But the biggest issue may not center around who they would like to keep, but whether or not they are financially able to. Surely, Bears GM Phil Emery would like to bring back numerous veterans on defense such as Henry Melton, Corey Wootton and Charles Tillman and special teams contributors like Blake Costanzo, Devin Hester, and Sherrick McManis, but with so many holes to fill, he would only be able to do so at the right price.
Fortunately, Chicago has several players on its roster whose salary cap costs outweigh the production they brought on the field. Cutting any or all of these players would create varying amounts of "dead money" against the salary cap, meaning that the Bears would be unable to use portions of their salary cap if they were cut.
But often times the advantages of cutting an underachieving, overpriced player outweighs the amount of dead money that will be used against the cap. Here are five such players the Bears should consider cutting to free up salary cap space they can use elsewhere:
Earl Bennett, WR: (2014 Salary Cap Hit: $2.35 million) Bennett carries a fairly hefty price for an underused third WR, but releasing him would create no dead money for the Bears were they to decide to let him go. With Alshon Jeffery, emerging as a superstar and Brandon Marshall hauling in a combined 189 receptions in 2013, the Bears don't need to overspend for his roster spot.
TE Martellus Bennett and RB Matt Forte combined for an additional 139 grabs, so that means Bennett, the former all-time SEC leader in receptions at Vanderbilt, ranked fifth on Chicago in catches with 32. Plus, the Bears have liked what they've seen out of the 7th-round draft pick Marquess Wilson, a much more cost-efficient third receiver in the Bears offense.
Michael Bush, RB: (2014 Salary Cap Hit: $3.85 million) Bush was initially brought in to be a goal-line and short-yardage back and pick up the tough yards between the tackles. But with Marc Trestman having cut his carries nearly in half in his first season calling plays (down to 63 in 2013 from 114 in 2012) the Bears simply don't need to pay nearly $4 million for a player that impacts that game on such a low number of plays throughout the season.
Cutting Bush would leave $2 million in dead money counting against the cap, but being able to free up $1.85 million could go a long way towards revamping the Bears defense. Using a mid-round pick or signing a veteran for cheap would be a better use of limited resources.
Julius Peppers, DE: (2014 Salary Cap Hit: $18.183 million) Once Jay Cutler re-signed with Chicago earlier this month to a contract that brought along much ridicule, the biggest decision Emery would face this offseason changed to Peppers' contract. There is no way the Bears, or any other organization, can justify paying Peppers, who will be 34 on January 18, $13.9 million next season after his production has declined in each year since he joined Chicago prior to the 2010 season.
The Bears exercised the option of shifting part of Peppers' contract to a signing bonus last season to create more cap space, something that is certainly a possibility this offseason as well. But the Bears would save nearly $10 million in cap space if they outright released Peppers (creating more than $8.3 million in dead money) and could still find a veteran defensive end that would serve as a very serviceable replacement for him, but at more than half the cost.
One thing is almost a guarantee, however: wherever he plays, Peppers won't be making almost $14 million in 2014.
Adam Podlesh, P: (2014 Salary Cap Hit: $1.825 million) After finishing 33rd in the NFL in yards/punt (40.6) and 29th in net average (37.9), it's safe to say the Bears will look to move on from the 7-year veteran. Releasing him would create just over $1 million in cap space for Chicago, and the Bears can easily find a more productive punter for much cheaper than Podlesh's cap hit.
The Bears recently signed Drew Butler, son of former Bears P Kevin Butler, to a reserve/future contract, and wouldn't do so without the intention of giving him an opportunity to win the job. The Bears would also be wise to keep their eyes on punters in the draft this May and using a late-round pick on one then.
Eric Weems, WR: (Salary Cap Hit: $1.6 million) At this stage in his roster status with Chicago, Weems has primarily been used as a special teams player after joining the team in 2012. He was initially brought in to help return kicks, but once Hester was turned into solely into a returner this season, Weems was relegated to the kick coverage teams.
His salary is simply too high for a player in his role for any team, let alone one that is up against the cap like Chicago. The Bears would create $1.1 million in cap space ($500,000 in dead money) if they released him, and could allocate that towards the draft or signing a replacement for Weems at roughly half the price.
Billy Grayson is a Yahoo contributor from Chicago and diehard Chicago sports follower. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
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