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Wootton in line for big raise

1/7/2013
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears defensive end Corey Wootton's impressive season earned the former fourth-round draft choice a minimum $733,000 raise next year, according to documents obtained by ESPN Chicago.

Wootton's original four-year rookie deal called for the defensive end to have a base salary of $575,000 in 2013, but an escalator clause written into the deal will now bump Wootton's pay up to either $1.308 million or the 2013 low restricted free agent tender amount, depending on which of the two numbers turns out to be greater.

The 2013 NFL tender amounts are usually released around the start of the league year which is slated for March 12, but last season's RFA low tender was worth $1.26 million.

In order for Wootton to have triggered the escalator, he needed to participate in 50 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps in 2012 and the club had to improve its NFL or conference ranking, or its statistical performance in interceptions, net difference takeaways/giveaways or touchdowns allowed by the defense.

To meet the initial criteria, Wootton was on the field for 573 of the Bears' 1,051 defensive snaps (54.5 percent), according to the league's official game statistics and information system.

Healthy for the first long stretch since the Bears drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft, Wootton moved into the team's starting line-up on a permanent basis in Week 11 and finished third on the Bears in sacks (seven), fourth in quarterback pressures (12) and in a four-way tie for second in forced fumbles (two).

The second criteria of the escalator clause was satisfied when the Bears ended the regular season ranked No. 5 in total defense (315.6). Last year the team had the No. 17 rated overall defense (350.4).

Depending on the positions the Bears target in the offseason, Wootton appears to be a strong candidate to be a full-time starter next season as he works to secure a contract extension. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Wootton seems better equipped at this stage of his career to handle the demands of being a four-down defensive end than 2011 first-round pick Shea McClellin, who turned in a respectable rookie campaign with 2.5 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures. Eight-time Pro-Bowler Julius Peppers is under contract for three more seasons and carries a $16.383 million salary cap number in 2012, but the veteran is coming off another solid year where he led the Bears in sacks (11.5) and fumble recoveries (four), while finishing second on the defense with 21 quarterback pressures.

Fellow veteran Israel Idonije is a free agent again this offseason after he signed only a one-year deal to return to the Bears for 2011. But Idonije is still productive as evidenced by his 7.5 sacks and defensive-line-leading 40 total tackles.

Regardless of how the Bears choose to address defensive end, Wootton's arrow is pointing up as he is now starting to resemble the dominant pass rusher he was at Northwestern University before he suffered a devastating knee injury in the 2008 Alamo Bowl that continued to give Wootton problems in the early portions of his NFL career.