Bears: Jay Cutler and the salary cap

INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman stopped short Thursday of calling Jay Cutler his "franchise" quarterback and said he hasn't spoken to anyone about a contract extension that would keep Cutler with the Bears beyond 2013. Trestman's approach shouldn't be surprising to anyone -- there is no reason for a new coach to commit long-term to a quarterback before their first practice together -- but it does raise an interesting question from a salary-cap perspective.

Namely: Where will the Bears find extra cap space, assuming they want it, in the coming weeks and months?

As of Thursday, the Bears had $8.176 million in cap space. That number figures to change a bit over the coming weeks, and as Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune notes, the Bears project to have about $11 million in cap space when free agency begins next month.

That figure is still relatively low if the Bears plan to use their franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton, a decision that would cost them about $8.3 million in cap space. (Just as Trestman is justified in waiting on Cutler, the Bears and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker might want to wait on a longer commitment to Melton.)

A contract extension for Cutler probably would have lowered his 2013 cap figure of $10.37 million. If that number stays intact, and the Bears want to franchise Melton and also conduct the rest of their offseason business, they might need some more space. To that end, below are the players with the six highest cap figures on the roster at the moment. I wouldn't think any of them are candidates to be released, but some of them could be approached for restructures or extensions:

  1. Defensive end Julius Peppers: $16.383 million

  2. Cutler: $10.37 million

  3. Receiver Brandon Marshall: $9.3 million

  4. Cornerback Charles Tillman: $8 million

  5. Linebacker Lance Briggs: $7.416 million

  6. Tailback Matt Forte: $7.175 million