St. Louis Rams: Jay Cutler

ST. LOUIS -- Thursday's news that the Chicago Bears signed Jay Cutler to a seven-year contract extension was met with plenty of differing opinions.

To some Bears fans, it was a no-brainer, others were not pleased at all. But at the heart of the matter is the reminder that having a quarterback you believe in takes precedence over everything else when it comes to building a team.

In St. Louis, Cutler's contract didn't register much of a blip aside from some jokes, but it's worth noting in terms of the Rams' current quarterback situation. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Cutler's deal includes more than $50 million guaranteed and is expected to fall in the range of the $17.6 million annual value of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford's pact.

In today's NFL, the idea of a mid-sized contract for an average to slightly above average starter is a thing of the past. Any sort of track record, even one as mixed as Cutler's or Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's is enough to land a lucrative contract extension. Cutler got his Thursday and it should be added to the list of deals cut in the past couple of years which could serve as a ballpark guideline for what Bradford could earn in his next deal.

Entering the 2013 season, there were just five projected starting quarterbacks earning between $6 million and $11 million annually. Teams are either taking advantage of the rookie salary cap and going with young, relatively cheap options or have locked in their guy to long-term extensions with big money attached.

In many ways, quarterbacks are the football equivalent of pitching in baseball. Aces and No. 1 starters are making in the range $20 million-plus per season but even third and fourth starters are pulling in $12-17 million annually. The reason is simple: a lack of quality players at the position.

Teams in the NFL would rather pay a known commodity at quarterback than not have one at all, even if that known commodity has proved he isn't an elite option.

Bradford has two years and more than $34 million in cap charges remaining on his rookie deal. During the season, it was reported that the Rams would be willing to do a contract extension with Bradford sooner than later if he was willing. Even after Bradford suffered a torn ACL in Week 7, the Rams have done nothing to indicate anyone else is their guy for the future.

It's possible the Rams would want an extension now because they could see it as an opportunity to lock him in at a team-friendly price before he's fully established himself. Of course, it was also reported that Bradford doesn't want to do an extension because he wanted to accomplish more before negotiations began.

While Cutler has a bigger body of work than Bradford, he also hasn't done a whole lot more in his time in the league. Both have had their share of injury issues as well.

But in today's NFL, the going rate for a veteran starting quarterback is becoming more and more defined. The Rams don't have to sign Bradford to an extension now, nor does he have to sign one. When the time comes, assuming he returns to health, Bradford's deal will likely land in the same range as the one Cutler signed on Thursday.

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.