Everyone knows the Bears have a massive salary cap. Heading into 2023, Chicago will have just under $125 million in cap space. Comparatively, Green Bay has a budget of just $3.5 million – which is roughly the cost to acquire one free agent offensive tackle. Both teams have also wrestled with major dead money implications due to recent front office moves.
But what does any of this mean? Salary cap, dead money, June 1, compensatory picks? If your head is spinning with all the dates, numbers, and seemingly arbitrary rules about kicking the can down the road, you’re not alone. Sit tight and let’s unpack the mystery so you can wow the office fantasy league Slack channel this week with your brilliance.
In 2022, the salary cap is $208.2 million per team. Each team can spend up to the cap on player salaries and bonuses. It’s how the NFL prevents a New York Yankees situation, allowing one team to buy championships and keep poorer franchises on the fringe of the league.
Though games don’t start until the fall, the season officially begins in March, so front offices need to balance their books by then. If a team comes in under budget, it can tack the excess money onto next year’s cap. It’s called carryover. Each team must maintain a minimum number of players, pay a minimum salary based on years in the league and spend 95% of the cap in a four-year period. This prevents teams from going to extreme lengths to exploit the carryover (something the Rams would probably try). Teams have until June 1 to make roster cuts otherwise their salary cap is locked in.
The Bears are currently facing a dead-money issue. Dead money refers to the salaries of players who are no longer on the roster. After parting ways with Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Nick Foles, and several more before their contracts ended, the team is still on the hook for money owed to those players. This year, the dead money equates to more than $85 million. Here’s the catch: Teams only pay the “fully guaranteed” money in the contract. So, while it may hurt to drop $11 million on Robert Quinn while he wears an Eagles uniform, he had two more years to collect money from the Bears if he stayed in Chicago. If players aren’t part of a team’s long-term plans, it makes sense to bite the bullet and pay the dead money.
You will often hear of a team “restructuring” a contract to open cap space. It is usually a move involving bonus money, as its cap impact is prorated over the length of the contract. Aaron Rodger’s deal represents the issue well. The Packers will pay him $42 million in cash this year, but nearly all of it is in a bonus. Green Bay was able to borrow from their future cap and risk huge dead money implications. They are essentially betting he will retire soon. His contract extends through 2026 with a lot of weight on the backend. If he plays three more seasons, the team faces $76.8 million in dead money on his contract alone.
You’ll also hear about compensatory picks, which seem to be a mystical lottery teams hope to hit. In truth, it is just a formula awarding teams extra draft picks between the third and seventh rounds if they bring in fewer free agents than they lose. The formula considers the quality of the players lost and no team can get more than four in a single year.
Now, let’s revisit what this all means for the Bears. Finally, the front office is free from many of its financial burdens and can hit the market as a big spender. Only Eddie Jackson will have a base salary of over $10 million and the entire team costs $111,938,303. Next year, the salary cap moves from $208 million to $218 million, leaving the Bears with just under $125 million. The Bears may also be in line for a seventh-round compensatory pick.
The best receivers and offensive linemen cost between $10 million and $20 million per year. The very best edge rushers are slightly pricier. With eight draft picks and a lot of dough, Chicago has plenty to look forward to in the coming year.
Image courtesy of Clutch Points.