UPDATED: 1/2/2014 1:53 p.m.
By Adam Hoge-READ MORE: Two Chicago Police Officers Wounded By Accidental Friendly Fire While Confronting Suspect In Lyons, Police Say
HALAS HALL (CBS) — Well, so much for an offseason full of speculation about the Bears’ starting quarterback.
General manager Phil Emery killed the suspense early Thursday, announcing in his postseason press conference that Jay Cutler had already signed a seven-year extension to stay with the Bears.
“We’re very excited to have Jay for the long term,” Emery said. “He battled through the tough times and kept fighting.”
The deal is reportedly worth $126 million, with $54 million guaranteed.
“The direction of this organization is heading in the right way. The people that make the decisions and influence people are the right group,” Cutler said Thursday. “The mindset is right and the talent in the locker room is right. I’m happy to be joining the rest of the guys, the rest of the coaches, the rest of the organization, in our pursuit for a championship. That’s the reason I wanted to come back, because I truly believe that we have the right group of people to make that happen.”
Cutler said he never wanted to test the open market, even though he was widely considered the best available quarterback in a thin free agent year at the position and a questionable draft class. The situation in Chicago, with Marc Trestman leading the offense, was just too good to pass up.
“It is a marriage of sorts,” Cutler said. “We spend a lot of time together and if we have conflicting personalities or for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, it’s hard, him being a head coach and being an offensive guy, to have a quarterback if that was the direction that we were going to take. I think since Day 1, we’ve obviously worked through the things that we’ve had to work through. It was a relatively easy marriage if you will, from Day 1. I’m happy to be married to him for seven more years.”
In five seasons since being acquired by the Bears, Cutler, 30, is 39-28 as a starter and already the franchise leader in passer rating (83.1), passing yards (14,913), passing yards per game (222.6), attempts (2,090) and completions (1,258). Cutler is also second in touchdown passes (101) and completion percentage (60.2) and tied for first with nine 300-yard passing games.
Cutler entered the 2013 season playing on an expiring contract for the first time in his career. The organization wanted to see how Cutler would fit in with Trestman and the most weapons he’s had since joining the Bears in 2009. Despite missing five games because of injury, Emery and Trestman saw what they needed to see.
“When you evaluate a quarterback, you say, does he have an inventory of passes? Can he make all the throws? Does he have mobility? Is he a quick decision maker? Jay has all that. He can do all those things,” Trestman said. “But what’s most important is, is he mentally tough enough? Can he fly the plane and not be on autopilot? And I think during this process, and I think Phil reiterated that in a statistical fashion, that he’s proven that he can do that.”
Emery was specifically impressed with the way Cutler handled himself before, during and after the Bears’ win against the Browns Dec. 15 when he came back from his ankle injury to reclaim his starting spot, despite a national sentiment that backup Josh McCown played well enough to remain the starter.
“I was really fascinated by his press conference (after) the Cleveland game,” Emery said. “I think he finally felt the weight off his shoulders. He showed everybody that he is ultimately a great competitor that can win even when the chips are down and even when he’s a part of those chips being down in terms of the early picks that happened. He took accountability for it and he kept fighting for his teammates that kept fighting and found a way to win.”
The Bears’ general manager repeatedly said that Cutler has proven he can be the reason why you win a football game. He specifically referenced the first three games of the season, when Cutler led fourth quarter drives to seal victories.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Cool Changes
“Jay is a team guy that we feel very comfortable moving forward in our future that he’s a key part of winning championship football,” Emery said.
That last part is key. Cutler mentioned a common motivational decision in sports. What’s more important? Money or championships?
“Do you want to say, ‘hey, I made X amount of dollars’ or ‘hey, I won championships’? I talked to guys like Forte and B-Marsh and Garza and all the guys. We’re here to win championships, not to make so and so amount of dollars. That was my thought process,” Cutler said.
Jennings, Slauson Re-Upped Too
Joining Cutler with contract extensions Thursday were cornerback Tim Jennings and left guard Matt Slauson. Both players signed four-year contracts with the team.
“It was fairly easy on my part,” Jennings said about returning to the Bears. “Chicago gave me an opportunity that teams wouldn’t when I was a free agent deciding to come here. And just to see what they’re building around the defense — meaning to say, the offense, the special teams — I think we got a good chance here. I think it was a no-brainer just to know what they’re capable of doing on the offensive side of the ball. Now we’ve got to do some things on the defensive side. So I wanted to be a part of that and be excited about what’s to come here.”
Emery said Jennings is one of his favorite players ever in terms of scouting, referring to when he used to watch him play at the University of Georgia when Emery was working with the Atlanta Falcons.
“Signing Tim, to me, is about rewarding excellence. And he has had that,” Emery said Thursday.
Jennings, 30, joined the Bears in 2010 after four seasons with the Colts, earning a Pro Bowl nomination in 2012.
Slauson, meanwhile, was rewarded with longterm security after a rough free agent market left him with only a one-year deal with the Bears in 2013.
“The free agency market being what it was last year was a little disappointing, but the opportunity to come to the Bears, to such a great organization, was awesome,” Slauson said. “I was really excited about it, and I know the Bears have a reputation of taking care of the guys that they bring in and perform well. Perfect example of that is Garza, and I kind of wanted to follow in that track.”
Cutler praised the return of Slauson, giving the left guard a lot of credit for the work he did in mentoring rookie right guard Kyle Long.
“He was able to show Kyle what it takes to be a successful guard in the NFL,” Cutler said. “Kyle was able to see it firsthand and on film and be able to talk to him on a daily basis. So it was huge. It was one of those things that Matt, I think he enjoyed doing it, being a semi-coach for Kyle and the young guys and helping them along. Obviously there’s frustrating times as you go through those things working with the young guys. But Matt did a great job. I was really excited to hear that he’s gonna be here four more years protecting me.”
The 27-year-old Slauson signed a one-year deal with the Bears before the 2013 season after spending his first three years in the league with the Jets.MORE NEWS: North Side Condo Building Residents Alarmed By Mail Thefts Apparently Committed Using A Master Key
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.