Musick: Money talks, good and bad, for some Bears

LAKE FOREST – Let’s talk money.

Tickets cost money. Players earn money. The NFL swims in money.

Slick Willie Sutton should have robbed football teams instead of banks because that’s really where the money is.

Sometimes, though, money isn’t divided among players as fairly as it should be. Some players are underpaid while others are overpaid. Other deals, like the last bowl of porridge, are just right.

The Bears focused on money this week when they reportedly sliced J’Marcus Webb’s salary almost in half, reducing it to the minimum allowed for a fourth-year player. The move, which was reported by the Chicago Tribune, made sense considering Webb’s woeful preseason.

Why stop at Webb?

Using the Bears’ salary database at spotrac.com, I searched for other moves that could be on the money.

Time for a raise

Tim Jennings ($5.1 million)

No player in the NFL picked off more passes last season than Jennings, whose nine interceptions marked the most by any defender since 2009. Jennings earned a starting spot in the Pro Bowl opposite teammate Charles Tillman, who is set to earn $8 million this season. Barring injury, it’s a safe bet that Jennings will command a pay increase as an unrestricted free agent next spring.

Chris Conte ($698,400)

Conte, who is known to his teammates as “Birdman,” deserves a big pay raise so he can build a bigger nest. The Bears lacked stability at the safety position for years, but Conte has helped to change that fact since his arrival as a third-round draft pick in 2011. Fellow safety Major Wright is set to earn almost $1.5 million this season, and it doesn’t seem right that Conte will earn less than half of that.

Jordan Mills ($446,200)

Yes, Mills is a 2013 fifth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech who has yet to play a regular-season snap in the NFL. But the rookie already has impressed his coaches enough to warrant a starting spot at right tackle heading into the Bears’ third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. If Mills helps to bolster the offensive line and protect Jay Cutler, he will deserve a big tip for his hard work.

Time for a pay cut

Julius Peppers ($16.183 million)

Go ahead, pick your adjective. Peppers is a monster, a beast, a freak, a force. He also is overpaid. (Shhh! Please don’t tell the 6-foot-7, 287-pound monster-beast-freak-force we want to cut his pay.) Anyway, Peppers has averaged 10.2 sacks and 2.3 forced fumbles a season since joining the Bears in 2010. He’s a great player beyond statistics, too. But he’s not worthy of $1 million-plus a game.

Earl Bennett ($2.35 million)

Late in the 2011 season – not long before ex-general manager Jerry Angelo was given the heave-ho from Halas Hall – Bennett received an early Christmas gift in the form of a four-year contract extension. Thus far, Bennett has fallen far short of earning his new money. He caught 29 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games in 2012, and a concussion has kept him out for the past two weeks.

J’Marcus Webb ($645,150)

It’s probably time for Webb to become another team’s headache. The fourth-year offensive lineman from West Texas A&M has squandered his second chance (and third chance) (and fourth chance) to become a starting tackle for the Bears, and now he might not even earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Use Webb’s salary to pay players who want to be here – and who won’t waste their opportunities.

Time will tell

Jay Cutler ($10.37 million)

Unless you have been vacationing on Revis Island for the past several months, you know Cutler is entering the final year of his contract with the Bears. You also know that the Bears do not plan to negotiate any contract extensions until after the season is finished. In a league that is desperate for talented quarterbacks, Cutler will strike it rich this offseason. The only question is how rich.

Henry Melton ($8.45 million)

Although the Bears failed to reach a long-term deal with Melton, they retained the Pro Bowl defensive tackle for at least one more season by way of the franchise tag. If Melton can duplicate his dominance from last season, then his price tag is in the right ballpark. But if he regresses or battles injuries, then the Bears will end up regretting their decision to spend so much on an interior lineman.

Devin Hester ($2.94 million)

Right now, it seems unnecessary to devote almost $3 million to a kick returner who will play no role whatsoever on the offense. But that’s right now. If Hester breaks a long kickoff or punt return that helps to win a game or two, then his price tag will be well worth it. An extra win or two could be the difference that puts the Bears in the playoffs.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com
and on Twitter @tcmusick.