At around this time last year, I wrote a Bears article that was very similar to this one. It contained two sections: one on players who could be on the chopping block, and one on impending free agents on whom the Bears would have to make a difficult (or not so difficult) decision.
The former was incredibly extensive. It contained numerous tough calls regarding potential cap casualties and getting rid of disappointing players.
That changed dramatically this year. I suspect that the difference is directly correlated with the team going 12-4 instead of 5-11, but I have to check with the guys in the lab in order to be sure.
The Bears don’t have nearly as much cap space as they did last season, so they will have to make some difficult decisions with their own free agents. They’re decisions that I suspect some fans will not be happy with, but decisions that will benefit the franchise nonetheless.
These are the players whose fate Ryan Pace will decide in February and March, and the decisions that I think he should make.
Dion Sims, TE, 2019 Cap Hit: $6.3 million, Dead Money: $333,334
Sims is the lone returner from last year’s cut/keep list, and my preferred outcome has not changed in the slightest. He began the year as the Bears’ number two tight end, catching two passes for nine yards against the Packers in Week One. Both were on key third downs, and he was tackled short of the chains each time. After that game, he was open on a few occasions, but it was painfully clear that Trubisky didn’t trust him in the slightest. He didn’t catch another ball for the rest of the season.
Sims’ main purpose on the team was to be a mainstay in the run game (Pace brought him back because he couldn’t use the space he’d clear for anything else and thought he could be a fine blocking tight end). But he struggled there as well, as the Bears’ ground game couldn’t get going with him on the roster.
He went on IR with the latest of a few concussions this season, which is devastating for who was a great teammate during his time in Chicago. But his lack of production makes him one of the easiest choices on this list.
Danny Trevathan, ILB, Cap Hit: $7.7 Million, Dead Money: $1.3 Million
Trevathan is only here because before the season started, he seemed like a logical candidate for release. He’s being paid a significant salary and had not been able to stay healthy through two seasons as a Bear. If 2018 brought more of the same – productive play but low availability – he would be a goner.
Fortunately, Trevathan stayed on the field and then some. From the moment he won NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week Two against Seattle, it was clear that he would play himself onto the 2019 roster. He was all over the field throughout the season, covering tight ends, blowing up screens, and stopping the run on a consistent basis. The value of his leadership and tutelage of Roquan Smith is incalculable.
His name may come up again in the latter section of this article in 2020, as he will be entering a contract year. But for now, Trevathan isn’t going anywhere.
Sam Acho, OLB, Cap Hit: $2.4 Million, Dead Money: $250,000
For a while, Sam Acho was an important piece of the rebuilding Bears. He was their nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award in both 2016 and 2017, doing fantastic work in the community and helping lead their social justice initiative this season. The McCaskey family clearly loves him and he was a useful presence in the locker room through three consecutive losing seasons.
That being said, Acho’s value does not equal his price tag anymore. The Bears no longer need bodies to hold down the fort at outside linebacker, and they’re at the point cap-wise where they need to cut payroll wherever they see fit. Acho is a serviceable run defender, but he doesn’t provide enough pass rush off the bench to justify keeping on the roster.
Kyle Long, G, Cap Hit: $8.5 Million, Dead Money: $3 Million
When Long signed the contract extension that put the Bears in this predicament, it was a complete no-brainer. He was one of the best guards in the league, and at 27 years old he had almost no prior injury history.
Since he put the pen to paper, the most games he’s played in a season is 10. And when he’s been on the field, he hasn’t been anywhere near the same player. The difference in the Bears’ collective offensive line play between when Long was in and when veteran journeyman Bryan Witzmann was in was almost nothing.
Long is still a more than adaquate starting right guard, but there’s no way that the Bears can bring him back at his current price. I would think that Long knows this as well as anyone and would be willing to restructure his contract, allowing him to stay in the only locker room he’s ever known for a prospective Super Bowl run.
