With the 2019 draft out of the way, Bears fans’ attentions have firmly centered on the upcoming regular season, and the ridiculously talented roster that will enter it. Along with that ridiculously talented roster, however, comes the need to pay the players who make it up.
For that reason, it’s worth taking a way-too-early look at the 2020 offseason, because Ryan Pace will have some excruciatingly difficult decisions to make once it rolls around. Excluding the players who are in or coming out of rookie contracts (i.e. excluding Cody Whitehair), I compiled a list of players who are safe, as well two lists of players who are not. And for the players who are not, I’ll go over what they need to accomplish and/or what needs to break their way in order for them to stay Chicago Bears beyond February of 2020.
Veteran players who are safe, due to value to the team, guaranteed money, or both:
It may surprise you just how tiny that list is, but even when you account for a projected salary cap increase and rollover cap, the Bears will be over the salary threshold entering next year. Obviously, players on or coming out of rookie deals and a minimum of half the players on the next list will fill out what should again be a seriously contending team.
Skrine being present there may also be a surprise, but cutting him after 2019 would only save about $2 million and account for about $4 million in dead money. For that reason, his signing is the offseason move that I disagree with the most, and frankly it isn’t close.
Veteran players who are roster locks in 2019 and will be free agents
Without question, Trevathan is the most significant name who will be entering the free agent market next spring, assuming a deal with Whitehair gets done before then. The emergence of Roquan Smith next to him and the general ferociousness of the Bears’ front seven clouded it a bit, but Trevathan was a force for Vic Fangio’s unit last year. And he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it.
Here’s hoping that last bit continues, because if Trevathan winds up receiving the recognition he deserves, he could very well play his way off the team. He’ll turn 30 shortly after next offseason begins, and if Smith continues on his path to superstardom, Pace could deem Trevathan not worth resigning at the expense of losing younger key contributors at other spots.
Whatever happens, Trevathan has turned into a calming leader, a trusted play caller, and a force in the middle of the Bears’ defense. Aside from the Hulk up front, Trevathan is Ryan Pace’s best free agent signing to date.
The Bears are going to have a couple extra picks on Day Three next year, and it would behoove them to use one on a capable backup. Either that or sign one for less money than Daniel will cost.
Daniel is a perennial winner in the business of football, and while he certainly didn’t give any impressions of becoming a starter in his two games last year, he showed teams that he’s a competent fill-in who can go .500 over two to four games.
For me, this one is simple, and it could go one of two ways. First: Clinton-Dix stinks, in which case the Bears let him find a fresh start somewhere else and he might never be a full-time starter again. Second: Clinton-Dix plays well, finding chemistry with Eddie Jackson and freedom to make plays in a stacked secondary, in which case he’ll become more expensive than the Bears can afford.
Clinton-Dix will be one and done in Chicago, one way or another. My gut says it’s the latter.
Both are veteran backups, the former an ace special teamer and the latter a valuable yet injury-prone rotational outside linebacker. Both would be welcomed back by the Bears with open arms if they can maintain their current level of play and can be retained at their current price.
Veteran players who could be released for salary cap reasons
I can say with somewhat complete confidence that I can’t envision a scenario in which both Robinson and Gabriel are Bears in 2020. Not with the lack of guaranteed money on their contracts, not with the team’s newfound young, cheap depth at the receiver position. Being comfortable with cutting Robinson would be ideal, because the savings that come with it would allow them to keep another player or two in addition to Gabriel.
However, I foresee big things from the Bears’ marquee 2018 addition until Jon Gruden lost his mind. He didn’t seem truly comfortable on that repaired knee until later in the season, and he showed flashes of what I believe are big things to come in the playoff game against Philly. I think that he’ll preform well enough – at a pro bowl level – to stick for at least one more year as Mitchell Trubisky‘s WR1. Which means Gabriel will likely be on his way out.
The scenarios in which Robinson could be shown the door instead: either his 2019 campaign in a disappointment, or he gets injured and Riley Ridley plays like a stud in his place. This “battle” of sorts between two wideouts who (by all accounts) love playing in Chicago with Nagy will certainly be one to monitor as the season moves along.
Amukamara was quietly very good for the Bears last year, though that notion is a developing theme on a defense with three (should have been four, with a very large addition) All-Pros. For my money, if he doesn’t read that little RB hitch late in the game against Seattle and take it back the other way, the Bears start the year 0-2 and who knows what happens after that.
He would be entering the last year of his deal in 2020, and it’s a year that involves little guaranteed money and a decent amount of savings if he were cut (about $8 million). That makes him a logical candidate for release, but who would replace him? Some ideas that have been floated are Kevin Toliver taking over his spot or Buster Skrine moving outside and Duke Shelley starting in the slot, but neither are ideal internal solutions.
If the Bears are confident that they can bring in a solid veteran for half of Amukamara’s price tag or that they can draft a competent replacement, the veteran corner is probably entering his swan song in Chicago. If not, they’d be “forced” to hang onto one of the players who played an integral role in stabilizing their secondary, albeit at a high price.
The two offensive additions in free agency of 2019 are both going to be useful weapons for Matt Nagy. Davis, as I explained in this video, is a veteran back who has thrived in Nagy’s run scheme and can keep David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen fresh while producing efficiently, and Patterson is arguably the league’s best kick returner who functions as a gadget player on offense. One of his favorite plays was my first video.
They are, however, luxury pieces in the grand scheme of Nagy’s offense and not necessities. If need be, Montgomery and Cohen will be able to handle the ten carries per game (maximum) that Davis will receive, and Patterson’s role being scrapped from the playbook will lose them a fun wrinkle to keep defenses on their toes but it won’t cripple the team by any stretch.
This is why both of these players, each on two year deals that can be escaped after one, are vulnerable. If the choice is cut both of them or cut Amukamara, Ryan Pace better choose the latter. Ditto for cut both or keep Trevathan. I have a feeling it may come down to that.
Simple situation here. Either O’Donnell becomes more consistent and earns another year with the Bears or he continues to be too up-and-down to trust and gets cut. I would have at least brought in competition for the 2019 season, but that didn’t happen.
The longest-tenured Bear, Long was a dominant player in the interior line for a few seasons after many thought the club reached for him in the first round of the 2013 draft. He became a perennial pro bowler and signed a well-deserved extension in Chicago, but every season after that involved the injury bug overshadowing his play. Long knew that Pace wouldn’t bring him back for 2019 at the cap hit that he carried, so he agreed to a restructure that saved the Bears some money and extended Long’s career at Halas Hall. There, he is one of the team’s more prominent veteran leaders.
Long’s restructured deal includes a club option after this upcoming season, and the Bears would save around $8 million by not picking it up. To put it simply… he gone, unless one of two things happen. First, he returns to his 2013-15 form, which I would argue is next to impossible with the injuries he’s suffered throughout the years. And second, he agrees to another restructure.
It would be more difficult the second time around, but Long has displayed a clear inclination to finishing his career as a Bear. He proved it this offseason with the first restructure, and I would think he’d be willing to do it again.