On Thursday morning, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery announced that the team had signed quarterback Jay Cutler to a new seven-year contract that will, on its face, take Cutler through the year 2020 with one of the NFL's oldest franchises. The Bears also re-inked cornerback Tim Jennings and offensive lineman Matt Slauson to new deals, but the Cutler news obviously stole the show.
"We're very excited to have Jay for the long term," Emery said. "He battled through the tough times and kept fighting. I see improvement in his ball security, distribution to his targets and a transformation in his demeanor as a leader."
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Under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears had one of their most effective offensive seasons in recent years, though Cutler wasn't always part of it. He missed five games with ankle and groin injuries, completing 224-of-355 passes for 2,621 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The 8-8 Bears missed the playoffs after losing their winner-take-all Week 17 game against the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title. In that game, Cutler completed 15-of-24 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one pick.
Cutler was to be a free agent at the end of the 2013 season, and his future with the Bears was a frequent topic of discussion throughout the year.
"As we have mentioned previously, all contract issues will be worked on postseason," Emery said in early December. "That includes Jay and a number of other Bears players. Before Jay's injury, he was playing at a high level and we were very pleased with his progress."
The Bears could have put the franchise tag on Cutler, but Emery didn't seem to be going down that road.
"The franchise tag for the quarterback position has unique challenges because the average comes out to be such a big portion of your cap and your total money available to spend on other players to acquire to help your team. With the franchise tag being so high for the quarterback position, to use it and not sign the individual to a long-term deal hurts the team because you lose the ability to prorate the amount of guaranteed salary over the length of the contract. Proration lowers the salary cap number in relation to that player's contract. Obviously the lower the number in relation to the salary cap, the more players you can sign to help your team reach its goals."