Bears general manager Phil Emery identified his three keys before the season ended Sunday with a thud. Four days later, he announced the re-signings of quarterback Jay Cutler, one of his bodyguards in Matt Slauson and the free agent defensive player I recently wrote needed to be the most important to bring back -- cornerback Tim Jennings.
[RELATED: Bears lock up Cutler, Jennings, Slauson]
The moment Emery dropped that news shortly after 9:30 a.m., all of Chicagoland could be heard through the snow striking the lightning rod who is their quarterback, and they'll have seven more years to do it. While most of Bears Nation likely applauded the Jennings and Slauson moves, the debate now becomes not if they should re-sign Cutler, but if they should have at a price that appears to be just under that of Aaron Rodgers' and Joe Flacco's $18-$20 million annually.
So all the praise of Cutler by his bosses during the season was not a smokescreen. In banging out this deal, Emery and Trestman are telling us their biggest decisions moving forward don't involve a signal-caller who's won one playoff game and played in two. They cited the significant steps he took this season. But more will need to be taken. There's another level (at least one) to climb as he turns 31 before the 2014 season. And Emery cited Cutler's recent injury concerns as no more significant than any other player at any other position. But just as Emery tied his fate with Trestman a year ago, the shot-callers are tying their future into this signal-caller, and now turning their attention to all the fixes to be made on the other side of the ball.
Two guys who comport themselves very well in front of microphones and cameras are moving forward with someone with much less patience in that arena as the face of their franchise. That honestly doesn't matter to us in the media if he proves he has the right answers on the football field. He's getting there, but will he ever "get there?" This regime is now definitively all about Emery, Trestman, and Cutler.
Cutler is signed through 2020 while Rodgers will be in Green Bay through 2019 after his extension last offseason. Emery says the Cutler-Rodgers matchup has less to do with Cutler than his team finding a way to be better than the Packers. That's true. But with the Lions likely aiming to find a new head coach who'll get the best out of Matthew Stafford and his weapons with a lot of defensive pieces in place, and the Vikings in a position to go nowhere but up (and the Bears lost three of four meetings against those two teams this season), the NFC North figures to be even more competitive in 2014.
Cutler's deal would also take away the likelihood of Emery investing in a young quarterback as they look to reconstruct the defense in the upcoming NFL Draft. If Cutler is their guy for seven more years, why groom someone to "replace" him, unless Josh McCown heads elsewhere? Usually around the third year of a regime being in place (in this case, Emery), fans are no longer accepting of missing out on the playoffs the final day of the season. They want in. I'm sure Emery does, too. So this crucial call must be right, followed by several right ones defensively.
Cutty came back. That question's done. The next ones are whether he can lead the Bears to a Super Bowl. Hey, if Rex Grossman can at least be part of getting them there, that should be the minimum standard sometime over the next seven years.