LAKE FOREST — The Chicago Bears have made a long-term commitment to Jay Cutler, signing the veteran quarterback to a seven-year contract, general manager Phil Emery announced Thursday at Halas Hall.
“We’re very excited to have Jay for the long term,” Emery said. “He battled through the tough times and kept fighting.”
Financial terms were not disclosed.
“We’re pleased, it works for both parties,” Emery said of the deal. “lt rewards Jay and it enables us to continue to build a championship team.”
Cutler said “it’s been a fun ride” with the Bears and that he’s convinced the organization is headed in the right direction.”
Cutler thanked the team and also his wife, Kristin Cavallari, who joined him at the news conference, and cited her desire to remain in Chicago. He said getting married and having a son “helped me mature.”
Asked about the size of the deal and whether he could have pursued more money elsewhere, Cutler said, “You get to the point where it’s, ‘What’s the most important part of your career? ... Dollars? ... Championships?’ We’re here to win.
“We reached the amount of money that we’re going to be taken care of. ... Whether it’s $15 million or it’s $22 million, it’s hard to spend all that in your lifetime.”
Cutler then drew laughs by adding, “Kristin said she’ll help.”
The team also signed corneback Tim Jennings and left guard Matt Slauson, Emery said, adding that the majority of the work on all three contracts was done in the last three days.
Emery said the signings put the team on a “road map to go forward and win championships.”
After reciting some of Cutler’s 2013 statistics (2,621 yards passing, 63.1 completion percentage, 19 touchdowns, 89.2 passer rating), Emery said, “I see improvement in his ball security, distribution to his targets and a transformation in his demeanor as a leader.”
Emery said Cutler’s contract was “a key deal as far as how we manage our salary cap,” which is why the team moved quickly.
“I think both parties wanted it to happen, which is why it was able to happen in such a short time frame,” Emery said, adding that he finalized his decision after seeing how well Cutler handled the pregame pressure and in-game adversity when he returned from injury to help the Bears beat the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 15.
Calling Cutler “a quarterback we can win with,” Emery said, “Jay doesn’t have to be better than Aaron Rodgers. Our team has to be better than the Green Bay Packers.”
Cutler, asked if he knew he was being evaluated for his off-the-field behavior by Emery: “I was, but I wasn’t going to not be myself and put on an act.”
Cutler likened his relationship with coach Marc Trestman to a marriage and said, “I’m happy to be married to him for seven more years.”
Asked about the speed with which the deal was done, Cutler said, “When both sides have equal footing and want to get things done,” it can come together quickly.
“I’m happy we got it done,” Cutler said.
Cutler acknowledged his many critics, saying, “Moving forward there will definitely be people that say this is the wrong move. That’s fine. The people in this building will stick together and keep going in the direction that is right.”
Asked about bringing back reserve quarterback Josh McCown, who will be a free agent, Emery said the Bears “would love to have Josh back. He has earned the right through his play to have choices.”
In all, 28 Bears players entered the offseason with contracts that were set to expire in March, leaving Emery and Trestman to adjust their blueprint for how to build and overhaul the roster to improve on the season’s 8-8 record.
Asked about the team’s remaining cap space after the Cutler deal, Emery said: “We’ll have enough space to be competitive and do the things we need to do.”
Emery cited positives from the season, among them resiliency as a group and players believing in/supporting one another.
“We are a team,” Emery said.
Speaking of Trestman, Emery said, “I’m very happy with the transition to Marc and his staff. ... He’s an excellent teacher.”
Citing other positives, Emery said he feels “very good about the development of our O-line” and said he “saw Brandon Marshall take big steps toward overall leadership.”
Emery also said he is “very happy and optimistic about the long-term future of the draft class.”
But the Bears GM accepted blame for the struggles of the defense.
“We had a lot of tough days defensively,” he said. “There are no excuses for it.
Referring to the many injuries on defense, Emery said, “Did we have enough depth to win football games? No. ... We want a physical, fast, playmaking defense. ... .I saw that in the first three games. We were creating turnovers.”
Regarding defensive lineman Shea McClellin, Emery said: “He did not have enough impact plays” and left open the possibility that he could shift to linebacker.
Emery also mentioned Lance Briggs, who Wednesday expressed frustration with the Bears performance. “We share in that frustration and anger,” Emery said.
Emery voiced support for Briggs, saying he “still has the magical burst you have to have” and that the Bears “have to fill in around him.”
Asked about high-priced defensive end Julius Peppers, Emery said, “He’s under contract. Julius had an 8-8 year like we all did.”
Addressing the aging of the defense, Emery said, “We’re going to have to draft to get younger. It doesn’t have anything to do with (Charles) Tillman, (D.J.) Williams or Lance Briggs.”
As for how he plans to make things better, Emery said, “You bounce back by evaluating your team thoroughly ... and having a personal vengeance to getting it done.”
When Emery turned the microphone over to Trestman, the coach expressed regret at the Bears’ failure to win the NFC North but said, “I can honestly say I have never enjoyed coaching a bunch of men more than this group.”
Trestman also talked about the team’s defensive shortcomings and said the blame starts with him rather than beleaguered defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Trestman said he and Emery together would make decisions about the coaching staff.
Jennings rallied to Tucker’s defense while answering questions about his new contract.
“He has the full support of the defense,” Jennings said. “In our (defensive backs) room, linebackers, all over. It was just unfortunate” with all the injuries the unit suffered.
Trestman said safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright were too inconsistent, adding that “I think they would be their own worst critics.”
Trestman sought to clear up what happened on the Packers’ game-winning touchdown pass in Sunday’s season finale, saying that Conte didn’t get the correct defensive call and was in a zone while the rest of the unit was in man-to-man.
Trestman also left open the possibility of changing from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4, saying “we know we have the intellect in this building.”
Speaking of 2012 first-round pick McClellin, Trestman said, “Shea is capable of more, and it’s our responsibility as coaches to get that out of him. ... We’ll look hard at Shea doing things other than lining up at defensive end.”
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