Buccaneers trade for Bears OT Gabe Carimi


According to Adam Schefter the Chicago Bears have traded disgruntled OT Gabe Carimi to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 6th round draft pick.

The trade illustrates the changing landscape of the NFL caused by the new CBA slotting system. Carimi, selected 29th overall in the 2011 draft, only spent two seasons with Chicago prior to the trade. The Bears will only absorb $907,918 in dead money in each of the next two seasons for making the trade while the Buccaneers will pick up $1 ,016,458 in salary in 2013 and $1,337,187 in salary in 2014. The Buccaneers will also own Carimi’s rights in 2015 if they choose to pick up a 5th year option that will be equal to the average salary of the 3rd and 25th highest offensive linemen in the NFL next season. In contrast the 29th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Kyle Wilson of the Jets, would have cost the Jets $1,097,400 in dead cap charge in the year of the trade and $2,194,800 the year thereafter had they traded him, making the cost somewhat prohibitive to the team that drafted him.

Carimi’s contract calls for offseason bonuses in 2014 worth $692,187 and none of his salary is guaranteed in 2014 so this is likely a 1 year audition for the Buccaneers. Carimi’s salary in 2013 is fully guaranteed so as long as he reports to the team. If Carimi continues to be unhappy and fails to report the Buccaneers will now be able to recover bonus money paid to Carimi by the Bears, so all things considered this is a low risk trade for the team.


The Chicago Bears: Past, Present and Future…


I touched on this briefly in my look at teams that need to create cap room over the summer and thought that the Chicago Bears would really make a great topic for discussion since they are in such a rare position in the NFL. Since reaching the Super Bowl in 2006 the Bears have been one of the most difficult franchises to really get a handle on. They are never bad, but never seem to have the ability to really make that jump into something better. In 5 of the last 6 years the team has won between 7 and 10 games, with the lone exception being the 11 win season in 2010. The first change was made in 2012 when Phil Emery was brought in as General Manager after the team took a major step back in 2011 falling to 8-8 after an injury to starting QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte derailed the season.

Despite a 10 win season in 2012 Emery made the decision to part ways with Head Coach Lovie Smith, who had spent 9 seasons with the Bears, making the playoffs 3 times and the Super Bowl once. But Smith was a defensive coach in an offensive league and few teams were blander on offense than Smith’s Bears. The team spent money on Cutler and later WR Brandon Marshall and for the most part the results were the same. Smith’s defense was considered by many to be antiquated and heavily reliant on older players that he had won with in the past.  By cutting the cord on Smith, Emery could make the team over in his own image.

The Bears seem to clearly have their eye on rebuilding the team in 2014, leaving the Bears with a number of question about their 2013 plans. The 2013 Bears only have around $1.8 million in cap space as we make the turn into June. Five players have cap charges over $8 million dollars this season yet the Bears reworked no big time contracts for cap relief the way teams like the Steelers or Cowboys restructured deals. The team didn’t look to extend any contracts. So far they have just remained status quo with their players under contract.

Chicago had 7 unrestricted free agents in 2013, of which they re-signed 4, all on minimum salary benefit contracts. They signed 7 free agents from other teams, most of which were 1 year deals. The two big acquisitions were LT Jermon Bushrod, formerly of the Saints, and TE Martellus Bennett of the Giants. Bushrod will be with Chicago for at least two seasons, possibly three, while Bennett, despite the 4 year deal, may prove to be little more than a 1 year $5.215 million dollar gamble. From  the cut players category they signed low cost 1 year deals with LB James Anderson, LB DJ Williams, and S Tom Zbikowski.

Not including the undrafted free agents from 2013, the Bears currently have only 38 players under contract in 2014, second lowest in the NFL to only the Oakland Raiders. In 2015 it is only 19 players under contract, tied with the Raiders and Broncos for the low point in the NFL. The league averages are 47.4 and 27.2, respectively. They will have in the bottom 5 cap payrolls in 2014.

33 of the Bears top 53 salary cap players (per my estimates) will become free agents in 2014, with another 7 slated for free agency in 2015. The list includes notable players. 4 of the Bears top 10 and 7 of the top 15 cap hits in 2013 will hit the market next season. The Bears have 6 positional players this year who will be top 1/3 of the market cap charges (Julius Peppers, Marshall, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Matt Forte). Of those six, four will be free agents within the next two years and the remaining two have strong potential to be cut after this season when the cap consequences are not so dramatic. On top of that starting QB Cutler is also a free agent.

Thus far Chicago simply seems to be willing to let these guys play it out in hopes of being somewhat competitive this year and then move on after that. With these types of cap numbers it makes little sense to have guys play out contracts to just turn around and re-sign them next season. By doing that the clock doesn’t start on guarantees and prorations until 2014, often making the real term of the contract much longer and keeping a player on the roster thru 2016. If they extend now it pushes that up at least 1 season.

Of all the names Cutler is toughest guy to gauge. He was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft and he put up terrific numbers early in Denver.  The Bears gave up a lot to get him and it just has not worked out. He has not had much to work with and their offensive line allowed him to take beatings most other QB’s will never face in a game let alone the course of a season, but if they are truly turning this roster over does Cutler provide enough upside to get the job done?  Probably not.

