The Bears are up against the salary cap this year, but that's primarily because of the addition of Brandon Marshall's $9.5 million salary and Matt Forte's contract. Barring an unforeseen extension, Forte is slated to earn $7.74 million on his one-year franchise tag contract. That's $17 million in new contract money; last year, the Bears were about $20 million under the cap.
If the Bears extend Forte, then there should be some salary cap relief in the way Forte's deal is structured.
Now with all that out of the way, we're going to get to the three most underpaid Bears players currently on the roster.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton is in the final year of his contract, in much the same way Forte was at the start of last year. Melton is a steadily improving player who by most standards is underpaid.
In 2011 Melton was the second-most-effective pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, and was third overall in sacks by DTs with seven. He's the main cog in the engine of the Cover 2 defense, and he's good at his job, with the potential for the 2012 to be a huge breakout season.
Melton having a contract year only increases the likelihood that his production will go up. Adding to Melton's overall value is the lack of a true backup 3-technique DT on the roster.
Stephen Paea is probably better suited to play the nose, but he's capable of playing the under-tackle spot. However, the Bears prefer to run with four strong DTs and they only have three, meaning the loss of Melton to injury could prove devastating.
Simply put, Melton is underpaid based on his value to the Bears, and I wouldn't begrudge him if he held out of training camp. Melton has all the leverage on the Bears right now to get a contract extension done, though the likelihood of the latter is improbable based on recent comments from Melton.
Also entering a contract year, is nickelback D.J. Moore a fourth-year CB who makes more impact per snap played than any other player on the Bears' defense.
Moore is only a nickelback, but his impact on the Bears' defense cannot be understated. He's constantly around the football, keeps making plays and is a capable blitzer.
He gets pressure on the QB and makes a lot of tackles from the middle of the field in toward the line of scrimmage. Moore is arguably the best tackler in the Bears' secondary and is capable of playing on the outside.
He's so strongly suited to the nickel spot that he'll likely stay there. His overall value should not be minimized simply because he plays a specialized role that may not see as much action as a regular starter.
Lastly, we come to a bit of an unexpected player, kicker Robbie Gould. Gould is underpaid based on the current market for NFL kickers; he's not currently among the 10 highest-paid kickers.
Should the Bears attempt to sign Henry Melton to a contract extension?
Gould seems to get better with age, as he had a career year in 2011 in accuracy from over 50 yards. Gould was 6-of-6 in field-goal attempts from beyond 50 yards last season. Gould also set a Bears team record with a career-high 57-yard field goal made last year.
Not that long ago, Gould struggled to kick with any accuracy or strength beyond 50 yards, and now he's set career-long numbers.
Gould is also the fifth-most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL and had flirted with being the most accurate in NFL history. Gould is clutch and can be counted on more arguably more than any kicker in the NFL.
Brett Solesky is editor and publisher of MidwayIllustrated.com a Chicago Bears blog. For more articles about the Bears, including a weekly podcast featuring weekly player interviews and other in-depth information visit my blog.