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Bears sign QB Cutler to seven-year deal

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General manager Phil Emery announced quarterback Jay Cutler signed a seven-year contract with the Chicago Bears on Thursday.

"Very excited," Emery said, "to have Jay for the long-term."

Emery took the drama out of Cutler's impending free agency at the outset of his morning press conference.

Cutler is now tied to the Bears through 2020.

"I'm happy to be married to (coach Marc Trestman) for seven more years," Cutler said with his typical dry wit.

According to Fox Sports' Alex Marvez, the contract averages $18 million over the first three years. Cutler turns 31 in April and was 5-6 as a starter in 2013.

"We're here to win championships," Cutler said. "Not to make so-and-so amount of dollars. Whether it's $15 million or it's $22 million, it's hard to spend all that in your lifetime. (Wife) Kristin (Cavallari) said she'll help."

Emery said just before the start of the 2013 season that Cutler's contract would have to wait, in addition to any other free agents on the roster, while the front office evaluated the situation moving forward. It didn't take long for Emery to know Cutler would be with the Bears.

"After the first three games, I definitely knew it was going in the right direction in terms of him putting the team in position to win games," Emery said. "It speaks of a guy who can be the kind of player who can be the reason you win."

With Cutler off the market, teams looking for a starting quarterback in free agency are likely to be limited to questionable options including 34-year-old Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles and former New York Jets starter Mark Sanchez, who is coming off of shoulder surgery. Sanchez, owed $11 for next season, is expected to be released. Other one-time starters, including Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman in Minnesota, could be considered. The Vikings are looking for a new head coach and Ponder's failed development was one reason coach Leslie Frazier was fired.

Cutler has a 56-48 career record, including one playoff appearance, and is 1-9 againts the Green Bay Packers. With the Bears, Cutler is 39-28 in five seasons with 101 touchdowns and 75 interceptions.

He has missed at least five games in two of the past three seasons.

"We looked at that really hard," Emery said of Cutler's durability, citing Eli Manning and Philip Rivers as the rare starting quarterbacks who have not missed games with injury. "He showed me he bouncing back as a champion."

Cutler had 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 11 games in 2013, his first season in head coach Marc Trestman's system. He last threw 20 touchdown passes in 2010 (23) and has 26 interceptions in the past two seasons.

"We're eommitting to building a championship team," Emery said. "It started with the signigs we made last week and today."

Emery also confirmed four players headed for free agency in March signed new deals: kicker Robbie Gould, cornerback Tim Jennings, left guard Matt Slauson and Cutler.

"It puts us on a road map to go and win championships," Emery said.

Emery wouldn't confirm the value of Cutler's deal or discuss the average-annual value.

"It rewards Jay and allows the team to continue to build a championship team," Emery said.

He said the majority of the work on the contracts was completed over the past three days, culminating with the Jan. 2 signing.

"We reached out on Monday to Bus (Cook) his agent and Jay to move this thing forward," Emery said.

Fullback Tony Fiammetta also re-signed last week.

Jennings, 30, and Slauson, 27, received four-year deals.

"We were within 40 seconds of winning an NFC North crown. That would have been a step (forward)," Emery said. "We're not happy being an 8-8 football team. There were a lot of positives. But there were lows. We have to figre out how to make more positive days."

Emery said, with Trestman seated to his right, that his first year with Trestman met "all the parameters I laid out" when he was hired in January 2013.

"I did see a transformation in leadership -- Jay, Josh, I saw Brandon Marshall take big steps," Emery said. "I saw the leadership transfer on defense to Lance Briggs ... and when he was hurt he continued that leadership role, fully involved himself."

Emery said the loss of cornerback Charles Tillman, who can become a free agent, was a major setback.

"He's a physical, playmaking football player," Emery said of Tillman. "His loss has a significant impact on where we were as a defense."

Emery spoke highly of Cutler on many occasions before the signing was made official Thursday. His heavy praise of Tillman could imply the Bears are planning to work out a contract with the veteran, or use the franchise tag to retain him.

Of the areas of concern entering 2014, the general manager focused on defensive improvement.

"We had a lot of tough days defensively -- a tough season," Emery said. "There are no excuses for it.

"All aspects are on the table to be evaluated. We want a physical, fast, playmaking defense. A defense that causes disruption. I saw that in the first three games."

Trestman said "everything is on the table three days into a through process" regarding defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.

Emery said the defense will be younger in 2014, and a focus of the team's draft plans.

--Tucker is involved in parts of the team review, according to Trestman, who hinted that 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin and 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic might be better fits at outside linebacker. McClellin was drafted as a pass-rush specialist, Emery said. Trestman said the switch is just one possibility, as is moving to a 3-4 front.

--Regarding the free agent status of injured defensive tackle Henry Melton, who drew the Bears' franchise tag in 2013 before suffering a season-ending injury, Emery said "He needs to make sure that he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."

--Melton is one of several potential free agent defensive linemen. Emery said Corey Wootton will be extremely popular if he reaches the open market because his skill set "transcends scheme." Wootton played defensive end and defensive tackle to the Bears and could easily transition to a 3-4 defense. Jeremiah Ratliff, who came on late in the season, is a candidate to return if he's interested.
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