Leave it to Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery to make another surprising move, as the team signed quarterback Jay Cutler to a seven-year, $126 million contract Thursday. Emery is putting his job on the line with this move as it links Cutler with the Bears for a long time. If Emery can continue to bring Cutler weapons at his disposal and attract offensive minds like Marc Trestman as head coach and it all fails because Cutler can't perform, Emery's head will roll.
It's a gamble. Not so much because Emery doesn't know what kind of athlete he just signed, but because of the length of deal. Seven years is a long time in professional football, where players get old fast. Cutler will be 31 years old at the start of the 2014 season. He's still in his prime right now, but what about when the deal is up seven years from now and Cutler is 38, what kind of player will the Bears have? What about five years from now?
Still, the Bears now have a highly skilled quarterback who proved this season that he can run a big boy NFL offense. Although the Bears missed the playoffs and lost two division-clinching games in a row, Cutler played his best football in a Bears uniform and had one of the best years of his career. It would have been disappointing if he didn't, as the Bears front office finally put together an offense with which he can work. No more Mike Martz disasters or Mike Tice experiments. The offense line was much improved, and the team had a head coach who knew how to use these players.
The offense worked for the Bears this year. They finished second in the NFL in scoring. They finished 2012 16th in points scored. It was quite a turnaround, and Cutler was big part of it.
The Bears wallowed in the quarterback wilderness for decades and Cutler has helped them get out of it. Signing Cutler to a long-term deal made the most sense. Letting him walk and putting faith in a drafted quarterback is a far greater gamble, despite the depth of the position available in April. Drafting a quarterback and letting him learn under Josh McCown makes very little sense. That means drafting a quarterback in the second round or later, and who knows what kind of talent you'll find at the most valuable position on the team. A first-rounder would certainly start right away.
And it's a far better option than using a franchise tag, where the Bears would have to take a massive salary cap hit and you have a quarterback who would want greater job security.
It's nice to see that the Bears signed Cutler so quickly because there is a lot of work to do this offseason. They have about two dozen more contracts that have expired now that the season is over, and there is a lot of work to do on the defense. All decisions on those contracts kind of revolved around what the Bears did with Cutler and how the contract affects the salary cap.
There are a lot of players that are up for new contracts. These include a lot of starters who spent a lot of time on the injured reserved list like Charles Tillman, Henry Melton and D.J. Williams. Julius Peppers, who had a mediocre at best season, is due a big paycheck next year, and no doubt Emery and the gang will do everything they can to restructure that deal.
There are varying reports floating as to what kind of salary cap hit the Bears will take with Cutler's new contract, so I won't get into it too much. But I don't think it's something Bears fans should worry about. During the last offseason, the Bears were right up against the salary cap, but the front office restructured a few contracts, cut a few guys and found money to sign Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett to long-term deals the first day of free agency. These guys showed they can work with the salary cap and find ways to get players they need.
Signing Cutler to a deal really is the best solution for both parties here. The length is worrisome, but football contracts are barely worth the paper on which they're signed. Cutler's got a guaranteed $54 million, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears can find a way out the contract once that money is paid.
Cutler is who he is. He will have bad games where his mechanics break down and tries to make plays that aren't there. If things aren't going well, he can get frustrated on the field. But he also has a lot of upside and the Bears need a quarterback on whom they can rely.
Let's face it, the window on this offense could be closing faster than we think. Sure Alshon Jeffery showed he's the real deal in his second season and Martellus Bennett is still young. But Matt Forte is entering his seventh season and Brandon Marshall will be 31 years old next year, so the window will be closing soon. The last thing the Bears need to is wonder who will be their quarterback.
by Casey Moffitt