By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) — New Bears center Brian de la Puente isn't playing on a minimum salary benefit deal in 2014, which means Chicago will be able extend him to a long-term contract at any point.
The signing is similar to the Matt Slauson pick-up a year ago. The Bears signed a good, reliable offensive lineman to a one-year, near-minimum salary deal, giving the Bears exclusive negotiating rights if the player earns a long-term contract with his play. Slauson was arguably the Bears' best offensive lineman a year ago, and the they quickly locked him up to a four-year, $12.8 million deal when the season was over.
According to NFLPA records, de la Puente's one-year contract has a base salary of $730,001, just $1 over the minimum for a player with his accrued NFL service. That extra $1 means the Bears won't get the $160,000 in cap savings that would have come with a minimum salary benefit deal, but it also gives them the flexibility to extend de la Puente at any point. Under a minimum salary benefit deal, a player can't be extended to anything beyond another one-year deal at the same rate until the start of the next league year.
That scenario played out this past season with former backup quarterback Josh McCown, who was playing under a minimum salary benefit deal. The Bears were able to negotiate with him before the start of free agency, but he wasn't able to sign a contract until March 11, when the new league year started. He eventually signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Some criticized Chicago for not giving McCown that extra $1 last year, but the reality was the 34-year-old quarterback was playing on his fifth minimum salary benefit deal with the Bears and they were the only team that offered him a contract last season. In addition, the $285,000 in cap savings contributed to the Bears' ability to sign defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff midseason. Plus, either way, McCown priced himself out of the Bears' market for a backup quarterback by playing so well, so it didn't matter much anyway.
In de la Puente's case, the center is only 28 and could very well be Roberto Garza's replacement at center. The flexibility to extend him down the road is likely worth forfeiting the $160,000 in cap savings.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.
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