The AP reported yesterday that even if the new NFL collective bargaining agreement is ratified by both the league and player's association by tomorrow, the Chicago Bears will need time to prepare for training camp. That means the first day of football activities at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. will most likely be next Tuesday, July 26.
The original training camp schedule had the Bears reporting this Friday, with the first day of practices the following day. It would have been about a week earlier than the rest of the league due to Chicago's participation in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 7.
It's unclear as of now whether that game will still be played. If canceled, practices might not begin until July 29. NFL Players Association President Kevin Mawae told the AP today that his group is not tied to the Thursday deadline for getting a deal done, making the July 29 start time more likely. To its benefit, the Bears need only to give university officials 24-hours notice before showing up on campus.
No matter the start date, Chicago will be hard-pressed to fill out its entire roster before then. It's expected teams will be able to bring 90 players to camp, instead of the usual 80, to make up for time lost due to the work stoppage. This means the Bears will be attempting to sign roughly 26 players before the first whistle blows. From a pure time and manpower standpoint, that just doesn't seem feasible. Each of the 31 other NFL teams will be attempting to accomplish the same feat, with each signing in need of league approval. Odds are, many roster spots will still be open come the first day of camp, with successive signees filtering in.
Salary cap notes
The salary cap for next season hasn't been made official, yet many believe it will be around $120 million. It's unclear exactly how far under the cap the Bears will be but the team should have somewhere around $37 million to spend in free agency. This should allow GM Jerry Angelo to be plenty active in the open market.
In contrast, the rest of the NFC North won't have nearly as much wiggle room. The Detroit Lions will have roughly $16 million to spend, while the Green Bay Packers are right at the $120-million limit and the Minnesota Vikings are actually over by about $5 million.
The new CBA will reportedly include a salary cap floor as well – at about 90 percent, or $108 million – that each team will need to meet. That means, at minimum, the Bears will be spending around $25 million on free agents. Expect the Bears' front office to be quick and decisive in re-signing the team's own players, and aggressive in bringing in free agents. The team has enough space to fill plenty of roster holes, most notably along the offensive line. It wouldn't be surprising if Angelo pursues two top-tier upgrades for the front five.
Kreutz on board
It's obvious that one of the top priorities for the Bears is to bring back longtime center Olin Kreutz. With so many moving parts expected along the rest of the offensive line, his leadership and experience will be invaluable the next few seasons. The two sides weren't able to come to an agreement on a contract extension for the 13-year veteran before the lockout. As it is, Bears brass will need to act swiftly to make sure Kreutz stays in the navy and orange.
For his part, the six-time Pro Bowler is ready to finish his career in the Windy City, if given a fair deal.
"Everybody knows the way I feel about the Bears,'' Kreutz told David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. "I've chosen them many times. You hate to toot your own horn but I've left a lot of money on the table to be a Bear. The guys at Halas Hall have to decide what's best for the Bears. That's the decision they're going through this off-season and probably why I'm not signed yet.''
Kreutz might be willing to accept a slight hometown discount, something a bit less than the three-year, $12 million deal Matt Birk signed with the Baltimore Ravens last offseason. But if the organization low-balls him, he could choose to sign elsewhere.
"Olin's personality is such he never has been a guy who will say, 'Let's go create a bidding war,''' agent Mark Bartelstein said. "He wants to be treated fairly and fairly is getting paid like one of the top centers in the NFL. There's going to be a terrific market for him. There's a ton of money out there. That said, he would be thrilled to re-sign with the Bears."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com. To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider.