The Chicago Bears face a predicament with Henry Melton that they could have avoided had they worked to sign him to a contract extension at the end of the 2011 season. Melton's contract value went up because he enjoyed a Pro Bowl season in the final year of his rookie contract. Now general manager Phil Emery faces the likelihood that he should prepare to sign third year defensive end Corey Wootton to a contract extension to avoid the same problem he now faces with Melton.
Corey Wootton is headed into the final year of his four year rookie contract at the same trajectory level of Melton. Wootton struggled with injuries during his first two years in the NFL and had a decent third season in the NFL, call it a break out year. Wootton took over the starting job and finished the season with eight sacks, eight QB hits and 17 hurries on the season. With less than 60-percent of the total snaps played Wootton finished no worse than 40th in all the major pass rushing and run defense categories according to profootball focus among 4-3 defensive ends.
Wootton played at a level that is in the middle of the pack among starting defensive ends who earned more than 60-percent of snaps. In other words he was more productive with less playing time meaning he could have a breakout year in 2013.
Entering the 2013 season Wootton will be playing only his second full season fully healthy without injuries. If he wins the starting job it will be his first full season as a starter, but he could easily surpass double digit sacks and put himself in contention for a Pro Bowl year.
The price tag for a young Pro Bowl defensive end would be very steep if Wootton were to achieve that level of production in 2013. What this means is the Bears should move to sign Wootton to a contract extension sooner rather than later.
With Wootton the Bears don't have to sign him to a four to six year extension right now, they are better off signing him to a two year extension now to coincide with the end of Julius Peppers' six year deal. By signing Wootton to a two year extension you will likely save a much bigger cap hit at the beginning of the 2014 season. This would also avoid the potential of having to cut Julius Peppers to give Wootton a big pay day.
A two-year extension that would come in well below Wootton's future market value at the end of the 2013 season would be solid for both sides. Reason one, the Bears save money for the next three seasons. Secondly Wootton will start the 2013 as a 26-year-old defensive end, and could cash in with a lucrative free agent contract before he hits 30 if he's as productive over those next three years as would be expected.
While most Bears fans scoff at the idea of giving a defensive end who has struggled with injuries the first two years of his a contract extension after one good season, this is where a GM makes his money. Wootton proved his potential and his knee can no longer be questioned. By giving him a modest extension now, you put yourself in the best possible leverage situation. The Bears don't want to be in a poor leverage situation with a proven defensive end heading into the prime of his career with Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije heading towards the end of theirs.
Being a GM requires foresight, it requires focusing on the immediate off-season but also realizing that the time to strike with young players is when you're in the best possible position to save salary cap money. With the future in mind Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery would be smart to give Wootton a two year contract extension and a pay raise now to avoid a much bigger contract and a loss of leverage situation later.