The Bears’ offseason will be defined by what happens in the next few days with (and sorry if this seems boring) labor negotiations. Trust us, though: It’s anything but boring.
You’ve probably seen some of the items included in the collective bargaining agreement the league’s 32 owners ratified this week: Expanded playoffs, a 17th game, no franchise/transition tag, a new structure for fifth-year options, and — most importantly — more money for everyone (even if the owners, who do not play football nor suffer the aftereffects of playing football, have no interest in a 50/50 split of league revenue).
But here’s where the intrigue lies: The owners want the NFLPA to either ratify or reject their current proposal by “next week,” a vague term clearly referencing the NFL combine. While the 2020 league year does not begin until March 18, the combine is where groundwork gets laid for deals and trades with agents, coaches and front office types, all mingling for a few days in downtown Indianapolis (which, by the way, is a lot nicer a place than you may think!).
And without a clear direction (either moving forward with a new CBA or continuing with the old agreement for one more year), how are football bigwigs supposed to spill secrets when the shrimp cocktails at St. Elmo's are traded for real cocktails and then Bud Lights…and more Bud Lights?
(Also, Jerry Jones probably wants to know if he can or cannot use both the franchise and transition tags on Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.)
If the NFLPA ratifies the owners’ proposal, the Bears could get an immediate injection of cap space (the Athletic estimated an extra $5 million) that’d be a significant aid to Ryan Pace’s offseason strategy.
It’d be interesting to know if the new CBA would affect Mitch Trubisky’s fifth-year option, which needs to be picked up or declined by May 2 and is guaranteed for injury only. If the new CBA were applied to Trubisky’s fifth-year option, it would be fully guaranteed, meaning the Bears would be on the hook to pay Trubisky no matter what in 2021 if they were to pick it up. But: the amount they’d pay him would certainly be less than the $24 million-ish he’d be due in the old agreement because it’d be based on performance and, well, you know.
But the real chaos (and downside for the Bears) could hit if the NFLPA does not ratify the owners’ proposal. Mike Florio at PFT ran down the impact of this, saying that even if there seems to be a growing perception among some of the league's biggest voices, it's an awful deal for players.
Rip it up! https://t.co/4bp5Aml88a— Allen Robinson II (@AllenRobinson) February 20, 2020
You’re on to something— Allen Robinson II (@AllenRobinson) February 20, 2020
Hard no on that proposed CBA.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 21, 2020
But playing out one more year under the current CBA, with no guarantee of labor peace or a 17th game, could mean free agents (or those due for extensions, like Allen Robinson) may not be interested in longer-term contracts given the uncertainty of A) the money available to players in the future and B) the 17th game, and what that means for the next round of TV contracts with ludicrous payouts.
So, no new CBA could mean more short-term deals with a high average annual value — the kind of thing a team with about $14 million in cap space can’t afford. The Bears’ best bet in free agency is to backload three, four and five-year contracts for top players, allowing them to add talent while staying under the cap in 2020.
To put it less abstractly: What if the Bears trade for Derek Carr (the Instagram post meant something!) but can't sign him to the extension they want, getting his $21.5 million cap hit down in 2020 while locking him up for a few more years after? It'd mean they'd probably have to cut a player or two they were hoping to keep.
The coming hours and days are going to be massive in figuring out what direction the Bears can take this offseason. It may not be as interesting as TOM BRADY’S TOUR STOPS AT HALAS HALL but these negotiations will have a profound impact on what sort of roster the Bears field when the 2020 season begins in September.