, Chicago figures to be big spenders when free agency begins on March 14. Ideally, Pace enters his fourth offseason having learned from his mistakes and is prepared to right the wrongs that put him in this position in the first place.