One Salary Cap Dump Bears Can Least Afford
The number sticks out like a sore thumb, there is no denying it.
Chicago Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara is slated to make $9 million in salary in the 2020 season, and his prorated bonus is $1 million. They'll be counting $10 million against the cap for a starting cornerback in the final year of his contract, who made no interceptions last season.
The lack of cash under the salary cap for improving their miserable offense leaves the Bears in a lurch, let alone the money they need for signing some of their own free agents such as Nick Kwiatkoski or Danny Trevathan.
So cutting Amukamara in a cap move would save them $8 million of cap space and it all seems so enticing.
It's a move requiring a great deal of study before doing it.
Amukamara's interception total never has been high. He's always been a guy who disrupts completions or routes but rarely makes the successful play on the ball. The three interceptions he made in 2018 matched a career high, but in his first Bears season of 2017 he didn't make a pick, either.
A few key plays went against Amukamara. He got burned on Thanksgiving Day for a blown coverage and TD. The Packers got him on a long pass interference call in the opener. Overall, though, Amukamara played solid football and was given a grade of 68.1 by Pro Football Focus for his play. That was almost five points higher than Kyle Fuller, who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate and had three interceptions.
Amukamara's five penalties this season included only one pass interference, which was four less than in 2018 and three less than 2017. He had three picky illegal-use-of-hands penalties during a point of the season when officials had made this a "point of emphasis," a ridiculous concept the league has fostered in recent years when they should be calling all the rules according to the same standard.
Amukamara is still only going to be 31 next season, and there is no reason for the Bears to assume he's hit any threshold and is on his way downhill. Richard Sherman is a year older and no one in San Francisco is complaining about his coverage because he's in his 30s.
The Bears overall had 17 fewer interceptions this past season and much of this could be blamed on the lack of playing with leads, when their pass rush could tee off and secondary members could be more aggressive.
Amukamara is playing a position where finding high-quality talent in the draft can be uncommon, and in free agency the price becomes much higher.
If the Bears had a suitable replacement for Amukamara, they could make this move without hesitation. They have none.
Kevin Toliver II had some chances to play when Amukamara tried playing through a hamstring and showed little. He played less than 17 percent of the defensive snaps and earned a PFF grade of only 51.4.
Toliver is an undrafted free agent and more than a cut below Amukamara.
If the Bears could count on GM Ryan Pace selecting a sure starter in the second round or fourth round, then they could be fine with a salary dump. They can't.
Pace has shown an eye for drafting defensive backs, but they've all been safeties or slot corners. He selected Eddie Jackson, took Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson. The only cornerbacks he uncovered were Bryce Callahan and Cre'Von LeBlanc, neither through the draft, and both were slot corners. They didn't play on the outside.
The two draft picks Pace selected before the 2019 season have shown nothing. Duke Shelley was on the field for three defensive plays and Stephen Denmark remains mired on the practice squad. Shelley is more of a slot corner.
A few players who will be free agents might be enticing for any team looking for a second strong cornerback, New Orleans' Eli Apple being one. However, teams know how difficult it is to come up with two solid cover cornerbacks and they pay for it. The Saints will be hurting for cash with Drew Brees' contract due, and if they can't afford Apple he would be an option if the Bears decided to cut Amukamara. However, the market place in this regard is very fickle.
The tried and proven defender is the best option, and at a cap cost of $10 million the Bears should consider the final year of the contract well earned.