Verdict: Restructure or Cut
Cody Parkey, K, Cap Hit: $4.1 Million, Dead Money: $5.2 Million
Unrestricted Free Agents
(i.e. not including players like Roy Robertson-Harris and Ben Braunecker, who are restricted free agents).
By now, everyone knows White’s story. He was the seventh overall pick in 2015, but played five total games in his first three seasons. 2018 was his last chance to break out as a mainstay in head coach Matt Nagy’s offense, but it would be an uphill battle after the Bears made three major investments in the wide receiver position in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller.
Instead, he did the exact opposite. White was again inactive many times this season, but not due to injury. Serving no purpose on special teams and continually frustrating coaches as a route runner, White was deemed a healthy scratch in eight out of 17 games this season.
His lone highlight came at the end of the loss against New England, when he caught a last-ditch hail mary attempt from Mitch Trubisky but was brought down at the one yard line. That moment served as a metaphor for White’s tenure in Chicago – it seemed like there was a chance for greatness at the start, but that chance disintegrated shortly after.
Verdict: Let go
Conversely, Bellamy responded to the Bears seeking upgrades at receiver with the best season of his career. Statistically, it was actually his worst, but that was due to being the WR4 instead of the WR2, a role in which he had struggled in the past few seasons.
Bellamy was a stud in the third phase, specifically as a gunner on punt coverage. He was a very good blocker on the edge, and he frequently earned snaps on early downs as a result. Every now and then, he made a play downfield in the passing game, but that wasn’t his primary job on the team.
He also emerged as one of the key leaders in the locker room, serving as DJ at Club Dub after victories. His teammates clearly love him and he does all the little things right. Unless some team overpays dramatically, this is a no-brainer.
Lynch was a pleasant surprise for the Bears, because he managed to stay healthy up until Week 14 (with one exception due to the short week in Detroit). He proved to be a competent run-stopper who could give Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd a breather every now and then – something that can’t be said about Isaiah Irving, who replaced him after his season-ending elbow injury.
Lynch also gave a bit of a boost off the bench in the pass rush, with three sacks on the season. You can never have enough edge rushers, and Lynch is an ideal depth option.
O’Donnell was maddeningly inconsistent all season, culminating in a playoff performance in which he pinned the Eagles inside the 20 four times but gave them excellent field position for their game-winning drive with a punt that traveled less than 40 yards.
The Bears could use an upgrade at the punter spot, preferably an undrafted free agent who they don’t have to pay upwards of a million dollars. They’ll probably let two or more punters battle for the job in the preseason, and O’Donnell should not be one of them.
Verdict: Let go
Callahan is an interesting case. Until he went down with a broken foot against the Rams, he was having a career year, playing like the perfect slot corner. I wrote about the progress he’s made and what an incredible player he is earlier this year.
But while Callahan is a nice story – he was an undrafted free agent out of Rice in 2015 – and you always want to keep your homegrown studs, his situation became tricky when he was placed on IR. Not only has he never played a full 16-game season in his career, but his replacement, Sherrick McManis, played quite well in his absence.
I would love to see Callahan back next year, but the Bears shouldn’t overpay for a 13 (at most)-game player. It’ll be up to Ryan Pace and Callahan’s agent to hammer out a deal, and the Bears have to hope that teams around the league are as worried about his injury history as they are.
Amos was a very good find by Pace in the 2015 draft. In fact, he was selected with the pick that the Bears received in the Brandon Marshall trade. He’s produced four years as a solid starter, and if you get that out of a fifth round pick, it was a draft choice well made.
But if Pace is smart, he’s played his last game as a Chicago Bear.
Amos just doesn’t impact the game enough to be worth a hefty contract. He doesn’t create turnovers, and safeties like that are replaceable.
Amos will hit the open market, and if he doesn’t get what he’s looking for there, then it’s very possible that he returns on a cheap, maybe one-year prove-it deal. This will make many Bears fans and Pro Football Focus analysts angry, but as my dad likes to say, sometimes good teams have to let good players walk in order to keep great ones.
Verdict: Let go
All cap figures via Spotrac
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