Dion Sims

ESPN suggests Bears salary cap solutions

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USA TODAY

ESPN suggests Bears salary cap solutions

Ryan Pace will have to get creative if he wants to be active in free agency this offseason.

Even after releasing Dion Sims, the Bears still have just under $12 million in salary cap space, which won’t likely be enough to even re-sign all their own free agents.

Pace may have to make some difficult decisions and move some money around to free up funds for 2019 to keep Chicago a Super Bowl contender.

ESPN used their network of NFL analysts to offer up a few suggestions for how the Bears can create more cap space.

One idea from Rob Demovsky is to restructure Khalil Mack’s big contract, pushing more of the salary cap burden into the later years of the deal.

“Mack's base salary in the second year of his blockbuster contract jumps to $11.3 million, all of which must be counted on the cap for 2019 -- when his cap number is $22.3 million,” he wrote. “If the Bears turned, say, $10 million of that into a signing bonus, it could then be prorated over five years. Then, the Bears would have to count only $1.3 million in base salary and $2 million of the prorated new signing bonus on this year's cap. That would save them $8 million in cap space for this season. However, it would increase their cap charge by $2 million for each of the next four years.”

Another idea is to move on from backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who is set to cost $6 million against the cap this year. He’s set to be the 28th highest-paid quarterback in the league in terms of cap hit, and the Bears would save $3 million by releasing him.

Pace could replace Daniel with a much cheaper veteran or even a rookie in the draft.

When you include the release of Dion Sims, Demovsky says those moves would leave the Bears with more than $24 million in projected cap space, which would give them room to re-sign the likes of Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan and still add a mid-level player or two on the open market.

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Bears release TE Dion Sims, save $6 million in cap space

Bears release TE Dion Sims, save $6 million in cap space

As expected, the Bears announced on Thursday that they released tight end Dion Sims. The move will net the team $6 million in cap savings, per Spotrac, upping the Bears’ available cap space to a little under $12 million. 

Sims signed a three-year, $18 million contract in 2017 but didn’t pan out as a blocking tight end with receiving upside. The 28-year-old caught 15 passes for 180 yards with one touchdown in 2017, then was only targeted four times in 2018 before landing on injured reserve with a concussion after eight games. 

Prior to coming to the Bears, Sims was somewhat productive with the Miami Dolphins, watching 68 passes on 96 targets for 667 yards with seven touchdowns from 2016-2016. That he wasn’t able to capitalize on the absence of Adam Shaheen at the “Y” (in-line) spot for the first half of the 2018 season largely sealed his fate. 

The Bears were able to keep Sims on their 2018 roster despite a disappointing 2017 thanks to having enough cap space to cover his $6.3 million hit. 

Bears grades and needs: Improved depth necessary at tight end

Bears grades and needs: Improved depth necessary at tight end

2018 depth chart

1. Trey Burton
Usage: 16 games, 80 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $8.675 million cap hit

No skill position player not named Mitch Trubisky was on the field for more offensive snaps than Burton (860, 30 more than Taylor Gabriel), and 54 catches for 569 yards with six touchdowns represented solid production from the “U” tight end spot in Matt Nagy’s offense. He didn’t drop a pass until Week 12, and Mitch Trubisky and Chase Daniel combined for a 111.2 passer rating when throwing his direction, per Pro Football Focus. He may not have had a spectacular Travis Kelce-like season, but he was an important part of the offense in the first year of his four-year, $32 million deal. 

The issue with Burton was what happened after his groin locked up less than 48 hours before the Bears kicked off their wild card game against the Eagles. His absence was capitalized on by Philadelphia’s defense, which shifted its focus to Tarik Cohen and largely took the versatile playmaker out of the Bears’ offense. Worth noting: During the regular season, only 89 of Cohen’s 495 snaps came without Burton on the field (18 percent). 

Burton still may have some upside to his game, especially as Nagy’s offense evolves beyond the “Football 101” foundation it laid in 2018. But the Bears have to be able to better deal with losing Burton on short notice going forward. 

2. Adam Shaheen
Usage: 6 games, 14.9 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $1,611,965 cap hit

Shaheen’s 2018 wasn’t a completely lost year in his development, given he was able to learn Nagy’s offense through OTAs and training camp. But the foot injury he suffered against the Broncos — after two days of joint practices in which he looked good against Denver’s defense — wiped out the first nine games of the season. When he returned, he suffered a concussion converting a two-point attempt against the Vikings, which held him out of another game. 

That leaves Shaheen’s outlook in question heading into an important 2019. The upside is there, but he has to improve as a blocker and a route-runner, with this next round of OTAs and camps critical in that development. A healthy and effective Shaheen would give Nagy the option of running more two-tight personnel groupings, which could help aid the run game. 

The Bears, though, may need to bring in some insurance behind Shaheen at the “Y” (in-line) spot given he’s missed 13 games in his two-year career.

3. Dion Sims
Usage: 8 games, 18.1 percent of offensive snaps, 15.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $6,333,334 cap hit

The Bears will save $6 million in cap space by releasing Sims, per Spotrac. He’s been ineffective with the Bears, and only stuck on the 2018 roster thanks to the team having enough cap space to keep him. 

4. Ben Braunecker
Usage: 15 games, 11.1 percent of offensive snaps, 56.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Restricted free agent

Braunecker was the next man up at both the “U” and the “Y” spots, giving him the important trait of versatility as a backup. He played 21 snaps on offense in Burton’s playoff absence, and from Weeks 9-11 (when Sims was out and Shaheen was eased back into the offense, only to suffer a concussion) he took most of the “Y” snaps. He also was a core special teamer, with only Josh Bellamy and Benny Cunningham playing a higher percentage of special teams snaps. 

OverTheCap projects the 2019 original round tender — which would be what Braunecker, a former undrafted free agent, would receiver — would be $2.035 million. Is that money worth it for a team that, after releasing Sims, will only have about $11 million in cap space? The Bears could try to not tender Braunecker and bring him back on a cheaper deal after he made $630,000 in 2018. 

5. Daniel Brown
Usage: 14 games, 2.1 percent of offensive snaps, 52.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Brown showed some receiving upside in 2016 and 2017, catching 29 passes for 253 yards while playing a little over 500 snaps for the Bears those two seasons. He only appeared 23 times on offense and wasn’t targeted in 2018, and while he was a part of the team’s special teams units the Bears may look to replace him with someone who can specifically back up Burton. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 6

The Bears need to improve their depth behind Burton and Shaheen, making this a sneaky position of need despite the money and draft capital already committed to it. 

Previous unit needs/grades: QB | RB | WR

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