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Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Uncertain cap adds to complexities

By Michael C. Wright

CHICAGO -- Halas Hall remained quiet in terms of transactions Monday, the first day the Chicago Bears and the rest of the NFL could start releasing players.

Given there's a bit of a timetable to rid rosters of undesirables around the league (once the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 4, league business ceases without a new deal in place), Chicago's relative inactivity would seem interesting considering it's believed to be pondering parting ways with a couple of players for reasons ranging from lack of production to high salaries, or in some cases both.

But that's not all that's under consideration for the Bears in the current climate of labor uncertainty.

Tommie Harris
Tommie Harris is due a $2.5 million bonus before June 1.

With $104.9 million committed to players currently on the roster for 2011, the Bears are one of 20 teams around the league with more than $100 million already devoted to players for the upcoming season -- assuming there is one -- and the numbers don't even count toward the soon-to-come salary cap for free agents, franchise players (there's still disagreement between the league and union about whether the tags will even be applicable) or rookies.

It's still unknown what the cap for 2011 will be once a new CBA is reached. In 2007, the salary cap was $109 million, and increased to $116 million for 2008, and $128 million for 2009, the last capped season. The Bears allocated a reported $131.9 million in the uncapped 2010 season.

But based on the salary-cap increases of the past three capped seasons, the Bears likely won't find themselves in danger of going over the new cap once there's a new CBA. That doesn't mean the team is operating without taking the salary cap into consideration when planning for the future though.

Although the Bears have held preliminary discussions with representatives for running back Matt Forte on a contract extension, several of the team's players who are free agents still haven't even heard from the organization in recent days about possible returns, according to multiple NFL and team sources.

In addition to working out a lucrative extension for Forte and possibly safety Chris Harris, the team still has to find ways to bring back key veteran free-agent starters such as defensive tackle Anthony Adams, center Olin Kreutz and safety Danieal Manning while determining whether to bring back high-priced players such as defensive tackle Tommie Harris and running back Chester Taylor, or key contributors like special-teams ace Corey Graham and restricted free-agent quarterback Caleb Hanie.

Tommie Harris has two years remaining on a four-year, $40 million extension and is due a $2.5 million bonus before June 1. Taylor, meanwhile, is reportedly on the chopping block after receiving $7 million last season as part of a four-year, $12.5 million contract signed last March to be the backup to Forte.

It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Taylor to be on the way out, but a league source said the running back is expected to remain a Bear.

Besides that, the $7 million for Taylor is already spent, which begs the question: What type of production did the team expect from a backup? The fact he's scheduled to make $1.25 million in base salary in 2011 and $25,000 in a workout bonus would also make the decision to release him somewhat of a head scratcher if there's not a capable -- and cheaper -- alternative waiting in the wings.

Harris told "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000 at the Super Bowl that "no one from the organization has talked to me about making any decisions. This is a time where the less you say is better."

Part of that stems from the widespread uncertainty for both the players and the organization.

The Bears have 48 players under contract, and it's difficult to fill out a roster by signing their own free agents, outside free agents, and draft picks while trying to maneuver within the unknown parameters of a yet-to-be-reached CBA that will include a salary cap, and possibly two additional games in 2011.

"Business as usual," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said at the end of the season. "Like everybody else, we've just got to plan accurately."