Bears give an $18 million bonanza to WR Earl Bennett

SHARE Bears give an $18 million bonanza to WR Earl Bennett
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Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett goes up for a pass from quarterback Jay Cutler as San Diego Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason defends in the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Although Earl Bennett missed five games this season, the Bears rewarded the receiver with a four-year extension Friday worth $18 million, half of which is guaranteed.

Scheduled to become a free agent next offseason, Bennett has endeared himself throughout the organization with his attitude, his versatility and his chemistry with former Vanderbilt teammate Jay Cutler.

A third-round pick in 2008, his best season was 2009, when he posted career highs in catches (54) and receiving yards (717). Those are modest figures, but Bennett has distinguished himself as one of the league’s best slot receivers, and he has been the team’s most clutch and consistent third-down option.

“It says a lot about the organization and what they think about me,” Bennett said. “The organization has been loyal to me, drafted me and I wanted to be loyal to them. They had the first shot at it, they took advantage of it and I appreciate it.”

Cutler rarely skips an opportunity to praise Bennett, and he congratulated him on Twitter.

“It’s exciting to play with a guy like Jay who continues to get better and better each week,” Bennett said. “I look forward to playing with him once he gets healthy and back out on the field.”

The Bears are basing the contract on potential.

In March 2010, the Detroit ­Lions signed Nate Burleson to a five-year, $25 million contract that included $11 million in guarantees. Burleson, though, had topped 1,000 receiving yards once during his career, and he was signed after a 63-catch, 812-yard season with the Seattle Seahawks.

Bennett, 24, received a bigger contract than Jordy Nelson, who signed a three-year, $13.3 million extension in October with the Green Bay Packers that included $5 million in guarantees. Nelson has 44 catches for 782 yards and nine touchdowns.

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