I noted earlier a couple of days ago (on Monday) that the Bears are in a situation where 10 of their presumed 22 starters for 2013 are on contracts expiring after this season. Among those were newly signed linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams, plus tackle Jonathan Scott, expected to compete at right tackle with J’Marcus Webb, also a free agent in 2014.
[MORE: Bears facing major 'one-year' squeeze]
Add to that No. 1 nickel back Kelvin Hayden, who agreed on Tuesday to a – you guessed it – one-year contract that keeps a solid member of one of the NFL’s top defenses in place. For a year, at least.
But while the overall has a thread of uncertain continuity running through it, here is a different take on the presence of so many players unsigned beyond the season at hand:
The Bears may in fact be in line with or even slightly ahead of the NFL curve, one that has increasing numbers of veterans signing one-year deals, some not even as lucrative as the one Brian Urlacher rejected.
[RELATED: Urlacher: I'd still be a Bear if Lovie weren't fired]
One result for the Bears could be that the likes of Jay Cutler, J’Marcus Webb, Corey Wootton, Major Wright and others play very, very well; the Bears reach the postseason; and their good players command salaries the Bears can’t match in a tight money market.
If they don’t play well, then never mind.
In either case, Emery faces the real-world version of what every fantasy footballer goes through every offseason: picking veterans with a record of production, durability, starts, and all of this with a fixed budget to spend.
Draft hits alter the equation dramatically, which is the signature reason for Emery’s hiring anyway.
Bears the “rule,” not the exception
The Bears’ offer to Urlacher is a situation unique to them but far from an isolated NFL case. Several years ago, one-year deals were often the leftovers that missed the early long-term money and took what the second or third waves offered.
But consider some of the other one-year case studies that have played out in just the first two weeks of free agency, “prime time” in signing:
Cornerback Aqib Talib staying with the New England Patriots;
Guard Kevin Boothe staying with the New York Giants;
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie going to Denver from the Eagles;
Tight end Dustin Keller from the Jets to Miami;
Running back Rashard Mendenhall from Pittsburgh to Arizona.
The number of one-year deals increased last year and is likely to remain high with teams already having significant contract commitments to veterans, such as the Baltimore Ravens to Joe Flacco, using an extreme example.
Brief but relevant history
The relatively flat cap of slightly more than $123 million is expected to stay in that range for the next couple of years. Longer contracts accorded to top players routinely contain salary increases in successive years, which project to an increasing squeeze if the salary cap is not rising with it.
And it hasn’t been.
After increases of about $4 million-$5 million for seven years, the cap jumped from $85 million in 2005 to $102 million in 2006, followed by $7 million bumps in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2013 cap is the same as it was in 2009, with an uncapped year in 2010 (which did not send salaries careening upward) and two years down at $120 million before this year.
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Significantly in all this, the Bears already have established a record under negotiator Cliff Stein and general managers Jerry Angelo and Phil Emery of doing contracts in line with player value. The Bears have been rarely saddled with massive dollars committed in later years that force cuts for salary cap reasons.
Using one major deal just for example purposes, the Bears structured Jermon Bushrod’s contract with base salaries that start at the veteran minimum ($715,000) this year, go to $5 million in 2014 and rise in decreasing increments through 2017 (by $750,000 in 2015, by $650,000 in 2016 and by $200,000 in 2017).