The Bears will have a legitimate problem fitting a splashy new contract extension for Robinson into their tight financial situation. But whose fault is that?
Given how tight-lipped he likes to be about, well, pretty much everything involving the Bears, general manager Ryan Pace surely didn’t enjoy seeing his fruitless contract negotiations with star wide receiver Allen Robinson spill into social media this week.
But Pace has only himself to blame for failing to get a deal done with the best offensive player on his team.
The biggest reason the Bears are fretting over whether they can afford Robinson is because they’ve repeatedly thrown money at the glaring problem of Pace’s draft misses. Spotrac and Over The Cap have them at $8.2 million-$9.6 million in salary-cap space for the 2021 season, when the cap is expected to drop to $175 million because of the NFL’s pandemic-related losses.
“I’m confident we’ll work through it,” he said in July. “It’s not going to prevent us from doing the things that we want to do.”
Robinson must have read that quote and wondered whether his long-awaited and well-deserved contract extension was one of those things Pace wants to do.
Here’s what he’s been busy with lately:
— After brutally missing on tight end Adam Shaheen in the second round of the 2017 draft, Pace put Jimmy Graham on the books for a $6 million cap hit this season and $10 million in 2021. Trey Burton, who had a four-year, $32 million contract cut short, still counts for nearly $6.6 million in cap space the next two seasons.
— He splurged on the second-largest total dollar value for any free agent in the recent offseason by signing outside linebacker Robert Quinn for $70 million over five years, and he is slotted for the Bears’ third-highest cap hit next season. That wouldn’t have been necessary, of course, if Pace hadn’t erred in selecting Leonard Floyd No. 9 overall in 2016.
— His biggest mistake, one that will haunt the franchise for as long as Patrick Mahomes keeps winning Super Bowls, was taking Mitch Trubisky second overall in 2017. So traded a fourth-round pick to get Nick Foles at $24 million over three years, assigning him the NFL’s fourth-largest cap hit for a backup quarterback at $6.7 million this year and next.
Those decisions, and others like restructuring cornerback Kyle Fuller’s deal to make him a $20 million cap hit next year, add up to an extremely tight money situation.
It was probably worth it for Pace — there’s no doubt his job hinges on how this season goes — to pour everything he could into contending for a championship, but those expenses are catching up to the Bears as they try to plan for their future.
That future, by the way, is bleak if Robinson isn’t part of it. It calls into question yet again Pace’s judgment on offense, and failing to re-sign a Pro Bowl-level playmaker who just turned 27 points more toward a full-blown rebuild than trying to make a legitimate run at the title.
It’s not the worst idea, by the way, to make pass rushing the top priority — Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Quinn account for nearly 21% of their cap space this season and 28.5% in 2021 — but the stalemate with Robinson once again highlights how lopsidedly Pace views his roster.
It’s no coincidence that the Bears were the No. 9 defense and No. 30 offense over his first five seasons, a stretch in which they went 34-46.
Few teams have done meaningful winning recently with a strategy of dominating defensively and just scraping by on offense. In the last five seasons, just three of the 20 teams that reached the conference title game did so without a top-10 offense. Two years ago, the four finalists were ranked 1-4 in scoring.