Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Chicago Bears

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The Chicago Bears are next up in our look at the best and worst contracts series.

Best Contract: Matt Slauson

Matt SlausonI’ve always liked Matt Slauson since he was a member of the New York Jets. The Jets did not seem to care much for him, but he found a home in Chicago and played very well in 2013 on a very reasonable one year contract. Slauson graded out as one of the top Guards in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus metrics and one would have thought it would have led to a contract that definitely surpassed $4 million a season.

The Bears acted quickly to re-sign Slauson, who seemed to really enjoy playing in Chicago, but did not offer him an over the top contract to avoid free agency. Instead it was a very moderate deal that offered him the peace of mind of knowing where he would be playing in the future and by no means tied Chicago to the player for anything longer than a year.

Slauson’s contract averages $3.2 million a season, which is much lower than the contracts signed by other free agent guards this season including Geoff Schwartz ($4.2M), Jon Asamoah ($4.5M), and Shaun Lauvao ($4.25M). His guarantee, which is essentially his first year payout of $4 million, is less than each of those player’s guarantees, so it is not a situation where he traded in potential upside for guaranteed money.

In no year of the contract will Slauson’s salary cap charge will be more than $3.5 million. The dead money cost of the contract in year two is just $1.25 million and in year three is just $835,000.  He can earn an additional $400,000 in back end salary escalators, but those are based on both player and team performance and even if earned would not materially change the value of the contract.

The one concession the Bears did seem to make to Slauson was the use of a fully guaranteed roster bonus rather than a signing bonus. Using this mechanism allows the team to prorate the bonus like a signing bonus but forces them to renounce the teams’ rights for forfeiture recovery due to suspension, retirement, etc… if such thing was to occur at anytime after 2014.  I would not consider that a major concession by Chicago if the end result is getting a player around what seems to be a 20 to 25% discount. A nice contract for the team.

Worst Contract: Tim Jennings

Tim JenningsI had a hard time coming up with the worst contract on Chicago. They are a team that I do feel overpays on a number of contracts, but uses contract structures that make the contracts more flexible. I personally believe that Jay Cutler is one of the most overpaid players in the NFL and I’m sure readers of the site would have been certain he was the player I would select. The fact is there will likely always be a market for a decent quarterback and the Bears made the meaty part of his contract at more realistic price tags of $15 to $16 million which will make him attractive to other teams in a trade. The additional $7 million he earns this year is the cost I see the Bears being willing to pay to get a first round pick or two second rounders if they do need to move Cutler. That’s not necessarily bad management.

I selected Tim Jennings for two reasons. One is that I felt that this was a “jump the gun” signing that indicated a incorrect reading of the market. Secondly this contract seemed to not follow the same pattern that the Bears used for most of their signings. In 2013 the cornerback market took a major step backwards.  While there was a rebound of sorts in 2013, Jennings was the first contract signed at the position.

The Bears will pay Jennings $7.5 million in the first year of his contract, which I think is a high figure. That’s just one million less than Brent Grimes, who I feel is a much better player. The $11.8 million in full guarantees is on the high end for the position as is having over 50% of the contract value fully guaranteed. The contract just seems better suited for a 28 year old first time free agent rather than a 30 year old who probably just gave you the best two years of his career in 2012 and 2013.

For the most part it’s the guarantee on the contract that has me selecting Jennings. His contract was fully guaranteed which is different than almost every other Bears player who has a vesting guarantee during the second year of his contract. I’m not really sure why that was the case, but it stood out to me as something that the Bears gave in on to avoid Jennings hitting free agency, which I am not sure that they needed to do.

Of all the contracts I have done thus far this is the least egregious of any of them. I think a strong argument can be made for Cutler being worse and Robbie Gould being worse as well. But a few of the small things with this one made me classify it this way for the team.

2013’s Best and Worst Bears Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Charles Tillman (Re-signed with Chicago)

2013 Worst Contract: Devin Hester (Contract expired; Signed with Falcons)

Click Here to Check out OTC’s other Best and Worst Contracts from around the NFL!

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  • I think the Jennings deal is reasonable in terms of per-season salary. I didn’t like the length for a small CB who’s 30.

    The CB market rebounded nicely this year, and Jennings’ deal actually looks pretty good in comparison to some of the other ones signed. Their 2 worst contracts (Peppers and Bush) were both cut this offseason.

    I would have probably picked Cutler, though I like that they can get out of his deal after 3 years for minimal casualties (as opposed to the onerous deals of players like Flacco that balloon over time and will hamstring that team in another 2-3 years). Overall the Bears are pretty good at cap management. Cliff Stein is great.

    • I kind of think the Bears misjudged what Jennings could get on the open market, at least in terms of guarantees. I know he had a ton of picks the last two years, but I think you hit on a big thing with his size. The market for small CBs, especially those over 30, is not going to be that robust.

      I would just think that its the same market that Alterraun Verner would have had and we all learned how limited that was. Verners cash isnt that much more than Jennings in the first two years, he received less guarantees and if four or five years younger. Still its by no means an awful contract.

      In general I think the Bears are becoming an overpaying team but they havent gone as far overboard as say the Bucs.

      • They were an overpaying team in the past because years of bad Angelo contracts forced them to compensate in free agency, where you really have no choice but to overpay. Now they are getting an influx of young talent, though it has yet to be seen how that pans out and what the 2nd contracts of those players look like.

        Jennings has played at a well above average level the last 2 years and is being paid like an average CB. He should be able to maintain that for at least 2 years, and dead money is only $1.5M at that point (for a total of $12M for 2 years of service) or $750k after 3 years (for a total of $17M over 3 years). When you look at other FA CB contracts signed this offseason, I think Jennings’ stacks up quite nicely (assuming he can maintain his level of play for at least the next 2 years, which I think is a reasonable assumption given his age).

        The guys they have who are arguably overpaid, IMO, are players like Bushrod and Bennett. Good, solid players who they brought in as FA and are probably paid $1-2M a year more than what they should be. And Cutler, of course, but all QBs outside of the very top ones (Rodgers, Brees, Peyton, Brady) are getting overpaid now. You could argue Allen and Ratliff, too, but I actually think both of those contracts were pretty reasonable.

        The Cutler situation is an interesting one to me. He has accomplished less than the likes of most guys with similar contracts (Kaepernick, Ryan, Romo, Flacco), though he’s been arguably better than Stafford. You can also argue he’s been comparable to or better than Flacco overall, but Flacco has won more and signed his deal off a remarkable SB run that has since proven to be the exception and not the norm. But a case can also be made that Cutler is likely better poised to perform well going forward than guys like Romo and Flacco, and contracts are supposed to pay for future performance. But Cutler will have to take a big step forward to come close to earning his contract.

  • Dominik

    In 2013 the cornerback market took a major step backwards. While there
    was a rebound of sorts in 2013, Jennings was the first contract signed
    at the position.

    You mean “in 2012 the cornerback market took a major step backwards”, don’t you?

    • no, he means 2013. 2013 FA was prior to the 2013 NFL season, while we have already seen 2014 FA happen.

      • Dominik

        But then it would be “while there was a rebound of sorts in 2014”, wouldn’t it? A step backwards and a rebound of sorts in one year doesn’t sound right to me. But maybe there’s something I’m missing there.

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