Jon Beason knows his role, and that's a good start.
After initially suggesting he should remain at MLB, Beason more or less
gets that it's not his job anymore. He's aware enough to know that's
still his best slot, and that it's not really going to happen. Since
he's got such a massive contract - one that's been criticized, but one
that really did fit his play and position in a world where it was his
defense and his Achilles tendon wasn't compromised - it's hard to say
what the future holds, but the team simply can't cut him right now,
So that leaves another shoe to drop.
New GM Dave Gettleman suggests he isn't the sentimental type, but the
team does have ties to Thomas Davis, the incumbent WLB who finally made
it through the year after barely making it through a few practices
between 2009-11. Davis makes $1.5 million next year, which will become
a huge bargain as time goes along if he can remain durable. And, Davis
has only played WLB. James Anderson is the incumbent at SLB, and he
saves only a very, very modest amount to cut ($200,000).
So the team will probably have four starting level LBs on a team
that'll only play 3 (and will play Kuechly on nearly every down, as I
don't think he missed a single play since becoming MLB). A 3-4 isn't
that useful - none of the four are that good at rushing. It would free
up Beason and Kuechly to play ILB together, a strength, but would
provide minimal ability at OLB, where neither Davis nor Anderson are
going to hold up against OTs.
One way to play it would be to have three DL and three LB on nickel -
which could afford the team the ability a lot more flexibility - but
that's 20 extra snaps at most. If it were me, I'd honestly just look
at Beason at the strongside, and keep Anderson as a utility guy. You
have your depth, even if it's ridiculously expensive (Anderson would
count $4.4 million against the cap if his contract remains unchanged).
Beason himself has spent time outside - he started there at times in
college before becoming another in the long line of University of Miami
middle linebackers, and returned to weakside linebacker for a moment
before succeeding another U of M MLB in Dan Morgan. A return in 2010
was more or less dismal. Since then, Beason has been injured, giving one
game in 2011 and a quarter season in 2012 before the combo of a knee and
shoulder injury did him in.
The widespread feeling is that Beason will never be the same after the
achilles, and then point to the 2012 rash of injuries as proof. The end
result is that Beason looked pretty good early in the season, while Luke
Kuechly struggled, until the knee issue came aboard. That's when Beason
looked terrible in coverage and started to lack mobility. The time off
can't hurt the achilles, honestly.
Now, about his contract - Beason makes $5.25 million this year in base,
and another $250,000 in workout bonus. He's got $4 million in bonus
proration that counts either way - and two more installments of that for
2014 and 2015. So it'd be a $3.5 million cost to get rid of Beason.
They could spread it out, save the entire $5.5 million this year and
spread all $8 million next year with a June-style cut, but that doesn't
seem to be helpful, either.
They could rework the contract - move $4 million in salary to bonus and
spread it across the four years remaining (there's no 2016 bonus
proration, yet) for a net savings of $3 million - but that would only
exascerbate the future issue of Beason's viability, giving a 2014/2015
cap hit of 11.75/12.75 million in those seasons.
Chances are, the team will play Beason as-is for the year, see how he
fits, and look at realistic renegotiation in 2014. At that point, his
$6.75 million salary/workout bonus pairing becomes somewhat cuttable
(the net is a loss, but the $4 mil from 2014 would count either way, so
it's a $6.75 million savings minus the 2015 proration of $4 mil). When
you can ably part with a valuable player, you can negotiate with him on
what might be a more acceptable salary. Of course, he could choose to
take a paycut this year, but it'd have to be voluntary, and the team
won't have leverage if he chooses not to take a cut.