While I still think there is a role in the NFL for a “professional” QB, and that is probably Cutler’s ceiling, it has to be the perfect situation. It is the type of team with the top rated defense and a capable offense. The Steelers in 2005 were probably the last team to win the Super Bowl with that type of team, but more recently the 2009 Jets, 2011 49ers, and a few Ravens teams made it to the Conference Championship with that strategy. Had those teams had better QB play, specifically the Jets and 49’ers, they would have advanced to the Super Bowl. That is where Cutler fits and I don’t think that is the Bears, but it’s almost unheard of to see a starting QB with an ok game hit free agency and perhaps the end game is to tag and trade next year to a squad like the Buccaneers or Browns.

Part of me says that this is a team Smith could have coached this season given  the moves that have (and have not) been made, but there is some talent here and it may be best for Marc Trestmen to actually work with the players before deciding if they should or should not be long term members of his team. It seems like a strategy designed to “do your best” in 2013, let the new coach evaluate the Smith era players to make an informed opinion, and then blow it up next season rather than compromising anything in the present.

I think the Bears situation right now illustrates some of the difficulties NFL teams have when they are constantly able to hit that mediocre label so many years in a row. It is almost as if teams sometimes may need to hit a low point to push forward change in the NFL. The Bears are one of only six teams to win at least 7 games in every season since 2007. The only other teams to accomplish that are the Saints, Chargers, Giants, Patriots, and Steelers. Those teams have made up 7 of the last 12 Super Bowl participants, the Chargers and Bears being the only two to not make it.  San Diego is, in many ways, in the same predicament as Chicago right now and I would not be surprised of the Saints are soon to follow suit.

It is always tough choices. I think we always tend to look at the positives with respect to our teams. For years with the Bears it was “if they only had a QB”. Then they got one in Cutler and it was “if we only had a better pass rush” which led to a contract for Julius Peppers. When they didn’t get them over the hump they turned to Marshall to “fix the passing game”. At some point the very hard decision has to be made that its not really one guys fault. There are some (rare) cases where that may be true, but most of the time it’s a collective effort and sometimes the collection is not going to get it done.

But that is an impossible sell to ownership and moreso the fans to just say what we have is not good enough so we need to start over. New York and Oakland are not taking well to that outlook on the season. Indianapolis did not take well to it when they moved on from Peyton Manning before winning last season ultimately brought them back. It almost seems like the Bears do not want to go that route yet, but are leaving a big window of opportunity to do so next season. Why? I see two main reasons.

Maybe part of the Bears strategy is the thought that a new coach can get something more out of the team than Smith. Its not unheard of in the NFL to see a new coach come in and do more with the same players than the former coach. The NFL is so much about planning and preparation and teams have years and years of footage of Smith to prepare for. A new coach has little to prepare for and they often catch teams off guard. This is a 10 win team and a team that historically has been decent at it’s worst. Maybe they can pull off 10 wins again. If they don’t, it makes it easier to cut (or simply not re-sign) players off a poor season than a good one.

Secondly, had Chicago parted ways with some of the high priced players this year they would have jumped towards the top of the food chain with cap space but they still would not have likely approached the major cap players like the Eagles, Dolphins, Browns, Bengals, and Jaguars. By all accounts this was a weak free agent crop of players and there may be more value in keeping these players in 2013 and being able to jump to the top of the cap charts in 2014. If the Bears do decide that its time to move on from this core group it becomes a far easier sell if you can rebrand yourself in just one year of free agency and pair it with a high draft pick and a few compensatory picks on the horizon in 2015 for players allowed to walk away. At the very least the cap space is going to be there in 2014 for the team to pull a Kansas City Chiefs type rebuild on the fly next season.

With so many potential moving parts I think its makes the Bears a fascinating team to look at both this summer and during the course of the year. Will they stay true to their current salary and contract composition?  Will they get caught up in success in 2013 and have that change the plans that seem to be on tap for 2014?  Will players begin to grumble that the Bears are not looking at them as future players and wearing them out to hurt their values in free agency?  We’ll wait and see but it sure seems to be a very eventful season for Chicago, no matter what people think of their chances this year.


Five Teams that Need to Create Cap Space


Earlier today we looked at the teams that were set to gain cap room on June 2nd and how that would move teams such as the Oakland Raiders from the danger zone to being comfortable enough to function once the regular season begins. What about the rest of the NFL and teams who are not going to benefit for the June 1 cut?

