The one who got away from Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos got paid.
No, Jay Cutler didn't get a new contract.
But Matt Cassel cashed in on Tuesday as he received a $63 million, six-year contract, providing him with more security than the $14.65 million, one-year deal he had after being designated with the franchise tag by the New England Patriots before they traded him. It was the Broncos who hoped to write that new contract, and their failed bid to land Cassel was the launching point for Cutler's departure from Denver.
Cassel will receive $28 million guaranteed and will earn more than $40 million over the first three seasons. With his contract averaging about $10 million per season, he's close to the middle of the pack for quarterback pay. Get used to the big numbers because the Bears will be floating them soon. With more than $17.5 million in available salary cap room, the Bears would like to put a big chunk of that to work this fall with an extension for Cutler, who is signed through 2011 and has a $12 million roster bonus due in that final year of the contract.
Would signing a contract as soon as possible be the best move for Cutler?
He was adamant money wasn't the reason he wanted out of Denver. The Bears are invested in him for the long haul. They didn't swap two first-round picks and Kyle Orton to get Cutler and see how he performs. They've got to be comfortable tacking five new years on to his contract right now. Doing so before the fall deadline to re-negotiate a contract and have money applied to this year's cap makes sense for two reasons:
1. It lets the Bears apply a portion of the deal to this year's cap. There really aren't any other players in line for large extensions. This, of course, assumes a CBA extension is reached and the cap remains relevant.
2. It lets the Bears get Cutler under contract for longer before quarterback deals explode.
The next big milestone in terms of quarterback contracts is $15 million--a deal that averages that much per season. Peyton Manning's contract averages $14 million. Carson Palmer is at $13.2 million. Ben Roethlisberger got a deal averaging $12.75 million after his first Super Bowl victory. If the Bears and Cutler succeed this season like the team believes will happen, the price is only going to climb. All the way to an annual average of $15 million? Who knows. The Bears believe strongly in maintaining the integrity of a player's current contract when they extend him, and that will be a factor. They didn't have anything to do with the contract Cutler is currently under, though, and that's probably a story that is best for another day.
"Philip Rivers and Eli Manning are in the final years of their contracts. If they get long-term deals, the price of signing quarterbacks goes that much higher,'' ESPN's John Clayton wrote after the Cassel deal. "The time was right to do a deal. This was an important negotiation for the team and the Chiefs did well."
New England's Tom Brady could be in line for a new contract to update the $60 million, six-year contract he received in 2005. If Cutler is willing to bet on himself--why wouldn't he be--he could be in line for a bigger pay day after some of the other quarterbacks get what they have coming. He could sit back, play ball and watch the market grow.
I've joked with general manager Jerry Angelo for some time, asking him on a number of occasions if he's just dying to write that huge check to a quarterback? He bellows with laughter each time, but Angelo knows that in his tenure no team has devoted less salary-cap space to the position than the Bears. They didn't have anybody to pay. Now they do, but it will take two to do a deal done.