Speaking of streaks that interest Chicago, how many NFL quarterbacks in a row will sign a new contract and make Bears fans wonder how it affects Jay Cutler?
The number could reach 31 and my answer regarding Cutler would remain the same: Not. One. Bit.
At least it shouldn't. Cutler finished last season with one year remaining on his contract and, it bears repeating for the Bears, that is how he deserves to start next season regardless of how rich his peers at the position are becoming. The type of reconstruction Cutler needs before training camp has nothing to do with contracts.
Super Bowl XLVII most valuable player Joe Flacco followed Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger this week by signing a whopping six-year, $120.6 million deal to remain with the Ravens. Brady restructured his contract for the Patriots with a three-year, $27 million extension that created $15 million of salary-cap room. Days earlier, Roethlisberger cleared $6 million worth of space for the Steelers. Who's next?
Though natural to connect potential contractual implications to Cutler, the size of Flacco's deal more directly affects future negotiations of elite quarterbacks like the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, signed through 2014, and the Falcons' Matt Ryan, whose contract expires after next season. The consistency of Rodgers and Ryan, to a lesser degree, makes it easier to justify investing an average annual salary beyond $20.1 million than for a quarterback as prone to extremes as Cutler.
The reasons have little to do with talent. If playing quarterback in the NFL were all about physical ability, Cutler would be ranked ahead of Flacco and many starters who are worthier of a long-term, nine-figure financial commitment. From the shoulders down, Cutler is a Top 5 quarterback; overall he barely qualifies for the upper half. Flacco, with nine playoff victories, makes people around him better. Cutler, with one, makes people around him nervous. From the Broncos to the Bears, he always has — a reality coach Marc Trestman must confront instead of ignore.
At the recent NFL combine in Indianapolis, an NFL assistant coach formerly on the Broncos staff when Cutler played for them used the word "uncontrollable'' describing the quarterback to a Tribune reporter. Another former Bears assistant coach, when discussing Cutler's recent Forbes ranking as America's fourth-most-hated athlete, cracked he thought Cutler would have finished higher. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of how difficult Cutler truly was for Lovie Smith to handle.
If intangibles weren't a concern, we wouldn't require a civic conversation on Cutler's value because the Bears would have locked him up. If Trestman were sold on Cutler, why has he hedged when discussing him publicly?
It isn't Cutler's body language. It is his body of work as it relates to exhibiting leadership qualities that define NFL quarterbacks. Those traits matter for every starter but even more for a quarterback the Bears already have discussed internally paying $15 million per season. Make Cutler prove next season he is worth that and possibly more, the way Flacco did leading the Ravens.
After applying the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Bears enter free agency Tuesday with only about $3.55 million left under the salary cap. But the smartest way to create more room isn't by signing Cutler to an extension to ease the burden of his cumbersome $10.37 million cap hit — the second-highest on the payroll. It will take creative cap management if the Bears want to avoid reworking Julius Peppers' contract — which eats up $16.38 million — but they need to find more flexibility before general manager Phil Emery goes shopping.
Priorities begin at offensive tackle, where the Bears owe it to themselves to check out veterans Jake Long and Jermon Bushrod, who played for offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer with the Saints. Proven guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Moore, a former Illini, merit inspection. Tight ends Jared Cook, Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley, if he's cut, should tempt the Bears, depending how much money remains after they overspend for an offensive lineman.
Priorities also include the Bears re-signing their own free agents, especially guard Lance Louis and linebacker Brian Urlacher. They would be wise to leave enough wiggle room to offer Urlacher a two-year, $7 million deal worth up to $10 million in incentives. In case anybody wondered whether Urlacher planned on playing at 35, Tuesday he tweeted a YouTube video of him doing handstand jumps under the title "Coming back stronger than ever.''
A priority shouldn't be extending Cutler's contract, no matter how many NFL quarterbacks have secured their futures.
People Magazine reported Tuesday that Cutler's fiancee, Kristin Cavallari told the magazine the couple planned on getting married this summer. One binding long-term commitment this offseason is enough for the quarterback.