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Phil Emery may have to make tough decision on Jay Cutler

Updated: July 25, 2013 10:43AM



BOURBONNAIS — General manager Phil Emery’s proclamation that the Bears will not negotiate contract extensions during the 2013 season is a masterstroke of simplicity, prudence and fairness: You play — you get paid; you don’t — you won’t.

It’s a philosophy that avoids more problems than it creates — especially on a team that was 7-3 and 7-1 in the middle of the last two seasons and failed to make the playoffs. When 53 players have a hand in the outcome, it’s best to wait until the dust settles to dish out the rewards. In theory, the worst possible outcome is paying your quarterback $120 million after winning a Super Bowl, like the Ravens did with Joe Flacco in the offseason.

‘‘That’s a problem I look forward to,’’ Emery said Wednesday as the Bears opened training camp.

Unfortunately, Jay Cutler could present Emery with a problem he doesn’t look forward to. If Cutler fails this season, he’s gone. If he wins the Super Bowl, he’s worth $100 million or more on the NFL market. But if Cutler’s history is any barometer, he could land right in the middle after the 2013 season — a lot of passing yards and touchdowns, but no playoff victories.

Then Emery’s quandary would be a little more risky. Is he willing to invest millions in a quarterback who has a great arm but can’t carry a team on his back? We’re talking about a quarterback who is revered by NFL evaluators yet has a mediocre 84.0 career passer rating; a quarterback who has thrown for 4,526 yards and 27 touchdowns in a season and is 26-13 as a starter the last three regular seasons but has only one career playoff victory.

That’s why this is the biggest season of Cutler’s NFL career. But forcing Cutler to play for his next contract is all the pressure Emery was willing to put on his quarterback. Asked what he’s looking for from Cutler this season, Emery wouldn’t bite.

‘‘It’s not just about Jay,’’ he said. ‘‘We have a number of players that are [on] the last year of their deal. So it’s the same for all of them.’’

Emery seems to already know what he has in Cutler — a talented player who has leadership skills but needs an oversized comfort zone to win a championship. Emery traded for Brandon Marshall, drafted wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and drafted guard Kyle Long in the first round.

‘‘When I came in, I said one of the things we were going to do was look to improve the weapons around our quarterback,’’ Emery said.

But despite all those weapons, it’s the hiring of coach Marc Trestman that could make the biggest difference for Cutler. Even with Marshall’s prolific season in 2012, the Bears still dropped from 24th to 28th in total offense. Emery is counting on Trestman to turn Cutler into a winner — not by turning Cutler into John Elway, but by minimizing the offensive flaws that drive Cutler to distraction and by allowing Cutler to maximize all those weapons.

Emery said he already can see the difference in Cutler — not just athletically but socially, which is not to be overlooked.

‘‘I see him involve himself more with all of our players — our younger players, taking players to the side,’’ Emery said.

‘‘I see a guy that was fully dialed in — no one worked harder during the strength and conditioning aspect of our offseason. So I see a guy that’s very committed to improving his individual skills and to interact with the players on the team and to provide leadership and help us attain our goals, which is to win championships.’’



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