Packers take leap of faith, extend Rodgers

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Aaron Rodgers and Kyle OrtonThe Green Bay Packers felt they saw enough promise from first-year starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers that they extended his contract through 2014 after just seven games this season.

Immediately upon seeing this news, my first thought was: Here we go again; let the Kyle Orton contract extension talk begin.

By now, I’m sure you know my policy on giving contract extensions to players in the middle of the season. I happen to side with Jerry Angelo that the business aspect of football is better left in the off-season. I particularly have less interest in awarding players extensions without completing a full season as a starter.

I feel like a broken record talking about it, but it’s no doubt a hot topic in Chicago, where fans have waited decades for a consistent starting quarterback.

So, once more, let me give my stance on Kyle Orton.

Through seven games this year — Orton’s first season as a full-time starter, assuming he finishes the year — Orton has put up the same explosive numbers that Rex Grossman established through five games in 2006 — which happened to be Grossman’s first and only full season as a starter. As we witnessed that year, there are peaks and valleys for first-year starters and Grossman’s valleys were just as abnormal as his peaks were.

I’m not saying that Orton is going to go through a stretch as bad as Grossman’s valleys were in 2006, because I don’t think he will. Orton takes care of the ball better and makes smart decisions. But I’d be shocked if he didn’t hit some rocky points over the next 9 games as cold weather hits the lakefront and the Bears prepare to take on tough opponents like Tennessee, Green Bay (twice), Jacksonville, New Orleans, and a tough road game at Minnesota.

So, while I’m holding out hope that Orton finishes strong and consistent over the last two months of the season, and I’d love for him to be “the guy” and for the Bears’ long search for a franchise quarterback to be over, let’s wait and see how the remainder of the season plays out before we jump the gun with a contract extension. And I have every confidence that Angelo will stick to his principles and wait until the off-season to conduct business.

Let other teams take chances on their young players by bringing out their checkbooks early. I still maintain — as I pointed out in this article — that it’s best to give contract extensions to guys after they’ve accomplished something, as opposed to taking a risk on rewarding a guy who shows promise but doesn’t have a padded resume.

Take the example of the defense. The Bears have rewarded Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, and Alex Brown with contract extensions. Not coincidentally, all those players have been Pro Bowlers (or alternates, in the case of Brown). Charles Tillman got an extension, too, and there have been a couple years where he could have — or should have — been an All-Star because he played at a Pro Bowl level. And then on special teams, Devin Hester was partly rewarded for being a god as a kick returner and partly paid for his future services as a receiver. At least there are clauses in the contract for the Bears to keep some of their money if he doesn’t pan out as an offensive player.

Jake Delhomme and Marc Bulger were two quarterbacks that the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh tried to point out as examples of quarterbacks that received contract extensions early in their careers. But what makes them different from Rodgers or Orton is that Delhomme got his payday after taking the Panthers to the Super Bowl and Bulger was rewarded after his second Pro Bowl season.

What have Rodgers and Orton completed up to this point in their careers?

Nothing… yet.

I have no doubts that Rodgers will have a successful career. But will he be a Pro Bowler? Possibly. How about taking his team to the Super Bowl? Not likely, but it could happen.

What about Orton? Ditto.

Orton has another season left on his contract, so the Bears don’t have to worry about him until February of 2010. But this organization likes to reward its own players, and if Orton finishes this season almost as strong as he started it — with consistency at the very least — then by all means, bring him to the table and give him an extension. I would welcome that.

If he takes the Bears to the playoffs and gets them a victory there, that’s all the more reason to reward him. Then you’re not taking a blind leap of faith and hoping your investment in him pays off, as most NFL teams do with their first round draft picks in today’s era of rookie salaries.

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