If Jay Cutler cares, then we do, too
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist January 2, 2014 9:14PM
Updated: February 4, 2014 10:34AM
You walk into the Bears news conference Thursday morning expecting nothing but hot air.
Then general manager Phil Emery sits down and says the Bears have signed quarterback Jay Cutler for seven more years.
Your still-undigested morning coffee nearly spews.
Cutler’s face, the one we all know and love? The one that can make a smirk look like Santa’s smile?
That’s the face of the Bears franchise, folks. For now and forever.
OK, an exaggeration. But the seven-year deal for $126 million, with $54 million guaranteed, likely means Cutler will become the longest-tenured starting quarterback in Bears history.
Sid Luckman was around for 12 years bracketing the 1940s, but World War II was in there. Many players went off to fight and Luckman was mainly a benchwarmer for five of his seasons. The guy many old-timers believe was the best Bears quarterback ever only started 62 games, only completed 904 passes.
Cutler, who has been with the Bears five years, has started 67 games for the team and has completed 1,258 passes. Different eras, yes. But you get the point.
Ladies and gentlemen! Your Bears quarterback and Super Bowl hope: Jaaaaa-y Cut-lerrr!!!
Let’s think about this a moment.
First thought: What about the defense? It’s horrendous. And all that money’s gone?
Well, maybe the defense begins with a solid offense, and with Cutler locked up, there should be no more questions about who will be the main man when the Bears have the ball. The most important position on the team is secured. All the other positions are in place. So got get ’em, ‘O’!
Then let Emery start his magic and use the rest of the Bears’ ‘‘apple pie,’’ as he called the money pot, to bring respect to the defensive side. Maybe that means firing defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, maybe not.
But Emery did say the defense will be “younger’’ next season. Hopefully, not with more young Shea McClellins.
But this is about Cutler.
And it is about maturity, desire, talent, focus, working with a mentor, and, did we mention maturity?
With Cutler, now 30, there was always the perception that his innate aloofness kept him from achieving the intangibles of greatness. That is, reaching his teammates, inspiring his teammates, leading his teammates, making all of them better.
Cutler’s emotional isolation was manifest in the real world — his snarky look, his abrupt answers to normal questions, his lack of connection with the average fan on almost any level.
But as he came to the rostrum, clad in a near-Bears business uniform of navy blue jacket, pressed white shirt, deep orange tie, he looked much different from the man of five years ago, the one who said he didn’t care what anybody thought of him.
Maybe he still doesn’t care, but I don’t believe it.
During Week 15 when he came back from injury to replace fan favorite backup Josh McCown, Cutler talked with his teammates, at least the offensive players, and he wanted to make sure they were with him and OK with his leadership.
It was a telling moment, one that coach Marc Trestman was not unaware of.
“The team elected him captain,’’ Trestman reminded us there at Halas Hall. “He carries the weight of the team on his shoulders.’’
The saintly allusion notwithstanding, it seems clear that Cutler has become a better teammate, a better, more mature person with time. His wife, Kristin Cavallari, the former reality-show star, sat in the corner of the room to Cutler’s right.
She looked lovely in her camel-hair coat and high heels, particularly considering she is pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Could this be the Bears’ Yoko Ono, ready to drive Trestman and his main pupil apart? Doubtful, even though Cutler said that he was now making so much money he didn’t know how to spend it, though Kristin probably did.
Let’s speculate that this is a new Jay Cutler. He is relaxed, wealthy and eager. And grown up. We know he has the arm — as Emery marveled, ‘‘To be able to throw the ball 45 yards, off your back foot, after being hit twice…’’
Let’s say Cutler is “selfless,’’ as Trestman insists.