I had written a piece a month or two back detailing the difference in reported vs effective cap space. Feel free to follow the link, but to summarize we need to account for the fact that every team in the NFL at this point needs enough money to, at a minimum, expand the roster from 51 to 53 players and field a Practice Squad. In addition most NFL teams still need to sign their first round draft selection(only 4 have done so thus far), all of whom will impact the salary cap. The two additional players will cost a minimum of $810,000 and the full Practice Squad will cost $816,000, so $1.626 million is almost mandatory to function come September. So a number of teams are in danger. Lets look at the top 5:

Washington Redskins– Washington has $1.413 million in cap room and will gain about $170,000 more when Rob Jacksons suspension begins at the start of the year. Luckily they do have all their rookies signed but right now their effective cap room is -$28,000 and that’s assuming they don’t have to replace anyone during the course of the year on IR or PUP. The Skins have already reworked a number of deals to get under the cap and the logical move would be to release London Fletcher at some point during training camp.  Cutting Fletcher should free up $4.8 million in cap room after June 1. I would think its going to be a big uphill battle for him to make the team just based on finances alone. If they intend to keep him he needs to take a paycut otherwise the Redkins will need to approach their defensive or offensive linemen about restructuring their contracts.

Chicago Bears– Like the Redskins they have their entire draft class under contract so that is a big help. Their effective cap space is $145,000 so they likely need to free up another $2-3 million to begin the season. The Bears are an interesting team, probably worthy of their own post, because they are in limbo. They are in many ways a rebuilding team looking to rebrand itself, but at the same time they won 10 games in 2012 and have a  number of high priced players on the team. Their logical cap relief points are to work on extensions for QB Jay Cutler, WR Brandon Marshall, and DT Henry Melton. Cutler and Melton are in their walk year and Marshall is under contract for one more season. CB Charles Tillman, a Pro Bowler last season at 31, is in the final year of his contract while DE Julius Peppers carries a massive cap hit that could be renegotiated downward. LB Lance Briggs also carries a high cap charge with 2 years remaining on his deal The question is do any of them factor into the future and if the answer is no the Bears will have to look further down the roster at potential cuts such as WR Devin Hester or K Robbie Gould to create the extra space they need.

San Francisco 49’ers– San Francisco sits with $2.6 million in cap room but still needs to sign their 1st round pick and also will need to account for the fact that at the least WR Michael Crabtree is going to wind up on temporary IR meaning they need to carry at least 54 players. Their effective cap is -$406,000 right now. As we discussed before extending DE Justin Smith would be an option but he is at a negotiating high point at a very advanced age which may scare the 49’ers. Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner are both in walk year, but as some pointed out to me on Twitter Whitner would likely not be a candidate for extension. Brown’s salary is probably not high enough to create the room San Francisco needs. Cutting Whitner saves the team $3.85 million in cap now that workouts are complete. That is the cushion they need to be cap compliant come September. Another option would be to look to bring Frank Gore’s salary down and throw him a bit more guaranteed over a 3 year period. Not likely but I guess its another option.

Houston Texans– Houston has  $2.8 million in cap to work with and still has their top 2 rookies to sign putting their effective cap space at only $300,000. Andre Johnson and Antonio Smith are two names they might be able to look to for cap relief. This is Smith’s last season under contract. Brian Cushing is a name that could also be extended but the cap relief there would likely be minimal and the same goes for G Wade Smith. This is a team that could be forced to make a tough decision or two either cutting a player they like or being forced to rework the contract of CB Jonathan Joseph, a good player but one whose price tag is probably now too high relative to the market. Like the Bears Houston is in a bit of a tough spot, though they are not in rebuilding mode. Most of their bigger price players are all important pieces of the team so its hard to envision them releasing anyone, but at the same time you have to be aware or your limits and the damage that can be done to the future by maintaining the status quo on a team that may have peaked two years ago when Matt Schaub got injured.

New York Giants– Sitting with $3.3 million in cap room Id consider the Giants the last team that might be in trouble. They still have their first round pick to sign and a strong chance that Henry Hynoski starts the year on a reserve list which puts their effective cap space right around $400,000. The Giants are trying to give it one last go this year and have loaded their team up with Minimum Salary Benefit veterans and reworked contracts of some veteran players to try to keep the group as intact as possible. The Giants have three players with over $9 million in cap charges, the highest of which is Eli Manning at $20.65 million. The Giants most likely want to hold off as long as possible on doing anything with his contract. The most logical candidate is Chris Snee who has reworked his contract numerous times with the Giants in his career and with 2 seasons remaining on his contract could be a cap casualty is he doesn’t look good in camp. His cap figure is $11 million with dead money of $4.3 million if cut beyond June 1. Antrel Rolle should also be in danger for similar reasons. The Giants situation may get even more complicated because they want to sign WR Victor Cruz to a long term contract and it seems as if WR Hakeem Nicks is going to want a new deal done as well. That puts the team in a position where cuts make more sense than adding more dead money to the 2014 cap by way of restructures.


Bears Agree to Terms with LT Jordan Mills and WR Marquess Wilson


Chicago signed two of their draft picks yesterday, 5th rounder Jordan Mills and 7th rounder Marquess Wilson. As projected the two players received signing bonuses of $164,800 and $47,148 respectively. The net cap hit for the Bears is only $52,987 since neither has a salary cap figure that displaces a current player in the teams top 51. The Bears currently have just under $3 million in official salary cap space.

View Jordan Mills Salary Cap Page

View Marquess Wilsons Salary Cap Page