The Chicago Bears are proving underperforming players won’t be safe just because the team has a surplus of cap space for the 2023 offseason.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Bears are releasing veteran defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad from their 2023 roster after the 27-year-old had a disappointing first season in Chicago. He is the first cap casualty of the Bears’ much-anticipated offseason as well as the first they have cut since the 2022 regular season ended.
The Bears signed Muhammad to a two-year, $8 million contract in 2022 with the expectation that his familiarity with head coach Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis would make him a meaningful contributor for their defense. After struggling to generate much pressure as a pass rusher in the first half of the season, though, he was demoted to a rotational role for the final seven games and finished with just one sack and 29 tackles.
According to Over the Cap, the Bears’ decision to move on from Muhammad will create about $3.97 million in 2023 cap space for the team. With the additional room, Chicago is now set to have more than $98 million in cap space for next season.
Muhammad’s Release Reveals Bears’ Offseason Mindset
Muhammad’s ineffective first season in Chicago was enough to justify his offseason release, but it is also worth pointing out that the Bears’ ample cap resources grant them the freedom to be lenient on under-contract veterans who have fallen short … and they still decided to part ways with Muhammad nearly a month before free agency.
On paper, the Bears retaining Muhammad for 2023 could have made sense. He might not have lived up to his contract in 2022, but he is a veteran defender who is well acquainted with Eberflus’ defensive system and would have had a case to stick around as a rotational/depth piece for their talent-deprived trenches, especially since the Bears haven’t had the opportunity to add replacement pieces in free agency or the NFL draft.
Instead, the Bears have now made it clear that their financial situation isn’t going to guarantee any of their underperforming players another roll of the dice.
Which Other Bears Could Become 2023 Cap Casualties?
Muhammad might have been the first veteran to lose his spot on the Bears’ 2023 offseason roster, but there are a few others who could join him in the coming weeks due to both their contract situations and their overall performances in Chicago.
Lucas Patrick is one of the first names that comes to mind. The former Green Bay Packers interior offensive lineman was expected to become the Bears’ new starting center when he signed his two-year, $8 million contract, but he broke his hand during training camp and saw his timeline for taking over the job pushed back. Then, when Patrick was finally cleared to snap the ball, he played just 10 snaps before suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 7.
Maybe Patrick’s familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will result in him getting another shot, but he is set to carry a cap number of about $5.38 million in 2023 and would result in $3.9 million in savings if the Bears decide to release him.
The Bears might also consider potentially moving on from veteran left guard Cody Whitehair ($5.8 million in savings) and/or defensive tackle Justin Jones ($4.9 million in savings). Whitehair has spent the past seven seasons as a core starter on the Bears’ offensive line, but he has few ties to the current regime and will turn 31 in a few months, which might not appeal to a team in the midst of a heavy rebuild.
Releasing Jones makes less sense than Whitehair, but he wasn’t able to fully live up to the 3-tech “engine” role that he was brought in to fulfill in Eberflus’ defense. If the Bears make significant upgrades to their defensive line during the offseason — perhaps, even using their No. 1 overall pick on Georgia’s Jalen Carter — Jones could find himself on the chopping block with a cap hit of $7.4 million for next season.