GM Ryan Pace faces a unique challenge this offseason. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic slap the NFL with significant revenue losses, but that could have a ripple effect on how the Chicago Bears approach the 2021 offseason. Pace faces both the issue of finding a new quarterback and fixing a still-broken offense. He also has to try and keep a good defense together despite not a lot of money to throw around.

According to Over The Cap, the Bears are currently looking at being around $3-5 million in the red to start this offseason. That means they have some work to do just to get back under the cap. Never mind clearing enough space to handle the 30 in-house free agents they have including Allen Robinson. What about making moves in free agency or signing their next draft class?

This makes it obvious moves are coming. It’s just a matter of what kind of moves? Exactly how much money can the organization conceivably free up? Time to explore that.

Chicago Bears salary cap woes can be attacked three different ways

Cut candidates:

This list of made up of players who fit two criteria. Removing them from the roster returns a decent amount of cap space and they also limited-to-no trade value. Either due to age, injury and a contract no team would want to take on.

  • TE Jimmy Graham – $7 million
  • OT Bobby Massie – $5.4 million ($8 million post-June 1st)
  • OT Charles Leno – $6.2 million ($9 million post-June 1st)
  • CB Buster Skrine – $2.73 million ($4.93 million post-June 1st)
  • WR Anthony Miller – $1.21 million
  • WR Javon Wims – $920,000
  • S Jordan Lucas – $600,000
  • CB Teez Tabor – $850,000
  • CB Xavier Crawford – $850,000

Remember that according to NFL rules, a team may only use the post-June 1st designation on two players per offseason. So under those guidelines, the most cap space the Bears could secure purely from cuts would be $31.16 million presuming Leno and Massie were both give those designations. A pretty healthy chunk of change though it would dig some deep rivets into their roster that would be challenging to fill.

Trade candidates:

This category is reserved for players of two types. Those who would have some sort of value on the trade market other teams would want. Or those who have a contract that can’t be cut and the only way to secure cap space would be trading them.

  • Kyle Fuller – $11 million
  • Akiem Hicks – $10.5 million
  • Nick Foles – $1.33 million

Fuller is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s not quite 30-years old yet and sits on a contract that isn’t outrageous. Contending teams seeking an instant upgrade would love him. Hicks is 31 this year and on the back nine of his career. That said he’s still a force on the defensive line both as a big pass rusher and run defender. As for Foles, this is more about his contract. They can’t cut him. So if they want him out, a trade is the only way. All told the Chicago Bears could net $22.83 million from such moves.

Restructure candidates:

This category is much more fluid. That is because there are so many variations on how teams can restructure deals. So to keep it as simple as possible, we’ll focus simply on the absolute maximum the Bears could squeeze out of each contract. Usually, such moves are done with players who are under control long-term.

  • Khalil Mack – $12.128 million
  • Robert Quinn – $7.983 million
  • Eddie Jackson – $6.045 million
  • Cody Whitehair – $4.132 million
  • Eddie Goldman – $2.573 million
  • Danny Trevathan – $1.7 million

Understand that certain players on this list are unlikely to get restructures because the team won’t want their dead money hits extended further down the road. Trevathan and Quinn are primary examples. That being said, this route figures to see a lot of action with a maximum cap return of $34.561 million.

All things considered? The Bears have several options on the table for finding the cap space they need to be aggressive this 2021 offseason. The added bonus of the overall cap ceiling being higher than expected will only help matters. It comes down to who they feel they can afford to lose via cut or trade and which contracts can be restructured with some confidence the player involved will remain productive for them a couple of years from now.