No need to rush to the table with Cutler

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It’s good to see that a pen to the paper on a big contract extension for a player not in Chicago can draw such a big response from the Windy City media. Look at me, I’ve even been sucked into the black hole and I’m forced to write about Eli Manning’s six-year, $97 million contract extension with the New York Giants.

But my post has little to do with worrying about how much Jay Cutler’s price tag will cost the Bears. Instead, it’s purpose is to point out the fallacy in rushing to sign Cutler to a contract extension before he’s even taken a regular season snap for the team. That’s exactly what my buddy, David Haugh, of the Chicago Tribune suggests the Bears do — and I use the word “buddy” loosely just as, say, the USA might call Iran its buddy.

In an article Wednesday, Haugh writes:

If Angelo wanted to do the most fiscally responsible thing for Bears’ long-term economic health, he would have walked off the practice field and immediately called Cutler’s agent. Angelo then would have asked Bus Cook if he wanted to move up the contract extension talks that inevitably will begin sometime during the first half of this NFL season and start talking turkey.

Ah, yes, this is the same David Haugh who thought the Bears should have brought Kyle Orton’s agent to the table to discuss a contract extension after the first half of last season. That’s right, the immortal Kyle Orton. And had Jerry Angelo taken Haugh’s advice then, we’d be sitting through erratic 7-on-7 drills from No. 18 and Cutler would be off somewhere else, most likely in Washington. If Haugh were a general manager, you’d think he had money burning a hole in his pocket.

I’m not naïve to claim that Cutler needs to prove his worth to the Bears before earning a contract extension. He’s been in the league for three years now, two as a full-time starter, and has put up numbers that place him in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in this league.

But there’s always that two-word question that constantly lingers: what if? What if Cutler’s success was all a product of Mike Shanahan’s system? What if Cutler was helped by some solid receivers in Denver who are head and shoulders above what the Bears have? What if Cutler’s risk taking parallels Rex Grossman’s — as ESPN’s KC Joyner claims it will — and his play becomes too reckless that it winds up being counterproductive?

Perhaps the biggest “what if” of them all: what if Cutler sustains a serious injury that he has trouble recovering from and winds up becoming a shell of his former self?

The bottom line is that Cutler is under contract for three more years and the Bears should be in no rush to extend his deal. I realize that by waiting, it’s probable that Cutler’s price tag could go up. And I imagine that it will. But this isn’t exactly a team that is flirting with the salary cap threshold. These are still the same cheap and cautious Bears who aren’t willing to throw money around carelessly at free agents. The Bears are nearly $25 million under the salary cap. They can afford to add another $10-$20 million to Cutler’s contract two years from now. That is, if Cutler has earned it.

And that’s my point. The Bears invested their future in this man and he needs to take them to the next level. He needs to get them back into the playoffs and back to a Super Bowl. It’s not enough simply to get a guy who “gives you a better chance of winning” each Sunday. Winning regular season games and exciting the fan base with touchdown passes and other highlight plays isn’t the ultimate goal here.

Cutler will get his money. Just don’t pay him before he produces the way for which you acquired him.

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