Originally written on Midway Illustrated  |  Last updated 7/13/13
The 2013 Chicago Bears obviously don't have a lot of salary cap room, but they can alleviate some of the cap space and so some contract extensions in the process.  Two players are taking up a combined $16.4-million a number that should be split between three players to avoid an absolute disaster during the 2014 off season.  The Bears will have a ton of salary cap space, but they can't afford to get involved in bidding wars for their top talent.  Three players the Bears need to retain if they want any chance of competing in 2014 reside on the defensive side of the ball. Henry Melton, Corey Wootton and Charles Tillman are the key players the Bears need to extend to help the defense continue to dominate.  Tillman despite his age is still playing an extremely high level, one of the highest levels in the NFL.  Tillman is playing arguably as well as Darrelle Revis, a player who is in his prime.  Yes his play could fall off a cliff with his age, but the Bears cannot afford to not give him an extension for at least two more seasons.  The Bears do not have any replacement plan in place for their CB depth.  A youth movement is not underway at the CB position, each player on the roster who could potentially start will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2014.  Tillman is slated to earn $7.95-million for the 2013 and the Bears would be better off giving him a two year extension and spreading money out over the length of that extension.  Instead the Bears could be faced with the prospect of losing Tillman and severely downgrading their secondary talent.  Transitioning to the front four where teams have to keep hold of the best young pass rushers we come to Henry Melton and Corey Wootton.  Wootton is like Melton from a year ago, he's on the verge of exploding onto the scene in likely his first full year as a starter.  In 2013 Wootton was 27th overall in the NFL out of 43 4-3 defensive ends in pass rush productivity.  Wootton was in the middle of the pack and will be asked to improve as a starter.  If Wootton does take the expected jump in production he'll be in line for a substantial raise from his rookie contract.   As it stands Wootton's salary will already going up from his rookie year contract adding more money to the salary cap.  If Wootton puts up double digit sacks, and he's fully capable of doing so he then could be in line for a top-10 salary for DEs in the NFL.  He may automatically place himself out of the Bears' price range because a team with more cap space and less free agents to sign can offer more money.  The Bears may not have Henry Melton in their long term plans or may not be able to afford to keep Melton.  Melton will receive a contract as one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL.  Emery should have signed Melton to an extension last year when he had the leverage to do so.  He should be doing the same with Wootton because if Jay Cutler explodes the Bears will be forced to put the franchise tag on their QB.  Wootton and Melton would then both hit the open market and the Bears could potentially lose their top two young pass rushers.   With Julius Peppers hitting the age of 34 the Bears need to focus their efforts on the young players, but if Shea McClellin doesn't take a major step forward they may not be able to so easily part ways with Peppers.  Peppers gets a substantial raise in 2014 further eating into the salary cap.  Jay Cutler's salary may double and the Bears could have nearly $36-million tied up in just two players for the 2014 season.  Upon further investigation into the Bears' salary cap situation it is readily apparent that the Bears have more salary cap space to tap into during the 2014 off-season.  However they will have an equal number of players getting significant raises if they plan to retain their best young players.  The number of players due pay raises combined with the small projected jump in the salary cap means the Bears may be forced to part with some of their best young players.  What is apparent is Phil Emery has the Bears set up for an absolute disaster if he doesn't become a proactive general manager and get players extended.  The roster could be absolutely gutted, and the Bears would have no way to replace their best young players with only seven draft picks.  The pressure is on for Emery's draft picks to step up and make a major impact in 2014.  Shea McClellin needs to show he's capable of being a starter to help the Bears move on from Julius Peppers' monster contract.  Where is the youth at cornerback?  Where is the youth and talent at defensive tackle to off-set the potential loss of Henry Melton?  You can't simply build a franchise around one year prove it or lose it contracts to veterans who are on the downside of their careers.   This strategy is suicide because these players aren't likely to play at a level needed to compete for a championship.  While the Bears will have more cap space in 2014 than they did this year, they will also be adding more money to the salary cap.  Players will be in line for raises which will add more money to the cap and less room for the Bears to keep core players.  The franchise could be in line for an absolute implosion if Phil Emery doesn't act fast.
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