With the signing of Matt Forte to a four year contract, we now turn our focus to who the Chicago Bears should look sign a contract extension.
Recently it was reported that the Bears would have 17 of 22 starters hitting the free agent market in the next two seasons (barring Forte not signing his extension) that number dropped to 16 after Forte signed his deal.
This number is extremely misleading however because the Bears in fact ACTUALLY have 11 of 22 starters under contract beyond the 2013 season.
The problem with the analysis is that there are five more players projected to be starting between now and the beginning of the 2014 season.
Those starters are as follows:
Alshon Jeffery will be starting ahead of Devin Hester likely by the third week of the season. Jeffery was drafted to be a starter so he will be one sooner rather than later and he'll have two years left on his rookie deal after 2012 and 2013.
Evan Rodriguez is next an obvious choice to be that F-back that fits into the Mike Tice offense. That's the type of player that Tice projects in that role so he should wind up being a starter taking either Matt Spaeth of Tyler Clutts out of the equation.
On defense you add in other player projected to be starters:
Stephen Paea is likely a starter ahead of Matt Toeaina, if not in 2012 then most certainly by 2013. Paea is the backup NT who is expected to push Toeaina for his starting spot this season. Paea will still be under contract.
Shea McClellin will be pushing Israel Idonije for playing time this season, if not next. McClellin should be starting and be part of a young core on defense that's starting to take the Bears' defense in a new direction.
Continuing the upward movement on defense towards a young and talented core, Brandon Hardin should project as a starter on the Bears defense beyond the 2013 season. Hardin is starting out at free safety, but with his size he's better projected as a strong safety.
Now we move to priority free agents that should be dealt with within the next two off-seasons with two extremely obvious contracts coming do for extension.
Jay Cutler on offense will be due an extension and likely will be taken care of handsomely during the 2013 off-season after the 2012 season. Depending on how Cutler plays with Marshall and the new offense I don't see the Bears getting to a Forte situation like they did this season.
On defense Henry Melton becomes THE priority to take care before the start of the regular season. I've covered the obvious extension scenario with Melton pretty thoroughly already so I won't rehash the obvious here. Suffice to say the 3-technique is the most important part of this defense.
When you break down the rest of the free agents, they include the aging Roberto Garza, Brian Urlacher, and Charles Tillman.
The solid and productive but starting to age Nick Roach, Chris Spencer, and Tim Jennings.
Finally there are players with something still to prove in Chris Williams, Lance Louis, and Kellen Davis.
While on the surface the current number today is 16 out of 22 starters are impending free agents, the reality is far less troublesome. There is youth that projects as starters which reduces that number and there will be $50-million in cap space prior to the 2014 season to somehow fit Cutler, Melton, and nine other insignificant starters beyond the 2014 season under the salary cap.