April 17, 2021

Hub Arkush: Landing Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson isn’t as simple as it sounds

Acquiring a high-priced QB would leave Bears in a dire cap situation

For Chicago Bears fans trying to understand why Allen Robinson has been allowed to get within 19 days of unrestricted free agency, or why the Bears won’t be trading for Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, this column is for you.

It is an awful year to be a free agent or a QB with a huge contract looking to make a move.

Flipping Matt Stafford and Jared Goff or Carson Wentz and Philip Rivers didn’t have a massive impact on the Lions’, Rams’ or Colts’ caps.

But trying to get Wilson’s or Watson’s contracts into Mitch Trubisky’s slot would be like trying to get a size six shoe on a size 12 foot.

The NFL’s new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement that begins with the 2021 season calls for the players to receive 48% of total football revenue or 48.8% if they add a 17th regular season game.

Because total football revenue is unknown until after the completion of any given season, annual salary caps are based on 48% of the prior season’s total football revenue and then adjusted each year on a rolling basis going forward.

The 2021 cap currently is set in the $180 million range because the league and the NFLPA made a deal that the cap would not be reduced by more than 10% this season.

Additional losses to the owners from overpaying players on the percentage they actually were due in 2020 will be “borrowed” from the 2022 cap and additional seasons beyond.

It is possible, probably likely, that the cap will go down again next year, in 2023 and beyond.

But how much?

Players and teams negotiating free agent deals in the coming weeks will be flying blind as to what the impact of those deals will be on the cap beyond this season.

In Robinson’s case it also is not helpful to his pursuit of the biggest deal possible that there are a handful of other top pass catchers available. Teams and players will be dragging their feet to see who is going to set the market.

At QB, as I’ve told you all repeatedly, Wilson and Watson are going to be playing in Seattle and Houston, respectively, this upcoming season.

But, let’s say I’m wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be all that rare.

Watson and Wilson are the second and third highest paid players in the league, respectively, behind Patrick Mahomes.

There is $21.6 million in dead cap money on Watson’s deal that the Texans would have to eat if they trade him, and $39 million on Wilson’s deal that is Seattle’s problem.

But beginning in 2022 and beyond, with no idea what teams’ caps are going to be, either player would come with a massive hit in the $37-million to $40-million range.

The Bears could end up in a situation where Khalil Mack and their quarterback eat up $60 to $70 million of the cap, which would leave only $100 million or so to pay 50 other players. And they would have no first- or second-round draft choices [after trading them for a QB to replace expensive quality players who would need to be cap casualties to make all of this work within the cap constraints.

And either QB most likely would be without a No. 1 receiver because clearly there would be no cap room for Robinson.

Can the Bears afford Robinson at any price until they know what they’re doing at quarterback?

What has been lost in all the hysteria surrounding what appears to be Ryan Pace’s big miss on Mitch Trubisky is that it is not now his priority to fix the quarterback position at all costs.

If he is going to save his job – and perhaps Matt Nagy’s too – his No. 1 priority is to make the Bears a legitimate contender.

Based on their current assets he may have a much better chance of doing that with a Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Joe Flacco or dare I say a Nick Foles-type answer at quarterback than he does by chasing Wilson or Watson at the expense of fixing all else the Bears need to improve.

Sorry, Bears fans, but fixing your beloved franchise just isn’t as simple as you hope, even if you want that shiny new toy no matter what the cost.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media