With less than 30 days before the free agent market opens, the Bears cannot begin to think about pursuing any free agents before they decide what to do with DE Julius Peppers, says Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. It has already been noted that Peppers, who carries a cap hit of over $18MM for 2014, would be willing to restructure his contract, and it was previously reported that Peppers would simply have to take a pay cut if he wanted to remain in Chicago. Biggs notes that such a pay cut would have to be quite substantial, and Peppers has already restructured his deal twice over the last four seasons to create more cap room.
However, there are a number of factors that impact any decision regarding Peppers. Biggs notes that Peppers, despite his age (34) and disappointing 2013 season, is the only legitimate pass-rusher on the roster, and he must be replaced–or there must be a replacement on the radar–before the Bears let him go. Furthermore, releasing Peppers would create about $8.3MM of dead money, which could be spread out over two seasons if the Bears cut him after June 1. If they chose that route, they would create $14MM of cap space for 2014. If they cut him before June 1, they would eat all the dead money right away and would create $9.8MM of cap space.
Either way, the Bears would have some wiggle room if they released Peppers, though it is unclear what their cash budget is going to be after signing Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Matt Slauson, and Robbie Gould. Biggs lays out some of the ways they could spend the money saved by cutting Peppers to bring in another pass rusher. He lists Brian Orakpo, Michael Bennett, and Michael Johnson as potential targets, and notes that Everson Griffin of the Vikings and Willie Young of the Lions could also be considered.
The draft, meanwhile is likely not the place to replace Peppers, as there are not many top-flight 4-3 defensive ends in this year’s class, and Jadeveon Clowney will almost certainly not fall to the Bears with the fourteenth overall pick.
As the Bears decide what to do about their aging star, here are some other musings from Chicago:
- Given the Bears’ struggles defending the run in 2o13, as well as the injuries to impending free agent defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins, ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright thinks Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan would make a lot of sense for Chicago.
- Wright does not believe the Bears will take a wideout in the later rounds, and he believes the team will give Marquess Wilson the opportunity to become the “speed element” of the passing game to complement Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
- Wright also does not think that the Bears will pursue Saints safety Roman Harper should he be cut by New Orleans. There would be value in pairing the veteran Harper with young safety Chris Conte, but Harper would likely demand more money than the Bears would be willing to pay.