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Bears: Jimmy Graham's Restructure Leads to Salary Cap Questions

The Bears restructuring Jimmy Graham's contract leads to questions regarding the future salary cap outlook and management.
Jimmy Graham Bears

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, the Chicago Bears announced the conversion of $5.825 million of tight dnd Jimmy Graham’s salary into a signing bonus, which creates $4.6 million in cap space for the 2021 season. The downside? The Bears chose to push $5.825 million in cap commitment into the 2022 season. Jimmy Graham will not be on the roster in 2022 due to the use of void years in his contract, unless the Bears offer him an extension. Essentially, the Bears have chosen to decrease their cap space next season for the ability to have Graham rostered this season.

The Bears could have cut Graham anytime this offseason for a much lower dead cap hit, and this move begs the question as to why the Bears did not elect to release Graham, replace his role with a much cheaper tight end, and rely on Cole Kmet and Jesse James for the bulk of the production in 2021.

Graham is the type of player who can be an asset to a team that is in win-now mode, more than a team starting a rookie quarterback. It is hard for me to understand why the Bears would eat into their resources for 2022 when they should be strategizing how they will max out Justin Fields' rookie contract in year two, rather than eating into those resources every chance they get.

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2022 Dead Cap 

At this point, the Bears 2022 dead salary cap situation is not pretty. The Bears are already on the hook for 2022 dead cap of $12.77 million due to the combination of cuts and void years. On top of that, they will have some clear cuts that will further eat into their resources. All in all, the Bears are looking at a dead cap hit of $29.7 million. The cuts noted below would leave the Bears with only 24 players under contract and limited draft resources as well.

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For those unfamiliar with the term “dead cap”, let me explain. Each team must comply with the salary cap, which is projecting to be $208.2 million in 2022. “Dead cap” is an amount of that $208.2 million that the Bears have already spent on players who are no longer obligated to play for the Bears. Therefore, $29.7 million in dead cap means that the Bears are playing with a true salary cap of $187.5 million, prior to carryover adjustments.

Here is another way to look at it. There are only 10 players in the NFL in 2022 with a larger cap hit than the Bears will have in dead cap in 2022. Just imagine the possibilities with that money. The only player on the Bears roster with a larger cap hit is Khalil Mack, who barely edged the dead cap hit out. Obviously, every team will have some dead cap, so having 100% of that amount may be idealistic. Even having half of that $29.7 million available could allow the team to sign a competent offensive lineman or a good cornerback. The Bears will surely miss that spending potential in 2022 more than they would have missed Jimmy Graham in 2021.