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How will Bears navigate 2021 salary-cap crunch?

Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t worried about next year’s sinking salary cap, or the effect it will have on a team that was already scheduled to scrape up against it. To be correct, he has a lot of maneuvering to do.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace said the 2021 salary cap won’t stop the team from meeting its goals.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace said the 2021 salary cap won’t stop the team from meeting its goals.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t worried about next year’s sinking salary cap, or the effect it will have on a team that already was scheduled to scrape up against it.

“It’s not going to prevent us from doing the things that we want to do,” the ever-optimistic Pace said last week.

He has a lot of maneuvering to do if he wants to be correct.

This year’s salary cap sits at $198.2 million. The 2021 cap, though, already has been adjusted to compensate for a massive loss in NFL revenue as a result of the coronavirus. While the final document has yet to be completed, the NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to a $175 million salary-cap floor for 2021.

One problem: The Bears already are -projected to have $186.6 million in cap charges on their roster next year, according to Spotrac.com.

Some even bigger problems: That projection is missing expensive, essential pieces.

The Bears have one quarterback under contract for 2021: Nick Foles. Unless he turns into a superstar at 31, the Bears will certainly bring in another relevant passer to compete with him.

Will it be Mitch Trubisky? If he plays well this season, the Bears could give Trubisky the franchise tag, which would pay him about $27 million for one season. A free agent? Teddy Bridgewater, who represented the middle class of this year’s available quarterback crop, will cost the Panthers a $14 million cap hit this year and $23 million in 2021.

Drafting a quarterback is the smartest financial tack — cap hits this year for first-rounders range from No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow’s $6.6 million to No. 26 choice Jordan Love’s $2.3 million — but is fraught with questions. If there’s no college football season, would the Bears be willing to spend their first first-round pick in three years on someone who hasn’t taken a snap in 16 months?

The salary-cap projection also doesn’t include wide receiver Allen Robinson, whom the Bears will try to sign to a contract extension by the end of training camp. The Bears’ best offensive player doesn’t turn 27 until later this month. Pace would be foolish to let him leave.

If the sides can’t reach a deal, the Bears could use the franchise tag on Robinson in 2021. It would be costly, though: This year, the price to give the tag to wide receivers was $17.87 million.

Pace and Joey Laine, the Bears’ director of football administration and chief contract negotiator, have avenues to find cap money.

They could cut tight end Jimmy -Graham after only one season and save $7 million.

The team could look at its two starting offensive tackles, too. Bobby Massie has collected all the guaranteed money on his four-year contract. He carries a $9.3 million cap hit next year vs. $2.6 million in dead money. The Bears could save $6.2 million by cutting Charles Leno next year, too, though the cost to replace him would be greater.

The Bears likely will look at restructuring safety Eddie Jackson’s contract to make it more cap-friendly. They’d also find some relief by negotiating an extension for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, whose deal expires after 2021.

Pace has work to do.

“I think we know what the floor is for the cap in ’21,” Pace said. “And once we’re given the parameters from the league in regard to the cap, we’re all operating under the same rules. We get that.

“I just have a lot of confidence in Joey Laine and myself and how we’re forecasting and how we’re predicting for the future, and I’m confident we’ll work through it.”