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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Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc