By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) There’s a big elephant at Halas Hall and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Twenty-nine players are on the final year of their current deal and that includes four players already lost for the season with injuries.
Most players know that their job is on the line every week in the NFL, but that is especially true for the Bears this season. Already, players like Henry Melton (torn ACL) — who the Bears franchised instead of giving a longterm deal — have lost a lot of money.
But who has earned themselves money through six games? That’s where we’ll start the Tweetbag this week:
@AdamHoge at almost halfway through the season, which contract year players are earning a spot for next year? Who isn't?—
Bobby Zoeller (@BobbyZoeller) October 14, 2013
This is something that the Bears are monitoring each week. I’m not going to go through all 29 pending free agents, but I’ll highlight a few that have certainly helped their case:
QB Jay Cutler – The most obvious one. At this point, I don’t see how the Bears don’t bring him back. The franchise tag is always an option, but if they want the Sean Payton-Drew Brees combination that both Marc Trestman and Cutler mentioned last week, it would be smart to get a longterm deal done.
LG Matt Slauson – He’s still only 27 years old and has been a very good addition to the offensive line. Sacrifices are going to have to be made with Cutler commanding a lot of the pie, but Slauson could still be kept relatively cheap. He’s counting $815,000 against the cap this season.
CB Charles Tillman – He may be 32 and playing hurt, but he’s still proving to be a valuable cornerback. The Bears really missed him against the Giants.
LB James Anderson – He’s 30 years old but is having a really good season in one-year audition with the Bears. With no clear cut replacement behind him, it might be smart to keep him around.
CB Tim Jennings – He may be undersized, but he’s still proving to be a playmaker. There’s almost no depth at this position so if the Bears can afford it, Jennings could stick around. The problem is, he counts $5.1 million against the cap this year and at 29 years old might get some good offers elsewhere.
DL Corey Wootton – If Cutler doesn’t get tagged, Wootton might. He’s proving his versatility by moving inside to the three-technique, even though he’s better suited outside. Given the lack of depth on the line, the Bears probably can’t afford to lose him. Do they risk giving a longterm deal to a guy who has stayed healthy recently, but was previously banged up a lot? The franchise tag proved to be a smart business decision with Henry Melton and it makes sense with Wootton too.
K Robbie Gould – Gould is earning himself a lot of money this year. He wanted a longterm deal in the offseason, but coming off an injury, the Bears wouldn’t bite. Maybe they should have. Given his unhappiness over not getting a deal before training camp, Gould’s camp could play hardball. The kicker is motivated to be the best ever and you want to keep that kind of guy on your team. At 31 years old, he’s still young for a kicker.
Meanwhile, there are a number of guys who the Bears will have to make tough decisions on. Safety Major Wright is in the final year of his rookie contract. What do you do with Henry Melton and Nate Collins, who are coming off ACL tears? Can you keep Melton for cheap now? And what about Devin Hester? Will he stay around for less money or will there be another team crazy enough to pay him more despite him being 31 next season?
One key guy who could be leaving is center Roberto Garza. He’s actually having somewhat of a resurgent year, but at 34 years old, it’s hard to envision the Bears bringing him back. They went through that with Olin Kreutz a few years ago and letting him go turned out to be the right move.
@AdamHoge from the limited play time you've seen this year, how would you grade the 2013 draft class?—
Kieran Murphy (@K_M0NEYSWAG) October 14, 2013
It’s way too early to make any grand conclusions, but let’s take a look at each player’s progress so far:
RG Kyle Long (1st round) – Through six games, I have Long graded out as the best offensive lineman on the team, and this isn’t like when Gabe Carimi was the best offensive lineman on the team by default just because the line was so bad. This is an improved offensive line and Long has played a huge part in that. He still has a few mistakes a game, but he seems to be improving each week and will only get better. He may even be the Bears’ starting left tackle one day.
MLB Jon Bostic (2nd round) – We’ll know a lot more about this pick by the end of the season. Bostic clearly has a lot of potential if he can learn the scheme and prove he has the instincts to play middle linebacker in this defense. With D.J. Williams out for the year, it’s his position now.
LB Khaseem Greene (4th round) – We don’t have a lot to go off with Greene, but there are two causes for concern. First, he hasn’t really flashed on special teams like the Bears were hoping he would. He hasn’t been bad, but he also hasn’t popped out at you on film with big tackles or impact plays like forcing a fumble. Then, last Thursday, when James Anderson got hurt against the Giants, it was Blake Costanzo filling in on the strong side, not Greene. To be honest, that wasn’t that surprising because Greene has been billed as a weak side linebacker and Costanzo has more experience, but at the same time, the Bears haven’t been afraid to throw Bostic into the fire, so it gives you an indication of where Greene is at.
RT Jordan Mills (5th round) – The right tackle hasn’t been dominant by any means, but he has certainly been good enough to win with, and that’s an upgrade over J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi. Mills should only get better and this pick by Phil Emery should be categorized as nothing other than a steal.
DE Cornelius Washington (6th round) – Washington was active for the first four games, but only saw playing time in one of them and has since been passed up by David Bass, a seventh-round pick who spent training camp with the Raiders. Given all the injuries on the defensive line, that’s not exactly encouraging. It’s still early, but I wouldn’t call his start promising.
WR Marquess Wilson (7th round) – Teams don’t keep reserve wide receivers who don’t play special teams unless they really like them. That’s promising for Wilson, even though he only has one NFL snap under his belt through six games. He’s behind Earl Bennett right now and will likely stay there unless Bennett suffers an injury, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be in the mix more next season.
It’s important to remember that six games is by no means a large enough sample size to judge a draft class and this group could really go either way. At this point, I’d say anywhere between two to all six players could pan out. And chances are — especially with guys like Greene, Washington and Wilson — we’re going to need at least another year before making any conclusions.
@AdamHoge Does the per game roster bonus money for DJ Williams get added back to the salary cap since he's on IR now?—
Chad Ruter (@chadruter) October 14, 2013
Yes it does. Whenever I have a salary cap question, I go to our “cap guy” Dan Durkin, who told me this:
D.J. Williams contract was worth a maximum of $1.75 million, which was made up of $850,000 worth of bonuses. $100,000 was a workout bonus that was already earned. The remaining $750,000 worth of bonuses were per-game roster bonuses — $375,000 for being on the 53-man roster each week and another $375,000 for being active each week.
Because he played in the first six games, Williams earned $281,250 of those weekly bonuses, which means the Bears will have $468,750 credited back to the cap as an unearned bonus.
@AdamHoge are the Bears gonna keep Wootton at DT? He's ok there, but that makes McClellin play the run too much.—
Trestman's Mustache (@Trestmanstache) October 14, 2013
I got the sense talking to Stephen Paea on Monday that he and Wootton are going to be the two main defensive tackles going forward. Of course, there will still be some sort of a rotation, with Julius Peppers getting some looks inside and Landon Cohen receiving some playing time.
You aren’t the only one with that concern about Shea McClellin and it doesn’t help that Peppers isn’t doing much on the opposite side. Wootton might be the best defensive end on the roster right now and he’s playing tackle.
The Bears keep talking about the lack of continuity on the line. One way of fixing that might be to just settle on four guys and limit the rotating. But given the injuries, that might not be possible.
@AdamHoge I get the holes haven't always been there, but what is wrong with Michael Bush? Looks slow... and bad.—
Josh Turner (@1901Madison) October 14, 2013
The run blocking hasn’t been great, but you can’t hide a 1.8 yards/carry average. The Bears must have some kind of curse with backup running backs because Chester Taylor and Marion Barber had their fair share of struggles behind Matt Forte too.
Bush is only in the second year of a four-year, $14 million contract. Only $6.45 million of that is guaranteed though so the Bears could save a good amount of money if they choose to not bring him back after this season.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.