A Cody Whitehair Extension Could Make Him the NFL's Highest-Paid Center (Or One of the Highest Paid Guards)

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A Cody Whitehair Extension Could Make Him the NFL’s Highest-Paid Center (Or One of the Highest Paid Guards)

Analysis and Commentary

When the Bears cleared up salary cap space in the early stages of free agency, there was hope that a big splash would be forthcoming. That’s not at all what happened, but the team could still position itself to use that space and hand out a major pay day for someone already on the roster.

The most logical recipient of an extension is center Cody Whitehair, whose rookie deal expires after the 2019 season ends. Whitehair has performed well on the offensive line since being thrust into the center position as a rookie in 2016. And even during Whitehair’s down season in 2017, he flashed enough when he wasn’t moving around from one position to another, then put together a Pro Bowl season in 2018. Overall, Whitehair has put together enough of a body of work that should allow us to look past the struggles that tripped him up in 2017. And soon, he figures to cash in on his strong play.

Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton believes Whitehair is one of the players who is well-positioned to receive a lofty new contract in 2020 and his projected contract says as much. Moton predicts a five-year deal worth $62 million, which is a hefty chunk of change for an interior offensive lineman. But before we approach any ledges, let’s discuss this particular projection’s parameters.

According to OverTheCap.com, a $62 million deal would surpass the $56.4 million Travis Frederick received from the Cowboys and the $12.4 million on an annual average basis would surpass what Mitch Morse was given by the Bills. Frederick was handed $28.2 million in total guarantees, while Morse received $26.5 million. So if Whitehair figures to get numbers higher than both of those centers in total value and average, then it would be safe to suggest he’ll get it in guarantees, too. Then again, a position switch could change how we look at that contract. Let’s dissect that possibility while we have a moment.

Back in March, the idea of Whitehair and James Daniels swapping positions was tossed out as a possibility. It would be a shift that sent both players back to their original positions, so we’re not talking about anything particularly radical. Remember, Whitehair was drafted to be a guard in 2016, but moved to center when the team signed Josh Sitton before the start of the season. Daniels was one of the best center prospects in the 2017 draft class, but slid over to left guard to fill the vacancy left behind by Sitton. Ahhh, football symmetry. I can’t get enough of it.

Now, let’s take a look at the three guards whose recent contracts have exceeded $60 million in total value:

  • Zack Martin, Cowboys: $84M total value, $14M AAV, $40M total guaranteed
  • Andrew Norwell, Jaguars: $66.5M total value, $13.3M AAV, $30M total guaranteed
  • Kevin Zeitler, Browns/Giants: $60M total value, $12M AAV, $31.5 total guaranteed

So no matter how it’s sliced, a five-year deal worth north of $60 million is going to be an eye-opener. We would be talking about the NFL’s highest-paid center or its second-highest-paid guard. Cool. Cool, cool, cool.

Whitehair’s projected deal would fit him right behind Norwell, but ahead of Zeitler. In either case, Whitehair’s next deal is lining up to be a major expenditure and the latest example of how much the Bears value protecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Since 2017, Chicago has invested $33.8 million to lock in tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie. So it’s not like the front office is afraid of shelling out major coin to keep that group in tact. It’s just that $60 million is a lot for an interior lineman, even one as skilled as Whitehair. The sticker shock is going to be real when this deal goes down.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Luis Medina

Luis is the Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and you can find him on Twitter at @lcm1986.

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