One popular narrative circulating through Bears nation these days is that one of the reasons the team appears mired in NFL mediocrity – other than the fact they haven’t had a better than average quarterback since well before the original Beatles haircuts were considered long hair – is that general manager Ryan Pace has badly mismanaged the salary cap and left them fallen and unable to get up.
But the suggestion simply is untrue.
I’m not thrilled with a number of the players he’s paid, but there’s nothing wrong with what he’s paid them.
The fact is that Pace and his resident cap gurus, Joey Laine and James Cosh, have made the Bears one of the league’s more effective groups at managing the cap. Their current cap crunch is little more than another cost of a worldwide health crisis and the uncertainty of when things might return to normal.
Had the salary cap not been reduced this season (by about $17 million) for the first time since 2011 – and only the second time since its inception – the Bears would not have been anywhere near over the cap at the beginning of the new league year.
Had it increased by the same average $10 million a year it had over the previous 10 seasons the team would have had plenty of flexibility.
The cap actually is one of the things that never really has been a problem under Pace, and we really should blame him for the things he’s actually responsible for.
None of us, not a single one predicted COVID-19 or its impact. There was nothing to suggest Pace needed to work the cap any differently than he did.
Imagine if he hadn’t had the foresight not to pick up Mitch Trubisky’s fifth-year option?
That would have added another $24 million in guaranteed money heading into the new league year, and then you would have seen what salary cap hell really looks like.
You want poor cap management? Look around the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings were in such bad shape going into the 2020 season they had to blow up their entire defense just to get under the cap.
They fell from a 10-6 playoff team and legit contender in 2019 to a 1-5 start and 7-9 afterthought last season and from fifth in points allowed – 0.3 points a game behind the Bears – to 29th last season, giving up 29.7 points a game.
This offseason they still are trying to recover, adding Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Xavier Woods and bringing back Mackenzie Alexander. Whether it’s enough remains to be seen, and two key cap casualties include Anthony Harris and Riley Rieff.
Like the Bears they also have one of the shakiest offensive lines in the league, but now only $4.8 million in cap space. They will need it all for their draft class.
The Packers actually are worse.
Right now eight players – Aaron Rodgers, Za’Darius Smith, David Bakhtiari, Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, Aaron Jones and Billy Turner – are set to count $161 million against their 2022 cap. That’s 75% of their total cap even if it goes up by $30 million, which it won’t come close to.
Adding the other 45 players they’ll need on the roster, every one of them at the league minimum still would leave them well over the cap.
They were so strangled by the cap this year that all they could do was re-sign Jones and Marcedes Lewis while losing All Pro center Corey Linsley, top linebacker Christian Kirksey, rotational defensive tackle Montravious Adams and key No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams.
And now with only $620,000 in available cap space there is more pain coming. They’ll have to clear $4 to $5 million for their draft class.
As of this moment if the cap for 2022 remained unchanged, which it won’t, it will go up, the Bears would have $24 million in cap space entering the new league year while the Vikings would find themselves $7 million over the cap, and the Packers $37 million over.
Blame Pace for a lot of things but the Bears cap problems aren’t on him.