On the NFL
9:51 PM EST, February 21, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS — For an NFL team, coming to the scouting combine can be a little like visiting an automobile showroom.
Flashy, pricey things are on display that catch eyes.
Many are veterans with expiring contracts. Many are players who will be drafted in April.
But before the Bears can consider any of them, they have to deal with the players who already have been on their roster. And that really is the most urgent part of the next five days for general manager Phil Emery.
He can't go on a shopping spree until he knows how much cap money and cash he has to spend, and he can't know that until he resolves what to do with some of his players.
His most pressing issue is the expiring contract of defensive tackle Henry Melton. The Bears don't want to allow Melton to hit the open market because if that happens he could get stupid money.
So their options are to get him to sign a long-term contract, probably at a price with which they are somewhat uncomfortable, or to put the franchise tag on him.
That would cost $8.3 million, all of which would count against the 2013 salary cap. The Bears are believed to have about $11 million available.
Franchising Melton wouldn't leave them with much in their pockets for those flashy new things.
And Melton is not their only concern. If they lose potential free agents Lance Louis, Jonathan Scott, Nick Roach, Israel Idonije and Brian Urlacher, they will need to find starters to replace them.
Asked about Louis, Scott and Idonije on Thursday, Emery indicated he will attempt to retain all three. He also said he intended on talking with Urlacher's agent.
Of Louis, who is coming off knee surgery, he said, "Lance has been very diligent at his rehab and we're pleased with his progress."
Of Scott, he said, "He added positively to our group. He helped us win games."
And of Idonije, Emery said, "He has done a number of good things and had a number of good games both outside and inside. So, he has versatility. That is a positive thing."
Emery has to figure not only the individual value of those players but also how each fits in the big picture in terms of the salary cap.
"Every player kind of has a piece of the pie and how you divide that up is a very interesting, creative process and allows a lot of big-picture thinking," Emery said.
That pie can be made bigger by making future pies smaller. Emery can extend and renegotiate contracts.
Two potential candidates for renegotiation are Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman.
If Peppers is willing, the Bears can take some of the $12.9 million he is owed in base salary this year and turn it into bonus money. That would give them cap relief because the bonus would be prorated over the remaining three years of his deal.
Tillman has just one year remaining on his contract and could have his deal extended to reduce his $8 million 2013 cap hit. But he turns 32 on Saturday.
And then there is Jay Cutler. The quarterback is entering the final year of his contract. An extension might provide a little cap relief, as his 2013 cap hit is 10.37 million.
The question is whether Cutler has done enough for the Bears to commit to him long term. Emery was noncommittal Thursday, saying he will not comment on contract issues.
The hiring of coach Marc Trestman certainly changes things for Cutler though. Not long ago, Emery described Cutler as a "franchise quarterback." Given the opportunity to do the same in his introductory news conference, Trestman stopped short of such an endorsement.
Emery reasonably wrote off the difference in their words to semantics. Trestman, meanwhile, blew kisses at Cutler on Thursday.
"I have had a couple of opportunities to talk with him on multiple levels and am excited to work with him in all facets of his game," Trestman said. "He's an extremely bright guy. He loves football. He has a great skill set."
He said Cutler's heart is in the right place and that the quarterback is "willing to do some self-evaluation."
This "big picture" isn't just about Cutler though. It's about how he fits in with everything around him.