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Jay comes before ‘D’: Bears have to re-sign Cutler

Updated: December 31, 2013 5:57PM

Brandon Marshall stated definitively Sunday that Jay Cutler would be back with the Bears next year, which would be big news if Marshall knew anything.

It’s true that general manager Phil Emery was hunched over a disappointed Marshall in the team’s locker room after the season-ending loss to the Packers. And though it’s possible Emery was whispering that Cutler is about to sign a contract that keeps him in Chicago, it’s more likely he was saying, “Brandon, can you explain to me how I ever thought Chris Conte was a starting safety in the NFL?’’

Lots of attention is rightly centered on the Bears’ awful defense and its coordinator, Mel Tucker. But until Emery gets the Cutler situation settled, the rest of it is background noise. Yes, the defense needs an overhaul. Yes, there’s a chance Tucker gets hauled out of town — that might explain why coach Marc Trestman didn’t meet with the media Monday as NFL coaches traditionally do the day after the season.

But until the Bears sign or don’t sign Cutler, the city has to listen to some bad on-hold phone music. It sounds like a mind-numbing version of the team’s fight song.

The pitiful defense is the reason the Bears have to give Cutler a multiyear contract. The offense was good with Cutler and Josh McCown running the show. No reason to mess with that.

The defense is at least a year, and probably two, from being mediocre. And that’s if Emery has the skills to build a defense. Remember, he’s the guy who not only used a 2012 first-round pick on defensive end Shea McClellin but backed him to the hilt this season when McClellin was playing terrible football. There’s loyalty, and then there’s absurdity. Emery also has been insistent that rookie linebacker Jon Bostic had a good season. Yeah, well, no, Phil.

Signing Cutler because of the defense’s sins might seem like a backward way of doing things, but it’s not. It’s reality. The Bears have a better chance of winning games with Cutler at quarterback the next few years than with any alternative, including McCown, who doesn’t sound like someone who wants to play much more football anyway. And make no mistake, the Bears are going to have to win games with offense.

There’s the faint whiff of a defeatist attitude to this as well — that the Bears have cornered themselves into keeping Cutler. But, again, they can win with him. Are there better quarterbacks in the league? Of course there are, but none is available. Draft a quarterback to take Cutler’s job? You might as well buy 100 lottery tickets. That’s how much of a crapshoot it is to start a rookie quarterback and be successful.

Someone is going to pay Cutler. Plenty of teams are in need of a quarterback. Self-evident truth: You sign a player based on what you think of him, not what another team thinks of him. But the expected interest in Cutler likely means the Bears will have to pay the going rate for a quarterback of his ability if they want to keep him. That could be $20 million a year. The question is the number of years. If the Bears offer him a three-year deal, will he leave knowing he can get a five-year deal elsewhere?

They can always apply the franchise tag, but Emery has said that tagging a quarterback doesn’t always make salary-cap sense. The Bears need all the cap room they can get in the offseason to rebuild the defense. A multiyear deal lowers the cap hit significantly.

All signs point toward a contract, if the two sides can agree on one.

Bears players cleared out their lockers Monday, a day-after routine for NFL teams not headed for the playoffs. Another part of that routine is players rushing to defend each other and their coaches. And so it was that teammates said they wanted Cutler back. It would have been news if someone said he didn’t want him to return.

A more honest answer would have been, “He’s not the greatest quarterback around, but we’ve got bigger problems to address.’’

They do, but they have to get the Cutler situation settled first.

At least the Bears don’t have to look for a new coach. They did not fire Trestman after 352 days, which is what the Browns did Sunday with Rob Chudzinski. So there’s that.

As for any other good news, you had better look elsewhere.

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