No money, no problem for Bears GM Ryan Pace in crucial offseason

Pace knows he doesn’t have much salary-cap space, but doesn’t think he needs it as badly as he did in recent years.

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Ryan Pace would rather have good players than salary-cap space, and he likes the roster he’s built.

Ryan Pace would rather have good players than salary-cap space, and he likes the roster he’s built.

Chicago Sun-Times

INDIANAPOLIS — The point of having salary-cap space is to use it well, so the fact that the Bears don’t have much spending money this offseason doesn’t bother general manager Ryan Pace.

His defense is solid, and he seems content with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, so Pace doesn’t think he’ll need to be a big spender.

“We have a plan in place to kind of make sure we have the space we need to make the moves we need to make,” he said. “We might not have the cap space we’ve had in previous years, but we don’t have as many holes throughout our roster.”

While the Bears are frustrated coming off an 8-8 disappointment, they aren’t a total wreck. Pace has whiffed at quarterback and offensive line, and tight end Trey Burton’s health situation has been maddening, but it looks like the Bears have what they need elsewhere. Good players are worth more than cap space.

The Bears can still dump additional contracts, but they go into free agency with roughly $26 million in salary-cap space, according to Spotrac. That ranks 23rd, which, again, isn’t inherently a bad thing. The Chiefs and 49ers, last season’s Super Bowl teams, are below them.

Spotrac projects the Bears to be tight on money the next two years, too, and they have to weigh contract extensions for wide receiver Allen Robinson and running back Tarik Cohen, as well as a massive 2021 option on Trubisky.

The Bears created half their 2020 space last week by cutting cornerback Prince Amukamara and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, each of whom was theoretically the No. 2 man at his position. They’ll need to fill those spots through free agency or the draft. The latter of those avenues is always dicey, and the Bears have only two picks in the first three rounds.

Pace mentioned cornerback Kevin Toliver as someone who could develop into a replacement for Amukamara, as well as Riley Ridley and Javon Wims to fill Gabriel’s absence (the Bears also hope Anthony Miller makes a jump), but none of them is proven.

“There’s some guys there that we like,” Pace said. “But we’ll explore other avenues to increase competition there, as well.”

There’s a wide range in his choices at tight end, which was the Bears’ biggest problem other than quarterback last season. Burton underwent surgery again this offseason and is expected to be back for training camp, but there’s no guarantee.

If he’s healthy, he’s a great value. If the Bears aren’t comfortable taking that risk, they could go all out at the position and chase top free agents Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper. If the Bears try to make any splashy move in free agency, that might be it. Those two are expected to draw long-term offers of at least $9 million per year.

Not only would Hooper instantly be the Bears’ most accomplished player at a vital position, but coach Matt Nagy could play him and Burton together.

“That’s certainly an area that we want to get better,” Nagy said of tight end. “It’s big for us.”

Defensively, the biggest dilemma is at inside linebacker. Danny Trevathan has been the heart of the Bears’ defense for years and was their leading tackler last season before getting hurt, and up-and-comer Nick Kwiatkoski has shown high potential. Both are unrestricted free agents, forcing Pace to choose.

Kwiatkoski is probably his priority. It would be hard for Pace to let him walk after landing him in the fourth round and developing him into a starter. But Kwiatkoski should get multiple long-term offers, as opposed to Trevathan.

Pace knew tough decisions like that were coming when he committed huge money to Khalil Mack and others, and he’s willing to take his chances in 2020 with mostly the same roster he had last season. Whether that was the right route will be evident once the season starts.

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