Bears are kingpins of the uncapped year

More than all the activity so far, I believe, is the fact that could be most the noteworthy about the first hours of life in the NFL without a salary cap: On Friday, the Bears committed almost $40 million in 2010 cash to three players, an amount slightly above the entire payroll of the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals. Welcome to the uncapped year.

When the prospect of an uncapped year started looking more and more realistic, thoughts turned to the usual suspects for spending without limits: Redskins, Cowboys, Raiders, etc. Now that we’ve moved through the first – and biggest spending day of the uncapped year – an unlikely team has claimed the mantle of most aggressive team in an uncapped year. It’s the Chicago Bears. Who knew?

First, a tight end signing -- Brandon Manumaleuna, with $6M in guaranteed money, a strong amount for a tight end not considered among the league’s elite. This move may set off a chain reaction of the team being open to offers for one or both of their tight ends, either Desmond Clark, who could be had for cheap, or Greg Olsen, who would require a higher pick that the Bears desperately need to conduct some sort of draft in April. Olsen received approximately $4.5M in guarantees as part of his 2007 first-round deal.

Then running back Chester Taylor was brought under contract. Taylor, as we predicted, would be the hottest running back on the market, with multiple suitors chasing him if the Bears let him out of their grasp. The Vikings put on the hard push, using sentimentality with players and coaches constantly calling, but Taylor decided to leave for many reasons ($7M of them). The contract is about where we predicted, with $7M guaranteed on a four-year, $12.5M deal for a 30-year-old running back. What Brian Westbrook or LaDainian Tomlinson wouldn’t give to make that deal.

Then the Bears landed the kingfish of the 2010 class when they picked a Julius Peppers. The deal averages $13.3M, with $40M in the first three years. The size of the deal was expected; in fact, I actually thought he would earn more (ignore reports of a total value of $91M; that’s an inflated number spun out for the media).

With Albert Haynesworth, at less of an impact position, earning $41M guaranteed last year (again, pay no attention to the reported overall value of $100M), the question was whether the 2010 top prize would jump that of the 2009 winner. The caveat, of course, is that the Haynesworth deal was done in an environment where ownership was not complaining about profits and came at the hand of the notoriously over-spending Redskins.

The deal is most like the contract given late in the season to Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who received an astounding $40M guaranteed and would not have been an unrestricted free agent like Peppers, but benefited from an earlier deal for Terrell Suggs. Now Peppers will benefit from the Ware deal.

Not that the Bears got a bargain. As I expressed before, my concern about Peppers would be his motivation. If people were wondering about his motivation when he was playing on one-year deals – the ultimate motivator in sports – handing him long-term financial security in the form of almost $40M in guaranteed money is not going to alleviate that concern; rather, it will only exacerbate it.

Again, the issue of the uncapped year was whether a team or teams would engage in unfettered spending without the consequence of the cap. Some expected the Redskins, some the Cowboys, some expected no one. The Bears. Who knew?

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