By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) The relationship was envisioned, when the general manager met with the prospective head coach for five hours in a hotel room last winter.
The relationship was evident months ago, when that coach let the quarterback play against the Lions longer than he should have.
The relationship was exposed in December, without guile or pretense, when any talk of a quarterback controversy was rebuffed.
Even the skilled, successful backup knew better.
The relationship was put into writing yesterday. NFL contracts are complicated business, and as details emerged last night on Pro Football Talk, it became apparent that the financial agreement matched the tone of the season.
Jay Cutler and the Bears have cemented their bond, for years to come. The marriage was consummated in ink.
The contract shows that the quarterback made happiness concessions to help general manager Phil Emery lock him up. There is no signing bonus. The last four years of the seven-year deal each come with individual options. Cutler will be paid, amazingly, on a per-game basis in those seasons, good health willing. The Bears have serious safeguards against his injury or decline.
As the season wrapped up, the quarterback said “Phil has a plan.” I guess so.
It’s creative, quirky stuff from Emery and salary cap guru Cliff Stein, with all of the guaranteed money front-loaded. The exact annual salary cap hits aren’t clear, as roster bonuses could defray them. If the 2014 hit is north of $20 million, that would be a concern for roster construction. Other free agent deals would perhaps be seriously back-loaded.
What is clear is that Cutler could have gotten more total value on the open market. He could have gotten more security than just the next three seasons. But he didn’t want to bother.
Go to a new city, system, coach, set of targets, and offensive line? Nah. This union works.
Bears fans should be glad it didn’t get that far, and glad that he’s locked up.
Emery barely has to touch what is already a high powered offense. Maybe he gets a new center in place of Roberto Garza. But that’s it. Marquess Wilson will step in if Earl Bennett is cut, or both could stay.
The Bears will move forward intact as the No. 2 scoring offense in the league, and figure to get better as everyone becomes more comfortable and knowledgeable. The skill guys are gathering in the offseason again, nearly en masse, on their own. That brings to mind the annual offseason workouts of the Peyton Manning Colts, or the Cris Carter receiver sessions that Brandon Marshall is so capably emulating. It’s exciting.
The value of that roster stability on one side of the ball should not be understated.
No matter where you fall on the “keep Jay or don’t” debate, everyone admits that Trestman can seemingly make most any quarterback decent. Well, if you trust the quarterback whisperer, why would you not embrace the fact that he’s found one he thinks can be great? Listen to the coach talk – he spent the year as we did, examining Cutler to see if they should invest in each other. It’s a resounding yes, as much off the field as on.
The Bears championship window is now, and for the next three seasons. The mandate of the moment is obvious; get the defense to be merely adequate. Great would be nice, but mediocre might work. This team is built to outscore others if need be.
Athletes can evolve. Yes, even quarterbacks in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Cutler has improved this season statistically, mechanically, and as a leader. Count me among those that believe he is indeed capable of getting to and winning a Super Bowl. Did you think Eli Manning was? Did you think Joe Flacco was? After Peyton, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, everyone is suspect. Yet some are worth sticking with, having shown enough possibility, rather than risking the unsure alternative. Jay is one.
The signing won’t keep us from dissecting his play, from being frustrated with his mistakes, from wishing he would be better. But it should keep us from wondering whether the team has its leader or not. It should keep us from making value judgments based on his demeanor, his body language, or his unfortunate case of jerk-face.
Jay Cutler’s value has been set. Appropriately.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show. Follow him on Twitter at @MattSpiegel670.