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Bears GM Phil Emery is a master at crunching the cap

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Updated: February 8, 2014 6:33AM

As this past season full of salary cap-crunching illustrated, every single dollar matters to Bears general manager Phil Emery and his staff in maintaining a roster.

In that regard, Emery promised last week that quarterback Jay Cutler’s seven-year deal — which includes $54 million guaranteed over the first three years and a yearly average of $18.1 million — would provide “tremendous value moving forward.”

“Obviously, it was a key deal in terms of how we manage our salary cap, not only this year but years forward,” Emery said. “That was very important.”

It’s all about managing the cap with several free agents to consider and other on-the-field issues to address.

Cutler’s contract is constructed in a way that his base salaries are his cap hits. In the first three seasons of the deal, they are: $22.5 million in 2014, $15.5 million in 2015 and $16 million in 2016.

During the next four seasons, Cutler has base salaries of $12.5 million, $13.5 million, $17.5 million and $19.2 million with up to $2.5 million in roster bonuses to earn on a game-by-game basis in each of those years.

A signing bonus is not included, so Cutler’s deal is favorable when it comes to a renegotiation that could make it more cap-friendly. But the Bears can also release Cutler after 2016 without any salary-cap repercussions. It also includes an annual $500,000 de-escalator if he doesn’t meet offseason workout obligations.

“It’s fair for both sides,” Cutler said, “so hopefully we can continue to get players that are going to help this organization win.”

The NFL’s salary cap for 2014 is projected to be more than $126 million. Based on those projections, that would have given the Bears approximately $45 million in cap space — the most in the NFC North, according to multiple analyses — when they went to work signing Cutler and others.

According to a source, the Bears are committing $33,827,500 in cap space for 2014 by locking in Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings ($5.25 million cap hit), kicker Robbie Gould ($2.6 million), left guard Matt Slauson ($2,747,500) and fullback Tony Fiammetta ($730,000) in the last two weeks.

So what’s next?

With a defense to rebuild, the cap-crunching likely will continue. Emery said he’d like to retain center Roberto Garza and backup quarterback Josh McCown, while expressing serious interest in keeping defensive linemen Corey Wootton and Jeremiah Ratliff.

“We’ll have less space, [but] we’ll have enough space to be competitive and do the things that we need to do, attacking it when you take a look at the total context of how you attack building a team,” Emery said. “It’s not just the money that you have on cap for your phase. It is the draft, it is [unrestricted free agents], it is street free agents, it is the Arena League, it is Canadian football.

“We’re going to exhaust every source to put together the best group of players and the best team within the restrictions we have. But, to be simple, we’ve got less space, but we have enough space.”


Twitter: @adamjahns

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