The Bears are cutting cornerback Kyle Fuller rather than pay his $20 million salary cap charge this season, a source confirmed to the Sun-Times on Thursday night.
The move, surely one of the most difficult of general manager Ryan Pace’s career, will free up $11 million in 2021 salary cap room — or $15.5 million if the team files paperwork to make him a post-June 1 cut. It comes in lieu of a restructuring, extension or pay cut, all of which could have kept him on the team but required cooperation from both sides.
Safety Eddie Jackson personified the frustration of the fan base when, minutes after word leaked that Fuller had been cut, he Tweeted “At this point,” followed by an emoji of a man smacking his own forehead. He later deleted the Tweet.
The Bears were under the salary cap when the league year started at 3 p.m. Wednesday but needed to create room to pay for contracts — such as quarterback Andy Dalton’s — that had been agreed to but not signed. Dalton’s one-year deal had two void years added, per Spotrac, which lowered his 2021 cap hit by $4.6 million.
All eyes now turn to whether the Bears will decide to move defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who has a $12 million cap hit in the last year of his contract, to create further space. The Bears signed defensive tackle Angelo Blackson on Wednesday.
Phil Emery’s last first-round pick, Fuller started 30 games in his first two years but sat out his entire third season after having knee surgery late in camp. In April 2017, Pace chose not to pick up his 2018 fifth-year option — then watched Fuller develop into a stud.
Pace gave him the transition tag in March 2018, which forced the Bears to match a monster offer from the rival Packers: four years at $56 million. He made the Pro Bowl the next two seasons, tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions in 2018. He’s had only three interceptions since, but established himself as one of the league’s hardest-hitting cornerbacks.
Restructuring Fuller’s deal late in 2019 ensured he’d cost $20 million against the 2021 cap unless the two sides could work out a new deal. Because they couldn’t, Fuller becomes the best cornerback in a depressed market — with two former Bears assistants, Vic Fangio and Brandon Staley, serving as head coaches of defense-starved teams.
NFL Network posited that a team could still offer to trade a late-round pick for Fuller before the cut becomes official on Friday’s transaction wire. It would be a way for the Bears to steer Fuller to certain teams — or perhaps away from the Packers — but would lock the recipient into paying his 2021 salary.
Either way, the cap-crunched Bears will begin the search to find his replacement.