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Bears must ponder salary-cap puzzle

(MCT) — The Chicago Bears will have roughly $11 million in room to operate when the NFL finally sets the salary cap for 2013, and that's before the possible restructuring of a couple of contracts that would create more space.

A host of positions need to be filled via free agency and the draft. Defensive tackle, middle linebacker, strong-side linebacker, nickel cornerback, two guards and a backup quarterback are needed before considering potential upgrades at offensive tackle, tight end and other spots.

It’s a complicated puzzle with each player counting as a piece – large or small – of the pie. Fifteen players coming out of contract who played a significant role in 2012 counted more than $29 million against the cap during that season. There is no way all 15 players will return and some that do could come back with smaller cap figures. For instance, Brian Urlacher’s cap number in 2012 was $9,704,185 and if he returns for a 14th season his cap number likely will be significantly smaller.

The Bears are not likely to allot $3,754,805 for a backup quarterback, the amount Jason Campbell received this past season. A backup guard isn’t going to take up $4,254,650 in room like Chris Spencer did. In fact, James Brown potentially could fill that role and his 2013 cap figure is $480,000.

But Henry Melton was one of the best values in the NFL in ’12 with a cap figure of $697,613. If he comes back, it will be for much more. The franchise tag would require $8.3 million and a long-term contract easily could require more than $4 million.

Fortunately, the Bears are not pressed with cap issues like some other teams. But they’re going to need to proceed with a plan and caution as they fill out the roster in the coming months.

Here is a breakdown of players coming out of contract who contributed significantly this past season with their playing time and their 2012 cap figure:

CB Zack Bowman, 189 special teams snaps, Cap number $397,941

QB Jason Campbell, 126 snaps, Cap number $3,754,805

DT Nate Collins, 241 snaps, Cap number $509,320

CB Kelvin Hayden, 462 snaps, Cap number $609,805

LB Geno Hayes, 138 snaps, 273 special teams snaps, Cap number $608,410

DE/DT Israel Idonije, 711 snaps, 130 special teams snaps, Cap number $2,504,805

RG Lance Louis, 692 snaps, Cap number $1,275,302

DT Henry Melton, 607 snaps, Cap number $697,613

CB D.J. Moore, 364 snaps, 101 special teams snaps, Cap number $1,380,719

DT Amobi Okoye, 229 snaps, Cap number $370,588

LG Chilo Rachal, 512 snaps, Cap number $460,537

LB Nick Roach, 697 snaps, 191 special teams snaps, Cap number $1,819,805

RT Jonathan Scott, 334 snaps, Cap number $658,823

G Chris Spencer, 345 snaps, Cap number $4,254,650

LB Brian Urlacher, 716 snaps, Cap number $9,704,185

Total: 15 players, $29,007,308

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