LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) — Word had spread through the new Bears locker room by early Sunday afternoon. Teammates came up to left guard Cody Whitehair with handshakes, hugs and congratulations, thrilled to see a popular player rewarded with a lucrative contract extension.
Whitehair signed a five-year, $52.5-million extension Sunday morning that keeps him under contract with the Bears through 2024. He’s the latest player to be rewarded for his work amid the team’s rise.
“I feel like I just got paid a little bit too,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said in expressing his pleasure for Whitehair.
Trubisky’s pay day could be coming soon enough.
The Bears have created a core under the watch of general manager Ryan Pace that currently runs through the next three seasons. Whitehair, edge rusher Khalil Mack, cornerback Kyle Fuller, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, offensive tackle Charles Leno, offensive tackle Bobby Massie, tight end Trey Burton, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and several other key players are locked in through 2021 or longer.
But with team success in the NFL comes the obligation to reward those individuals with long-term stability and large paychecks, and the salary cap only allows so many players to reap those benefits. In other words, the Bears will soon be facing some difficult financial decisions.
Pace and his Bears front office have preferred to operate business away from football, often completing contract extensions days ahead of the regular season. They have signed guard Kyle Long ( in 2016), Leno (2017), Hicks (2017), Goldman (2018) and now Whitehair in that fashion. Who could be due a year from now?
All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson will be entering a contract season then, and the Bears are sure to pay up for a key player in their dominant defense. Another All-Pro selection in Tarik Cohen is a strong candidate for an extension ahead of the final season in his rookie deal.
But a potential future with Trubisky as the Bears’ franchise quarterback is what Pace must keep in mind.
The Eagles set the benchmark for a potential Trubisky extension with their long-term deal for quarterback Carson Wentz, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, a year before Trubisky went second overall. Wentz signed a four-year, $128-million extension in June with $107 million guaranteed.
While all teams desire long-term stability at the quarterback position, that kind of contract for Trubisky would mean cap casualties down the road. Many of those players whose contracts expire after 2021 wouldn’t receive another deal in Chicago.
The Bears have already positioned themselves for impending cap casualties in the years to come. Receiver Allen Robinson is playing the second season of a three-year, $42-million deal that he signed in March 2018. However, if his performance isn’t worth the price, the Bears have potential replacements being developed in Riley Ridley and Javon Wims.
The same fate could meet Long in the near future. He has just two years remaining on a recently restructured contract that will pay out $8.5 million over that span. But the Bears have invested in developing a potential replacement in rookie Alex Bars, who was signed to the practice squad Sunday.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan saw his run with the Broncos end after their Super Bowl championship in February 2016, as Denver’s cap situation didn’t allow for him to sign a new deal. Now, Trevathan faces the same potential fate in Chicago as his contract is set to expire after this season — right as he turns 30 next March and the Bears prepare to pay two younger stars in Jackson and Cohen.
Pace and his Bears brass will continue to restructure contracts, moving base salary into bonus allocations and creating cap flexibility. But he knows the challenge will soon become greater.
The Bears will celebrate their own being rewarded, but team success will come at a cost to some individuals.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.
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