Is Cody Whitehair the next Bear to get a big-money contract?

Bears GM Ryan Pace rewards his own, usually around this time of year.

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New England Patriots v Chicago Bears

The Bears’ Cody Whitehair blocks against the Patriots in 2018.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

General manager Ryan Pace rewards his own, usually around this time of year.

Offensive lineman Cody Whitehair soon could become the latest Bear to receive a contract extension. His four-year rookie deal expires at the end of the upcoming season, and there’s mutual interest in continuing the relationship between the Bears and the 2016 second-round pick.

“Obviously, Cody is an important player for us,” Pace said Sunday, four days before the 90-man roster reports to training camp in Bourbonnais on Thursday. “When we talk about our culture and we talk about unselfish and great teammates, Cody embodies all those things. . . . As we get into these extensions, they remain internal. But Cody’s an important part of this.”

Negotiating a new deal before the start of the regular season offers the player financial security in case of injury during what, otherwise, would be a contract year.

One factor to watch over the next month: Whitehair, who played his first three seasons at center, is moving to left guard this year so James Daniels can start in the middle. Daniels, a second-year player, is only 21 but was a standout center at Iowa.

Will the Bears pay Whitehair like the center he was or the guard he will become? Centers are making an average salary of $2.22 million this season, according to Spotrac.com, while guards average $2.09 million.

“We’ll work through that,” Pace said. “I wouldn’t call it complicated.”

Whitehair has never missed a start as a pro. Last year, he was the only Bear to play every offensive snap. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate and appeared in the game when the Saints’ Max Unger dropped out.

Pace’s history shows he’s ready to conduct business.

He has handed out some of the Bears’ most notable contract extensions during training camp or before the season opener. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman got a four-year extension on Sept. 7, 2018, two days before the team’s first game, and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks got his own four-year deal exactly one year earlier.

Left tackle Charles Leno got a four-year extension on Aug. 23, 2017.

Is Whitehair next?

“I think our team has paid attention to who we reward, who these guys are,” Pace said. “And we’re mindful of that going forward.”

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