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Why now for Cutler?

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

I guess Tuesday is going to be our night for extension discussion here on the NFC North blog. Moments after posting this entry on Minnesota coach Brad Childress’ contract status, we received word that Chicago had signed quarterback Jay Cutler to an extension that will keep him under contract through the 2013 season.

Some of you might wonder why this deal happened now. After all, Cutler’s rookie contract wasn’t set to expire until after the 2011 season. Here’s the best explanation I can give:

For the Bears, the reasoning was easy. If you get a chance to (somewhat) reasonably push back the expiration of your franchise quarterback’s contract, you do it. Now, the earliest Cutler will be eligible for free agency is the winter of 2014. (That’s so far away that global warming probably will have done away with winter by then.)

The decision was a little less clear for Cutler, but I think it reflects growing concern about a possible NFL lockout in 2011. Cutler had a $12 million roster bonus due that year, but it wasn’t guaranteed. So if efforts to extend the league’s collective bargaining agreement fail, leading to a work stoppage in 2011, Cutler would have lost that bonus.

The new deal guarantees that he will make at least $20 million even if the NFL ceases play. It’s possible Cutler could have gotten more if he had waited, in essence gambling against a lockout. But it’s not as if this deal will put him in the poorhouse if play continues through the 2011 season and beyond. According to ESPN’s John Clayton, Tuesday’s extension will pay Cutler a tidy $50 million over the next five years as long as they are uninterrupted by a work stoppage.

At that point, Cutler will be 30 years old and conceivably still in prime condition for another big-money contract.

I expect we’ll hear more on Wednesday from Cutler and the Bears. But if you’re surprised at the timing of this deal, hopefully you now have some better context.