During Chicago Bears training camp this season, Corey Wootton missed a handful of practices due to a hip injury. He wasn't out for long, never hit the injury list and did not show any noticeable limp during the season. Yet, according to a release from Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, Wootton underwent arthroscopic surgery last week to repair the labrum in his right hip.
Wootton said the original injury occurred in 2012 and was one that has bothered him the past two years. The surgery is expected to help him regain his explosiveness off the snap. The timetable for his return is six months, which will be roughly three months after free agency begins on March 11.
Wootton will enter free agency for the first time in his career and is considered one of the most versatile defensive linemen on the open market. Both 4-3 and 3-4 teams will be interested in his services, as GM Phil Emery pointed out a few weeks ago.
"Corey is one of the guys that would transcend scheme," Emery said. "I was in a 3-4, a pure, straight 3-4 defense in Kansas City and he could have been the right end. If he put a little weight on, he could be the left end. He played under-tackle for us. He's a guy that transcends scheme for us. He knows that we're going to work through it and I know he's going to have options."
Yet, after major surgery on an extremely vital part of a defensive lineman's body, have Wotton's options already reduced? And for those teams still interested in him, how much are they going to pay a player who has dealt with injuries his entire career, dating back to his time at Northwestern?
Wootton is just 26 years old and is a blossoming pass rusher who had 7.0 sacks as a pure defensive end in 2012. He can play both end and defensive tackle, which will be very attractive to a lot of NFL clubs. But any team interested in him must take into account his injury history, as well as the potential for lingering affects from the recent hip surgery.
With all those factors coming into play, it is possible Wootton's price tag will reduce significantly once he hits the open market. With Julius Peppers' $18-million contract still on the books, as well as Jay Cutler's $22.5-million price tag in 2014, the Bears are already pressed up against the salary cap. Once the rookie class is signed, there won't be a lot of money left over for high-priced veterans.
So if Wootton's value drops, that could give the Bears just enough wiggle room to bring him back to Chicago. Matt Slauson signed a one-year "prove-it" deal last offseason and was rewarded with a four-year extension a few weeks ago. If teams doubt Wootton's health, he may be willing to accept a similar deal from the Bears, banking on himself to earn a long-term deal next year.
This would be ideal for Chicago's defensive front seven, which will soon undergo an overhaul in personnel. Keeping Wootton, one of the most disruptive and versatile players on the defense, would be a big boost for a unit in transition. If the Bears could keep him around for one more year on the cheap, it would go a long way toward aiding the upcoming rebuilding process.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.