The downfall of the Chicago Bears began two years ago when it became clear the salary cap was going to fall for the first time in years. A byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing fans away from NFL stadiums. GM Ryan Pace hadn’t been prepared for that eventuality. In fairness, nobody was. Still, it pushed the Bears over the salary cap and forced them to make difficult financial decisions. Pace cut players he likely wouldn’t have under normal circumstances and restructured contracts to find breathing room.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. The Bears still crumbled in 2021, going 6-11 and costing the GM his job. When Ryan Poles stepped in as the replacement, he knew what had to be done. The books must be brought under control. That was accomplished in a few key steps. Akiem Hicks was allowed to hit free agency along with Allen Robinson. Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman were cut, and Khalil Mack was traded.
Now the Bears have a comfortable $16 million in cap space.
Poles has more than enough wiggle room for additional moves if necessary. However, it is the broader picture that matters. It wasn’t 2022 the new GM was aiming for, but 2023. According to Over The Cap, the Bears are projected to have $93.48 million in cap space at the start of next offseason, presuming another increase to the cap ceiling. That is $23 million more than the next closest team (New England). What makes it even scarier is they have tons of flexibility to create more.
Robert Quinn, Cody Whitehair, and Eddie Jackson could all be unloaded via trades or released for $25 million. Poles would basically have carte blanch to do whatever he wanted on the free agent market. That seems rather important, considering who might be available next year, especially on the offensive side.
Chicago Bears could land some serious firepower.
The wide receiver market looks like it will be healthy—big names like D.K. Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Diontae Johnson, Terry McLaurin, and Hunter Renfrow will be unrestricted free agents. That doesn’t include possible trade candidates that could be available as well. The tight end market seems strong too, with Mike Gesicki, Dawson Knox, and Dalton Schultz looking like possibilities. Any one of them would help open up the passing game.
Interested in offensive line help? Elgton Jenkins, Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, and Garrett Bradbury are big names to watch. Knowing Poles, don’t expect him to go on some sort of spending spree, though. He’ll likely hand out two or three solid deals and then shift the focus to team depth. His goal remains to build through the draft.
Then again, certain events might change his mind.
If Fields takes a bigger step forward than expected in 2022, it might convince the GM the Chicago Bears are closer to a deep playoff run than first believed. He might feel compelled to infuse the offense with as much talent as possible. That is what makes the next 6 to 7 months so compelling. It could set the stage for a wild 2023 off-season.