Special teams rarely receive huge consideration when a GM must determine usage of cap space.
Those are usually lower-level payouts and something can be done to adjust and fit players in under the cap if they're essential players. At least that's the case under normal circumstances.
The Bears face abnormal conditions this year, brought about by the pandemic's effect on league revenues. So the smaller cap is going to challenge them to find ways to pay or retain special teams performers.
While coping with lack of cap space, they're trying to find money to obtain a starting quarterback and possibly bring back wide receiver Allen Robinson.
The most obvious special teams decision they must make is return man Cordarrelle Patterson. The Bears have said nothing about it, but if they wanted to retain the kick return threat they've had the last two seasons they might need to come up with $5 million or more. He made $5.25 million last year.
Patterson was by far the league's highest-paid return man. To call him simply a return man would be doing him a disservice. However, his contributions on offense were meager. An undrafted rookie running back could just about give the Bears what they had from Patterson as a receiver and runner. So bringing him back would be a costly, almost wasteful use of cap space.
Beyond kick returns, the Bears have three specialists who might be cash concerns.
Probably the smallest concern would be long snapper Patrick Scales, who is a free agent. He made $1.047 million for long snaps last year, which was 17th highest in the league in terms of average salary. So unless his agent is making some sort of abnormal demand, they can expect to pay a slight increase for his services.
Punter Pat O'Donnell is coming off his best all-around season. The 45.7 yards he averaged per punt amounted to his second-best average and his 28 punts downed inside the 28 tied for third best in the NFL.
"I think he's continued to improve upon his technique," special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said late last season. "I've been real pleased with him there. He is a perfectionist, which I love because he's always chasing something.
"The thing I love about Pat is that when we go out to punt he doesn't work on a whole bunch of things. He says 'OK, these are my queues for the day, I'm going to try to work on these things.' I think the other thing that's not talked about a lot is he does a great job of holding (for placement)."
In fact, Tabor took to calling O'Donnell "Patty the Caddy" because of his holding for placement skills.
O'Donnell made just $1.7 million and was the league's 17th highest-paid punter, so do they reward a free agent punter for his best all-around season by not giving him a raise?
There could be plenty of bidders looking to make O'Donnell an offer after his season and his steady performance prior to last year.
The Bears may need to watch the punter waiver wire and the rookies in the draft pool because of their lack of cap space for a higher-paid punter.
Kicker Cairo Santos could present an even bigger problem.
Considering where the Bears were in the kicking game prior to last year, how could they afford not to pay him?
Santos set the club record for accuracy in a season and consecutive field goals made. Yet he was paid only $910,000 because the Bears signed him off the waiver wire scrap heap.
They struck gold a year after Eddy Pineiro's shaky season, and two years after Cody Parkey ruined their season.
Plenty of NFL teams struggle in the kicking game and always are looking for an answer. They could throw money Santos' way and the Bears could be forced to turn again to Pineiro.
There are a few other concerns on coverage teams.
Patterson was one of their gunners. Sherrick McManis is a free agent veteran coverage man at $1.05 million a year but is 34 years old now. Do they pay that much again to bring him back?
The Bears finished seventh in average starting field position last year because of special teams and were able to benefit their struggling offense this way.
Paying these players might seem like minor issues but when a team is $2.5 million over the cap right now, according to Spotrac.com, and has so many yet to pay, even the special teams pay adds up to problems.