September 23, 2021

Hub Arkush: Bears current dilemma may not be the biggest challenge they’re facing

A sneak peek at the coming offseason is definitely not a pretty picture

What’s next for the Chicago Bears, as in next year?

They find themselves in a very unusual situation with a defense and special teams ready to contend for a Super Bowl right now, but an offense that best fits in another kind of bowl that starts with a T.

Before we talk necessary improvements, key free agents at the end of the season will include Mitch Trubisky, Allen Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Germain Ifedi, Patrick O’Donnell, Tashaun Gipson, Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban, Mario Edwards Jr., Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Barkevious Mingo and both placekickers, Cairo Santos and Eddy Pineiro.

That is no small problem since all will have to be either re-signed or replaced and the Bears salary cap without all those players currently stands at about $178.9 million, roughly $2 million over the projected 2021 cap of $176.8 million.

The Bears will clearly have to address the quarterback position, both tackle spots, possibly guard, running back depth and minimally depth at tight end and wide receiver.

Do the Bears have any solid options to get underneath the cap?

Seemingly certain cap casualties include Charles Leno ($6.2 million in cap savings), Jimmy Graham ($7 million), Bobby Massie ($6.7 million), Buster Skrine ($2.8 million), Joel Iyiegbuniwe ($900,000) and Javon Wims ($920,000).

The Bears would have to eat $14.2 million in dead cap money for those six players but there would be a net gain against the cap of approximately $24 million getting them $22 million under the cap.

If you were wondering about high dollar guys like Robert Quinn and Danny Trevathan, they would cost a lot more against the cap if they were cut than if they’re retained and who replaces Trevathan?

They can redo the contracts of Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller, Akiem Hicks, Quinn and Eddie Jackson for additional cap savings, but the deals of the first three have already been tinkered with, and while there will most likely be some work done, it does create even bigger cap issues down the road.

If Robinson, only 27 years old, is not re-signed the team’s massive offensive issues become almost insurmountable so some of the cap space will have to be committed either to him or his replacement.

Other wideouts hitting the market next March include A.J. Green (33), T.Y. Hilton (31), Sammy Watkins (28), Marvin Jones (31), Corey Davis (26) and Ju Ju Smith-Schuster (24).

There are other young talents but none that have shone signs of being a No. 1.

Robinson will probably be the most expensive because he is the best option, unless you take a run at Smith-Schuster, who isn’t Robinson yet but may get there.

At quarterback, with a $6.6 million cap hit and $10.3 million in dead money Nick Foles is almost certainly coming back unless he opts out of his deal, and why he would do that after this year’s performance is impossible to imagine.

Starting free agent QBs next year include Dak Prescott and Philip Rivers along with retreads Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco and Jameis Winston.

Of course there’s always Colin Kaepernick but...

Free-agent tackles currently include Trent Williams (33), Russell Okung (32), Allejandro Villanueva (32), Cam Robinson (26) and a bunch of guys no better than Leno or Massie.

The free agency cupboard is currently bare, but there are 12 or 13 teams in cap hell with the Bears so more talent will be hitting the market as they pare down too.

The Bears currently have their own draft picks in rounds 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Their fourth rounder went to the Vikings for Trevis Gipson and the seventh rounder went to the Raiders for Eddy Pineiro. They should get either a sixth or a seventh from Miami for Adam Shaheen, and they are projected to receive three compensatory sixth-round picks for Nick Williams, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Chase Daniel.

So with that puzzle in front of them and the college football season currently a mess, the pandemic likely to wipe out the NFL scouting combine along with any normal offseason free agent and college scouting routines or in-person visits, would it really be wise to fire the general manager and start from scratch?

It feels a little different when you’re staring at reality doesn’t it?

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media