We're not playing fantasy football here, sports fans.
Sign wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and line him up opposite Devin Hester on the outside. Then you'll have a possession target to go along with the deep threat. Sign defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and combine him with Tommie Harris up front. They'll be unstoppable together. And since quarterback Kurt Warner just led the Cardinals – the Cardinals! – to the Super Bowl, forget this Kyle Orton business and sign the two-time MVP.
Sometimes it seems so easy, if not for the tangled web that is the NFL salary cap.
Yes, the Monsters of the Midway have some work to do in the offseason to get this team back to the playoffs, but it's not going to happen just throwing around big bags of money in free agency. And considering a record 14 players were slapped with the franchise tag this year, that means the pickings are tremendously slim on the open market. Perhaps more than ever, the Bears are going to have to build from within and find some immediate help in April's draft.
That being said, with the free agent signing period set to commence Friday, are there one or two high-priced underachievers currently on the roster that can be jettisoned to create some salary cap space?
Let us investigate:
Prorated Bonus Remaining: $7,666,668
Potential Cap Hit: $4,766,668
Originally just a fourth-round draft pick despite a decorated career at Texas, Vasher registered 13 interceptions his first two years in the league and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2005.
But that seems like a long time ago, as the former Longhorn has picked off a grand total of two passes since getting a $28 million extension before the 2007 season. He's also been bitten badly by the injury bug, suiting up for only 12 of 32 regular season games after becoming a very rich young man on the heels of that new deal. Even if Vasher does come back fully healthy in '09, it's possible he's already lost his starting job to the bigger and stronger – and less expensive – Corey Graham.
Because he's inked through 2012 and would cost the organization almost $4.8 million in dead cap money if set free, he's not going anywhere any time soon.
Prorated Bonus Remaining: $0
Potential Cap Savings: $740,000
Matt Forte was terrific as a first-year player and looks to be the next great back in the Windy City, but his career is going to be Gale Sayers-like in length if he continues to get 379 touches every season.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner must find a reserve runner that can come in for a series here and there, if for no other reason than to preserve some of the tread on Forte's precious tires. Peterson is a fan favorite at Soldier Field and continues to be a quality contributor on special teams, although he's not much of a tailback and is therefore limited in what he offers offensively. Since Kevin Jones didn't do much as a free agent pickup last year, look for GM Jerry Angelo to go after another ball carrier on Day 2 of the draft.
Peterson could be an attractive option for the cutting-room floor because he has no signing bonus money left to be billed, meaning the club can pocket every penny of his $740,000 salary for 2009.
Prorated Bonus Remaining: $1,658,856
Potential Cap Savings: $3,141,144
Chicago did not put enough pressure on the enemy quarterback this past season, which is partially why the secondary got exposed as badly as it did and gave up all those yards through the air.
Ogunleye is going into the last year of his contract, and a lot of the mock drafts out there have the Bears targeting a young defensive end in Round 1. If they select a monster like Tyson Jackson of LSU, he can probably step in right away at the left end position. If they land more of a speed rusher like Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech, perhaps Alex Brown can move from the right side to the left side – he's always played like more of a left end anyway, as he defends the run well but doesn't get many sacks – to make room for the rookie. Mark Anderson could then stay in his role as the passing-down specialist, and saving over $3.1 million against the cap by losing Ogunleye may be worth it if Anderson rediscovers the magic he had straight out of Alabama in 2006.
While Ogunleye has been a good player since coming to Chicago from Miami five years ago in that trade for Marty Booker, he's rarely been great.
Prorated Bonus Remaining: $745,000
Potential Cap Savings: $0
Neither Garza nor Josh Beekman was anything more than adequate at the guard spots a year ago, but at least Beekman is young and has room to improve.
Garza, on the other hand, could be to the point of diminishing returns and will turn 30 years old shortly after veteran minicamp this March. The Bears have been linked to a pair of top guard prospects in the draft, Andy Levitre of Oregon State and Kraig Urbik of Wisconsin, so it's quite reasonable to assume the front office is looking for some added depth in the trenches – maybe even a replacement sooner rather than later. But with the way Garza's deal is structured, it makes little sense to let him go since the team would only break even from a salary-cap perspective.
And with right tackle John Tait all set to retire after 10 seasons, this offensive line can ill afford any additional turnover at this point.
Prorated Bonus Remaining: $6,650,505
Potential Cap Hit: $1,025,505
All this talk about swapping Urlacher for Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin is flat-out ridiculous, even before considering the $1 million-plus cap hit the Bears would take in the trade.
But upon chatting with some NFL insiders at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Urlacher still has plenty of support around the league as one of the better players at his position. However, Lance Briggs is the best linebacker in town these days, and Urlacher just isn't around the football as much as he used to be. That's not to suggest head coach Lovie Smith needs to immediately phase out one of the greatest warriors in franchise history, but that time is indeed drawing near.
All that aside, '09 could very well be Urlacher's swan song as a Bear if he doesn't return to Pro-Bowl form, because waiting a year and then cutting him before 2010 saves the team $3.225 million in cap space – he'll be 32, more of that signing bonus money will be off the books, and his base salary inflates to $6.825 million.
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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
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