It’s the time just prior to the start of free agency when players start to become available in free agency after being cut for cap purposes.
So then it’s also that time of year when social media is flooded by Chicago Bears fans urging their team to sign every single one of those players who become available after being cut.
The lastest who will become available is Dallas receiver Amari Cooper, according to NFL Network and ESPN’s Adam Schefter. And it’s a good situation for the Bears but not because they would necessarily sign Cooper, but because his availability as a free agent strengthens the overall pool of free agent talent. This drives down the asking price of some player who would have otherwise been rated more highly with a shorter supply.
Cooper is a high quality receiver. Make no mistake. Just because Dallas deemed him expendable, doesn’t mean there has been talent degradation involved. The Cowboys have a situation where they found a younger receiver who can do the same or better and as he’s younger he’ll do it cheaper. That would be CeeDee Lamb, who had team highs of 79 catches and 1,102 yards last year while Cooper had 68 receptions for 865 yards, only the second time in seven seasons he failed to crack 1,000 yards.
Cooper still matched a career high with eight touchdown passes last year. He won’t turn 28 until a few weeks before the season begins.
In theory, Cooper would be a good fit for the Bears as a productive, healthy 6-foot-1, speedy, 210-pound X receiver.
Theory and fact are different things.
Amari Cooper’s market value is $17.1 million a year according to Spotrac.com, and there’s every reason to think he’ll hit this figure. The Cowboys were getting rid of him to avoid paying $20 million in bonus that comes due later in March. Just because he has been cut is no indication he’s a declining player headed for street free agent status. He’s a high-cost player, and will command slightly more money than Allen Robinson, who Spotrac estimates will get $16.3 million. If the Bears are unwilling to fork over this much to Robinson, why would they go more and do it with Cooper? The Bears might have $25 million under the cap available but it doesn’t mean they need to rush out and spend the bulk of it on one player when they have numerous positions to fill and in many cases only free agency to fill them because they lack sufficient draft picks for this in 2022. They’ll need every bit of cap space and also to create some more by restructuring deals to meet their needs without tacking on more for a high-level free agent.
2. Their Own Big Contract
They will be paying out money for a big contract, and it won’t be to Cooper. They need some of their cash under the cap to get a contract this offseason to Roquan Smith so he doesn’t get the chance next year to become a free agent. The estimates are it could approach the $95 million deal given to Darius Leonard, although somewhat less would be understandable considering Smith has never even made a Pro Bowl and his overall play hasn’t been at the same level as Leonard’s. The same is true to an extent with David Montgomery, though his shouldn’t be close to Smith’s. Spotrac.com estimates its market value at $12.9 million a year, which is high end for a back these days. So any bit of cash they can have on hand to pay for these deals will help.
3. Ryan Poles’ Plan
Poles talked about free agency like a waiting game. The Bears will wait for bargains to appear after others rush into overpaying. They will use, “…that second, third wave of free agency and making sure that we get the right type of players in,” Poles said at the combine this week.
Rushing in to pay a receiver $17 million or more before free agency even really begins hardly consistutes the plan Poles put forth.
4. Help Wanted
One very good receiver doesn’t help the Bears fill roster spots, as in plural. They have a huge need for three or four receivers. Darnell Mooney is the only one with any experience under contract. Signing DJ Chark or another comparable receiver in the $12 million range makes more sense. They could add one or two other players for the difference between Cooper and Chark and have three players for that amount instead of one.
5. Darnell Mooney
After the 2022 season, they’ll need to get Mooney a new deal as he is their best receiver following an 81-catch effort in 2021. He is their top guy now. Before the 2023 season they’re going to need to spend even more to retain their own home-grown receiver if they go out into the market place for an expensive free agent receivernow. Setting up a salary cap structure is no simple matter and this is part of it.
Starting a rebuild this year, Poles’ goal should be to have players of similar age together with Justin Fields. They’re tring to grow this forward.
“What we want to do is build the foundation,” coach Matt Eberflus said after being hired.
Foundations are not built by plugging in expensive free agents for a few years.
Also, being in their first year of a rebuild the Bears are anything but a free agent signing or two from winning something. So rushing into a big contract for one player with limited resources and limited payoff makes little sense.