OL Cody Whitehair Could Be Another Salary Cap Casualty

After the draft and free agency some favorites and some not-so-favorites, are going to likely lose their job. It’s all part of the business. Many fans lost a favorite in edge rusher Khalil Mack who was traded to the Chargers earlier this year, one of the more recognizable casualties of the new regime’s vision. With the future salary cap a seemingly high priority for GM Ryan Poles, along with a desire to breed a new culture, some veterans’ fates may already be sealed.

With No. 39 overall pick Kyler Gordon and No. 48 selection Jaquan Brisker expected to start alongside Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson, and with offseason additions Dane Cruikshank and Tavon Young working their way into the rotation, some secondary holdovers from last season could be on the bubble. Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor are the most likely cuts. According to Pro-Football-Reference, last season Shelley allowed completions on 74.4% of his 43 intended targets. Though the Bears did allow 31 passing TDs on the year, none were attributed to the third-year veteran.

Vildor on the other hand, allowed six of those touchdowns while playing all 17 games, including 12 starts. The 24-year-old cornerback was beaten on 69.6% of his 59 targets in that span, a slightly better ratio than Shelley. Vildor also has additional years left on his rookie contract, giving head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff more time to coach him up. According to overthecap.com, cutting Shelley would theoretically cost the Bears a $31,960 penalty while freeing up $965,000 in cap space, which doesn’t bode well for his spot on the team’s 53-man roster.

When Poles drafted WR Velus Jones Jr. in the third round, he added versatility and speed to the receivers’ room. Because of his draft-day age (25), the Tennessee wideout has been a polarizing addition. In a room that lacks overall experience and talent, the addition of a speedster like Jones can threaten just about anyone.

At 6-5, Equanimeous St. Brown is likely going to be the Bears’ only big-bodied pass-catching target with previous professional experience. His existing relationship with OC Luke Getsy nearly guarantees a spot on the roster. Another free-agent addition, Byron Pringle, has a front-loaded contract that probably makes the veteran too difficult to cut. Incumbent starter Darnell Mooney has developed chemistry with starting QB Justin Fields and is, without doubt, assured a roster spot.

Digging past the top four receivers reveals that the Bears have little depth and cutting Dazz Newsome and Isaiah Coulter would free up $825,000 in salary cap space. Newsome saw some previous regular-season action and had two receptions in limited playing time. Consider Coulter a good bet to be released if Chicago signs another receiver with previous experience. Nsimba Webster is another likely casualty.

Recent free agent signing Darrynton Evans is the most likely bubble candidate among Chicago’s running backs.  With the addition of sixth-round selection Trestan Ebner and after signing fullback Khari Blasingame in free agency, the Bears probably won’t carry Evans as an RB4. Poles could recoup his entire cap liability by releasing him.

The Bears have a lot of options at tackle and guard after adding four linemen in the draft: Braxton Jones, Zachary Thomas, Doug Kramer, and Ja’Tyre Carter. Though they all need a lot of work, competition is expected to be fierce with those additions. Sam Mustipher, Lachavious Simmons, and Julie’n Davenport will enter camp as potential veteran cut risks.

That said, if Eberflus and offensive line coach Chris Morgan find consistency and ability from at least three of the rookies, there is a possibility Cody Whitehair could be released. The veteran guard had three crucial penalties on first downs in 2021 that put Fields into obvious passing situations, which made Chicago’s offense far too predictable at times. Whitehair was also directly responsible for allowing four sacks, unimpressive for a lineman with his experience. With a post-June 1 designation and a penchant for eating dead cap this year, the rookie GM could cut Whitehair and eat $7.7 million while freeing an extra $4.6 million in cap space.

Things are a little clearer with regard to special teams. With two punters fighting for one job, the Bears could save an additional $750,000 by keeping rookie Trenton Gill over veteran Ryan Winslow.

Poles and Eberflus have a lot of young players to look at and evaluate, and almost anything is possible in a new regime. Bears fans should expect more cuts and new additions as the GM and head coach finalize this year’s 53-man roster.

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