Jay Cutler is in the final year of his contract (USA Today Sports Images)
The "Shutdown Countdown" is chugging along. In addition to previewing each team, "Shutdown Corner" will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the Chicago Bears.
2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $128.909 million (14th-largest adjusted cap number in the NFL)
[Related: Bears turn to new math to solve old problems]
2013 Cap Room Remaining: $1.673 (3rd-least available cap space in the NFL, as of July 22)
Best Bargain: After coming off the bench as a rookie, nose tackle Stephen Paea stepped into a starting role in 2012. In 15 games, and 14 starts, Paea played in 56.61 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps, totaling 24 tackles, including four for a loss. Paea is a very stout run defender who adds a little bit of a pass rush, too, adding 2.5 sacks with six quarterback hits last season. Paea is entering the third year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to earn $660,082 in base salary this season, which is close to what fellow starting defensive tackle Henry Melton will bank by halftime of Week 2.
Potential Camp Cap Casualty: The Bears added veteran linebacker D.J. Williams this offseason, signing the former Denver Bronco to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. With cap space tight, and the Bears using a 2013 second-round pick on Jon Bostic, Williams is no lock to make the 53-man roster. None of Williams' contract is guaranteed. If Williams makes the roster, he'd earn $900,000 in base salary and up to $750,000 in "per game active" and "per game on 53-man roster" bonuses. All of that could be washed away if Bostic steps up and earns the middle linebacker job this summer.
Earlier this offseason, the Bears released defensive tackle Matt Toeania and tight ends Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth for salary cap purposes, but have thus far not renegotiated any existing contracts to create additional cap space. Possible candidates for summer restructures are Julius Peppers ($12.9 million base salary, $16.383 million cap hit), Brandon Marshall ($9.1 million base salary, $9.3 million cap hit), Charles Tillman ($7.95 million base salary, $8 million cap hit in the final year of his contract) and Tim Jennings, who has a $4.25 million base salary in the final year of his deal, as well.
Looming Contract Issue: There are two, but the most important one that is hanging over the franchise belongs to quarterback Jay Cutler, who will earn $8.47 million in base salary in the final year of his contract. Talks on a new deal reportedly ended with the hiring of head coach Marc Trestman, which makes some sense. If Cutler and Trestman don't click, the Bears could be looking for a new quarterback in 2014. Since joining the Bears, Cutler has passed for 12,292 yards with 82 touchdowns and 63 interceptions, but he has not been as efficient as he was in Denver.
In Cutler's final season with the Broncos, he was fourth in Football Outsiders' passing DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Over the last four seasons, Cutler has been 39th, 30th, 21st and 27th in passing DYAR. Part of that can be attributed to the lack of weapons in the Bears' passing game and Cutler taking a lot of physical abuse. In three seasons in Denver, Cutler was sacked 51 times. In four seasons in Chicago, that number is at 148. Cutler was chastised by the national media in 2009 for requesting a trade from the Broncos because the young, sulky quarterback wasn't a "winner", as the Broncos were 17-20 in his starts. Isn't it funny how Cutler hasn't performed at the same level he did in Denver, yet the Bears have still managed to go 34-22 in his 56 starts. That's reason #6,071 for why "quarterback wins" is a non-stat. It's a team game, folks.
If the Bears do elect to let Cutler play out his contract, they have the option of using the franchise tag next offseason. If the salary cap remains flat, the quarterback tender is projected to be worth $15.448 million. That number will increase if the league-wide salary cap number increases in 2014.
The Bears will also have to address the contract of Melton, who has 13 sacks from the defensive tackle position in his two seasons as a starter and is coming off his first Pro Bowl season.
Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: The Bears have a long list of potential unrestricted free agents in 2014. Cutler, Melton, Tillman, Jennings, Devin Hester, Robbie Gould, Roberto Garza, Major Wright, Corey Wootton and J'Marcus Webb, just to name a few. The Bears have 46 players under contract for next season with $89.24 million in salary cap commitments, including $1.1 million in "dead" money after releasing Evan Rodriguez and trading Gabe Carimi to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The $89.24 million in cap commitments is the second-lowest total in the NFL and more space could be created by lowing the $26.683 million in cap room that Peppers and Marshall currently occupy.
Previous salary cap outlooks
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
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