We expected to get a few intriguing Bears nuggets from general manager, Phil Emery, and head coach, Marc Trestman, in the team's end-of-the-season press conference on Thursday morning at Halas Hall.
But we certainly didn't expect to learn on Thursday that the team had signed quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings, and left guard Matt Slauson to contract extensions.
Emery announced at the press conference that the Bears have signed Cutler (who turns 31 in April) to a seven-year contract, and NFL.Com's Ian Rapoport is reporting that the deal is worth $126 million over the seven years, with $54 million guaranteed:
#Bears QB Jay Cutler’s contract: 7 years, $126 million with $54M guaranteed.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 2, 2014
The $54 million guaranteed, which is all that really matters in this contract. And that money is over the first three years. ESPN's Andrew Brandt put it well:
Again, these are NFL contracts, not NBA or MLB. $120 million deal for Cutler translates to "we'll pay $50 million, then we'll see."
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) January 2, 2014
So, the Bears are going to pay Cutler big money over these next three years, but after that, they could move on him from if they're not satisfied with his performance.
But, it seems like a pretty good bet that the Bears will want to keep Cutler around longer than just three years.
In the first year with "quarterback whisperer" Marc Trestman as head coach, Cutler showed some noticeable improvements mechanically and with his decision-making. He also has more weapons than he's ever had, with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett leading the way (and all of those players will be back for 2014, at least). Cutler also finally has an offensive line and system to give him time to throw, and protect him from taking constant hits, a major issue the previous few seasons.
Cutler should only improve with more time in Trestman's system, the weapons aren't going anywhere anytime soon (and Jeffery is joining Marshall in superstar territory at wide receiver), and the offensive line's play should keep improving (remember that they started two rookies on the right side of the line in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills). Everything is in place for Cutler to finally get much more out of his unquestionable talent.
And for those questioning the move, let's just hypothetically say Cutler stays about what he is at the moment, as realistically over the next few seasons, it's hard to see him performing at a lower level than the player he currently is for all of the reasons I just went over. Let's just use 2013 as a "floor"-ish level for Cutler's projected performance over the next few years. Well, in 2013, Cutler had a career-best 89.2 quarterback rating and a completion percentage of 63.1%, good for the second-best percentage of his career. He also graded out as Pro Football Focus' No. 10 quarterback on the season with a +13.5 grade (a grade that likely would've been higher if he didn't miss five games), and PFF's adjusted QB rating ranked him sixth at 91.47. Even if Cutler only stayed at his 2013 level of play over the next few years, that's still a pretty good quarterback.
Here's some of what Emery had to say about Cutler in the press conference (quotes via ChicagoBears.Com):
"We're very excited to have Jay for the long term," said general manager Phil Emery. "He had his best season as a pro from a statistical outlook. I also think he had his best season as a pro in terms of his leadership, his improvement, his display of toughness, his ability to bounce back, his ability to handle pressure and his ability to come back and win games."
"The things that I felt certain about Jay as far as signing him into the future, No. 1 he's a demonstrated winner with the Chicago Bears," Emery said. "Two, this fall he showed us right from the beginning that he can be a key player in terms of a player being the reason you win."
Cutler made it clear in his press conference (following Emery and Trestman's) that he wanted to be a Bear, and it was going to take the Bears not wanting him back for him to test free agency (quote via ESPN Chicago):
"We wanted to stay here," Cutler said. "So it was going to have to come from the Bears not wanting me back for me to test" free agency.Emery said that the Bears would love to have Josh McCown back as Cutler's backup, but that McCown "has earned the right to have choices". What Emery's getting at is that McCown may find some starting opportunities on the free agent market, but if he wants to return to the Bears in a backup role again, the Bears would love to have him back.
We'll have much, much more on the quarterback situation over the offseason, but let's move on to the other players the Bears signed to contracts on Thursday, because these are two huge moves in their own right.
30-year-old (31 next Christmas Eve) cornerback Tim Jennings signed a four-year contract extension with the Bears after intercepting 13 passes over the last two seasons. In 2012, Jennings' nine interceptions led the NFL, and his four interceptions in 2013 were tied for 11th in the league. He was also tied for first in the NFL with two defensive touchdowns in 2013.
The financial details of Jennings' contract remain unknown, but it was assumed that he could get a very nice deal on the open market. Jennings is a ballhawk as the interception statistics clearly show, he's very good in coverage in general, and he's a solid tackler. He plays much bigger than his 5'8", 185-pound size. And at 30, coming off his two best seasons, Jennings should be a quality player over the duration of his four-year deal.
Jennings' +0.3 PFF grade was (sadly) the second-best grade on the Bears' awful 2013 defense, and it's actually impressive he graded out that well given the players around him. The safety duo was the worst in the NFL, and the Bears' pass rush was as bad as anyone's in the NFL. That makes things very tough for cornerbacks, but Jennings was still able to be an effective player. It's worth noting that in 2012, Jennings was PFF's ninth-best cornerback with a +12.4 grade.
And the other player to sign a new contract with the Bears on Thursday was left guard Matt Slauson, who, like Jennings, signed a four-year deal. I don't know if there's a 2013 NFL "All-Bargain" team, but if there is, Slauson should be a starting guard on it.
After spending the previous four seasons with the New York Jets, Slauson signed a one-year, $815,000 contract with the Bears last offseason. He went on to be the team's most consistent performer on the offensive line, and graded out as PFF's' No. 6 guard, with a +20.6 grade. Emery made such a huge effort to improve the Bears' offensive line play over the last two offseasons, so making sure to not let Slauson get away was a no-brainer for the Bears' general manager.
There's no financial details on Slauson's deal yet either, but one would think he'll getting paid quite a bit more than last year's deal, and deservedly so.
We're not even one week into the Bears' offseason, and Emery has already re-signed Cutler, Jennings, Slauson, kicker Robbie Gould (signed a four-year deal last week), and fullback Tony Fiammetta (signed a two-year deal last week). With several other key (2013) Bears players being free agents, look for Emery to try to keep some more players around before they can hit the open market in March.
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