The Chicago Bears' surprise announcement of a seven-year contract extension for Jay Cutler on Thursday morning was a move to corral the noise and control the signal. The Bears' offseason was always going to be held hostage until Cutler's contract situation was resolved, which makes the signing as much about the decisiveness of the front office as the perceived gamble on an often injured and consistently inconsistent quarterback. General manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman knew what they wanted and got it done. That's worth championing.
The truth is that there are not many athletes like Cutler, both in terms of natural talent and public perception. When he was traded to Chicago in 2009, he was supposed to be a savior quarterback for a franchise whose passing records were almost unanimously held by Sid Luckman. Luckman, if you don't know, played the majority of his career while Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman were president. He threw his first NFL pass in 1939. The Bears weren't just bound to the past by their own historical greatness as the team with more Hall of Fame inductees than any other, they were stuck there by ongoing modern-day offensive incompetence.
Cutler was supposed to change that, but he didn't, or at least hasn't yet. The excuses for his up-and-down play were endless, but all of them were staked in varying degrees of validity. More than any other sport, professional football is a team game. The Bears learned that lesson the hard way as the man who was supposed to lead them into a new era spent his first four years taking a pounding.
Cutler was sacked 52 times in 2010 as the Bears reached the conference title game, the most by any quarterback in the NFL. The only reason the same stat can't be repeated for his other seasons is because the cumulative impact of being thrown to the turf so many times kept resulting in injuries. The Bears' offensive line was woefully unsatisfactory during this period, playing at league-worst levels with little intent to find better players.
The line wasn't the only problem. Cutler's receivers were diminutive and unproductive, his rotating cast of offensive coordinators (four in five years) were clearly in over their head. Oftentimes, Cutler himself would compound these issues one back-footed interception at a time.
It didn't change until this past season, when the Bears brought in an offensive visionary at head coach, overhauled the line and loaded up the receiving corps with athletes you could have confused for NBA players. Cutler's excuses were finally gone, and his production within in a new system was starting to come before the injury bug bit again. This time, veteran backup Josh McCown stepped in and excelled, splitting a city already weary of Cutler's penchant for mistakes into two distinct halves. You're either with Jay Cutler or you're against him. There was little room for a gray area.
The swell of noise in a football-drunk city that loves the Bears more than it loves anything has always added another layer of pressure. Critics lost it over Cutler's pouty demeanor. The slumped shoulders, exaggerated frowns and perceived sense of apathy started coming to a head at Lambeau Field in Week 2 of the 2012 season when Cutler was caught screaming at left tackle J'Marcus Webb after he'd been beaten like a drum by Clay Matthews one time too many on the night.
Cutler threw four interceptions in that game, just as he had done against the Packers in his first game ever as a Bear in 2009. From that point on, he found himself in a toxic environment, wherein a good percentage of the city's biggest fans were actually rooting for their starting quarterback to fail.
It doesn't matter, of course, because fandom is nothing if not an exercise in irrational and impulsive judgments. It could have played a role in the Bears' decision to re-sign him, but Emery is too smart for that. This franchise's historical struggle at the most important position in sports was too persuasive to start over again. Cutler's excuses are gone now, and with it comes a costly statement ($126 million, $54 million guaranteed) from the organization that it believes he can be better.
It's a real gamble, because eight seasons into Jay Cutler's career, no one knows how good he really is. This contract is a bet that his best seasons in Chicago lie ahead of him. He's got an offensive line now, one that yielded the fourth-fewest sacks in the league. He has arguably the best set of wide receivers in the league in Brandon Marshall and developing phenom Alshon Jeffery. He has Trestman, who turned a 34-year-old high school football coach in McCown into a local folk hero. It stands to reason a player with Cutler's immense talent should thrive in this system.
It all comes back to Cutler, though. The broken mechanics and ill-advised downfield heaves into triple coverage have to stop. McCown flourished because he played within both himself and the system. Cutler could learn something from that. Everything else is aligned for the Bears to have massive offensive success next season.
A bet on one's self is the most honorable bet there is, and that's exactly what the Bears did on Thursday. Now more than ever, the Bears will ride or die with Jay Cutler. With excuses gone, it's time for the production fantasized about five seasons ago to finally come to fruition.