Chicago Bears’ salary cap situation heading into 2021

After a rollercoaster 2020 NFL season, what is the Chicago Bears’ salary cap situation heading into the 2021 league year? How high is the Bears’ salary cap number set to be in 2021, and how much space do they have to work with in the new league year?

The Bears project to be around $0.8 million under the salary cap in 2021

As of March 2nd, the 2021 salary cap projects to be around $185 million. The Bears will carry over $7.0 million in cap space to the 2021 season. Therefore, the Bears’ current salary cap projects to be $192.0 million.

As it stands, the Bears have just over $186.0 million in commitments to their top 51 highest-paid players, with an additional $5.2 million in dead money. Therefore, the Bears are currently around $0.8 million under the salary cap heading into 2021.

To view the most up-to-date numbers for the Chicago Bears’ salary cap space, check out our team by team 2021 salary cap space article, which is updated daily.

Chicago has a handful of potential options to make when it comes to releasing players

With the Chicago Bears needing to clear salary cap space in 2021, who are the names we could see on their way out of Chicago in the coming weeks?

Could Akiem Hicks’ time in Chicago be over?

Akiem Hicks is set to enter the final year of his contract with the Chicago Bears. The dominant defensive tackle is, without a doubt, a talented player. However, with a $12 million salary cap number in 2021, the Chicago Bears may have to consider moving on from Hicks.

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Releasing Hicks would save the Bears $10.5 million and leave just $1.5 million in dead money. Hicks is one of a couple of players whose release would immediately get the Bears’ 2021 salary cap situation out of the red.

Would the Bears also consider releasing Kyle Fuller?

Kyle Fuller is another undeniably talented player who could be a salary cap casualty for the Bears in 2021. The 2021 season will be the final year of Fuller’s contract, although he does have two void years built into his deal.

Those void years are what present the issue for the Bears. If they release Fuller this offseason, the $3 million in prorated bonus in those void years accelerates onto the Bears’ 2021 salary cap. Therefore, the Bears would be left with $9 million in dead money. On the other hand, they would save $11 million in salary cap space.

Jimmy Graham could be on the move again in 2021

The structure of Jimmy Graham’s contract foreshadows his potential release this offseason. Graham signed a two-year deal with $16 million. However, his salary cap charge in 2020 was just $6 million. That left $10 million in the second season.

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However, none of his salary in 2021 is guaranteed. Therefore, all Graham would leave on the Bears’ 2021 salary cap is $3 million in prorated bonus. Releasing Graham would save the Bears $7 million in salary cap space in 2021.

Who are the other names that could be departing Chicago in 2021?

General manager Ryan Pace has some tough decisions to make with his roster. A handful of players could clear between $2-6 million each if they are released. Here are some players we could see on the way out of Chicago in the coming weeks:

  • Anthony Miller, WR – Cap savings: $1.2 million; dead money: $493,400
  • Bilal Nichols, IDL – Cap savings: $2.2 million; dead money: $75,000
  • Bobby Massie, OT – Cap savings: $5.4 million; dead money: $3.9 million
  • Buster Skrine, CB – Cap savings: $2.7 million; dead money: $3.3 million The Chicago Bears are reported to be releasing CB Buster Skrine.
  • James Daniels, G – Cap savings: $2.2 million; dead money: $783,665

The Bears have players they can extend or restructure to create cap space in 2021

The Bears could save cap space in 2021 by extending or restructuring deals. However, in many cases, they would simply be pushing decisions on player personnel into the next year or two to avoid making tough decisions now.

The Bears could extend Hicks, Fuller, and Graham

If the Bears feel they can challenge in 2021, they may not want to release three veterans who can contribute. The Bears could save $28.5 million by releasing all three, compared to a potential $22.22 million through extensions.

The most likely player to receive an extension is Hicks. With the emergence of talented rookies at tight end and cornerback in 2020, Fuller and Graham are more likely to be on their way out of Chicago.

The Bears may consider extending left tackle Charles Leno Jr.

Another player entering his final season in Chicago is Charles Leno Jr. The Bears could include Leno as a potential player to release. Doing so would save the Bears $6.2 million in salary cap space in 2021. However, the Bears may instead decide to extend their franchise left tackle, which would reduce Leno’s cap hit by as much as $6.3 million.

Chicago could save cap space by restructuring the deals for Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn

The defensive line for the Chicago Bears will be their staple on defense in 2021. That charge will be led by the pass-rushing duo of Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Both have multiple seasons remaining on their contracts.

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Mack will count $26.6 million against the cap in 2021. However, the Bears could save as much as $13 million with a restructure. The concern is that Mack will already count an average of $25 million against the cap in 2022, 2023, and 2024. Therefore, pushing more money onto those seasons is unlikely to be a desirable option.

Instead, the Bears may decide to restructure Quinn’s contract. Quinn expects to count $14.7 million against the Bears’ salary cap in 2021. Chicago could save as much as $7.9 million against the cap if they restructure his deal. Additionally, that would only move around $2.6 million per year into the next three seasons.

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