With apologies to the Wu-Tang Clan, cash rules everything around Jay Cutler and the 2014 Bears. At $22.5 million, Cutler will be the highest paid player in the NFL this season. Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons is second at $21.5 million.
What does that pricetag get you: 5,000 yards passing? 40 TD passes? An NFC championship game appearance? All of the above? Cutler already holds team records for attempts, completions and yards. He's closing in on Sid Luckman's mark for touchdown passes. However, being the highest paid player in the NFL demands more.
RedEye had exclusive conversations with prominent media members and asked:
What does Cutler need to do for the Bears to receive a reasonable return on investment?
Former NFL QB; analyst for CBS
"I think Jay Cutler, physically, is as gifted as any quarterback out there. He can throw the ball as well as anybody. And now he has an offense that should allow him to show that and be a 5,000-yard passer instead of hanging around 3,500 and throwing 18 interceptions or whatever it is. The fact is he's got to be a difference maker now, and I don't think there are any more excuses, because I saw that offense up close and personal with Josh McCown. And that offense is pretty damn impressive. McCown was really impressive.
"So now you would like to think that Jay Cutler would be physically more gifted, and a better player, if he's a Top 10 quarterback, or a Top 5 quarterback, that means Chicago is going to be in the mix for the Super Bowl, and that's what it's going to take for the Bears to make it there. Because in this NFL, in the NFC, it's by far harder to get to the Super Bowl than in the AFC. Because there are at least 10 teams, and the Bears are in that mix that if they have things go right this year, they can get there."
Hall of Fame cornerback; analyst for NFL Network
"I never comment on another man's income, because if they can pay it, they can afford it. But what comes with that is the pressure to perform, and that's what everyone is waiting for, to perform at a high level in the games that you need to perform."
Hall of Fame quarterback; analyst for CBS
"Win. Win. Win. The pressure's really on Cutler and the Bears because when you have high expectations and you mix it with high dollars, then the pressure is even greater. He's very talented, he's got some talented receivers that any quarterback would love to throw it to; he's just got to get over that hump."
CBS sideline reporter
"Money talks. You got to go out there and put your money where your mouth is, and show us on the field why you're making that amount of money. And obviously people believe in him and believe that he has the ability and skill to do so, now he just has to go out there and show it."
CBS play-by-play commentator; host of "Inside the NFL" on Showtime
"I don't know if they're any different than any other team in that they better damn well keep the quarterback healthy. And you can say that about 29 other teams, but the fact is that he is one of the superior quarterbacks in the NFL and his arm can make a difference."
Sports director, WGN Radio
"I think he'll earn his salary provided the offensive line keeps him upright and in one piece. He has more than enough playmakers to put up the kind of numbers he did last year, and seems to have meshed with [head coach Marc] Trestman and [offensive coordinator Aaron] Kromer. Ultimately, the Bears' fate is not solely in Cutler's hands. But if the defense really is better and the special teams are OK, his offense should be more than sufficient to get them to the playoffs. And if Cutler leads them to their second playoff spot in eight years, then I think he's done his job."
Former NFL linebacker; analyst for CBS
"Chicago will be one of the most talented rosters in the NFL this year. You look at how dynamic they were last year on offense. A couple years ago, they had a problem keeping Jay Cutler upright. They went and solidified the offensive line and now it's one of the better units in the NFL, so he has no excuses. They gave him a tight end that I think is one of the better blocking tight ends and also a great receiver, especially in the red zone. They're going to have to get over that mental block, like I had to against Pittsburgh, of being able to beat Green Bay. When you think about the Lions and Green Bay, it's a tough division. The spotlight is on, so he understands the pressure to perform."
Former NFL tight end; analyst for CBS
"Not only is the pressure on, I think this is a no-excuse year. If he stays healthy and the people stay healthy around him, there's no reason why this shouldn't be a Top 5 offense. The Bears should be a playoff team. This should be one of their best seasons, probably one of Jay Cutler's best seasons statistically, because they've surrounded him with all that talent. I'm expecting big things out of him this year."
Paul M. Banks is a RedEye special contributor.
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