30 Million Reasons to Love Chicago

The Chicago Bears told Jay Cutler after they traded for him that they weren't interested in contract talks during the season. But when Cutler's agent made an offer they couldn't refuse, a deal got done.

It didn't take long for Jay Cutler to prove his value to the Bears, but he seemed more concerned with pumping up the offense than his wallet, which was fattened with a two-year, $30 million extension Tuesday night that includes $20 million in guaranteed money.

The Bears are on the road for the second straight week, traveling to Cincinnati to face the Bengals, a week after losing 21-14 to the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday night. Cutler denied that the offense was surprised by anything it saw in the loss to the Falcons, even though the Bears came away with just seven points on four red-zone trips.

"Were going to do some different stuff and mix up some things, but I've seen everything coming," Cutler said, refuting a question about the offense being predictable. "It hasn't really surprised us much at all. It's just a matter of us doing what we're supposed to do."

The Bears have gotten much better results throwing the ball than running it. They're 16th in passing yards but just 27th in rushing yards. But Cutler doesn't believe the solution is abandoning the run, even though he loves to put it up.

"You want to run the ball," he said. "This league is built on running the ball and being able to stop the run. If you can't do one or both of those things, you're not going to go where you want to go. It's a struggle. You've got to try to balance it. At what point do you say, 'We're struggling to run the ball. Let's just air it out.' That's the hard question that I don't have the answer for, that I think a lot of people don't have the answer for. We've got to keep trying to run the ball."

Whatever the Bears do on offense, Cutler will have a lot to do with it for a long time. His extension should keep him in Chicago through 2013.

He was already under contract through 2011 when the Bears traded for him on April 2, and they told his agent, Bus Cook, that they didn't intend to extend the deal during his first season. But things change, and it didn't take long for Cutler to endear himself to an organization that has experienced a dearth of quarterback talent in recent decades.

"It was just about him coming in here and proving his worth," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We felt we'd seen enough and this was the time.

"We saw firsthand the talent that we saw prior to him coming in here, obviously the value of his position. We saw his play-making ability. We also saw his leadership, both on and off the field, in terms of how he approaches his workday. So [there was] nothing not to like."

Coach Lovie Smith, who is under contract through 2011, seemed more excited about the extension than Cutler.

QB Jay Cutler
AP Images: John Froschauer

"By making a move like that this quick, that's really saying what we feel about Jay," Smith said. "We think he's one of the best in the league. We paid him that way. It was just another day at work for him. He really didn't even want to talk about it, almost embarrassed a little bit about it."

In light of the recent contracts signed by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, for $92 million, and Eli Manning, for $97.5 million, Cook approached the Bears recently, and the deal was done.

"I think both sides knew it was going to happen at some point. We just didn't know when the best timing was," Cutler said. "It happened pretty quick though.

"I wanted to be here a while. I think the Bears wanted me to be here a while, so it worked out for both of us."

Bengals running back Cedric Benson, the third-leading rusher in the NFL, spent almost four months out of football following his release by the Bears, the result of two alcohol-related arrests that he was eventually cleared of.

"There was a moment where I was pretty down and out," said Benson, the fourth-overall pick in the 2005 draft. "There were times where I was sitting at home on the couch reflecting on everything. I couldn't believe where I was at, jobless, a first-round pick. There were times when I was kind of down on myself. But I knew that would get me nowhere. All I wanted to do from that point on was to move forward, so I accepted the situation and found a way to learn from it, found a way to be somewhat thankful that it happened and move forward."

The Bears cut Benson on June 9, 2008, and he didn't hook up with the Bengals until Sept. 30, the fifth week of the season.

Benson believes that the Bears conspired to blackball him from the league, however briefly.

"Oh yeah, no doubt, of course," he said. "I heard all the rumors that were said coming out of Chicago. Even the Bengals told me that they would call and inquire about me and get nothing but negative things. Like that I didn't work hard, that I was, I guess, a prima donna, just wasn't focused, just anything negative that they could say. I'm sure that contributed largely to me not getting picked up right away."

Benson apparently had at least one backer in Chicago, and that was coach Lovie Smith, who vouched for him when Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called.

"Lovie and Ced both convinced me that those [off-the-field situations] would not be issues going forward," Lewis said. "Lovie was very candid with his comments and his evaluation of Ced and recommendation. And Ced himself admitted that he had made a few errors."

Smith on Wednesday called Benson "a good football player" and denied that anyone in the organization blackballed him.

"He was not blackballed by anyone in our organization," Smith said. "If anything, when a player decides to leave here or is cut from here, we do everything we possibly can to help them go somewhere else. That was the case with Cedric. We did everything we could to help Cedric here and to help him go somewhere else. Final statement."

Benson said he appreciates Smith's vote of confidence. But when asked if the coaching staff had his back, Benson said, "No. I think the offensive staff saw a lot of things and appreciated me, but for the most part, I don't really think so."

Asked about his teammates, Benson said, "I wouldn't know on that one. Yeah, everything was happy-go-lucky in the locker room, but I don't know how people truly felt."

Benson held out for more than a month before signing as a rookie. He faced an uphill battle to win playing time from Thomas Jones, who was established as a productive player and had the loyalty of teammates that had already worked with him through two seasons in which he rushed for 2,283 yards.

Asked why he was unpopular with teammates, Benson said, "Once upon a time I would like to have known the answer, but now ... it doesn't really matter anymore." ...

Cutler was happy to have a done deal with $20 million in upfront money in his two-year, $30 million contract extension, especially with the prospect of a lockout in 2011.

"I think every player in the league is probably concerned with that because we don't know what's going to happen," Cutler said. "Is there going to be a lockout or what's going to happen? The Players Association is advising everyone to save money. So any money you can get before that point is going to be good for any player." ...

Bears defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, who played a season-high 35 snaps last week, said his teammates aren't all that fired up about playing against former teammate Cedric Benson.

"I don't think anybody cares about playing him," Harrison said. "Everybody is happy for him. Ced was a good guy. He's a ballplayer. I played against him when he was at Texas (Harrison played at Arkansas), and it looks like he's back at that form where he's comfortable and just running. We've got to stop him because he's a good runner, a downhill runner, physical. We've just got to tackle him."

"I don't see it that way, at least from myself. I tried to support him. I liked him and wanted him to do well. I tried to get him to do well, and I'm not surprised by the success that he's had. I don't like hearing that. I've got a lot of respect for Cedric. Cedric's got s lot of talent. I like him. He's a good guy, and I'm happy he's having success. I'm not surprised at all he's having success because he is a good football player. He has a lot of good qualities." – Offensive coordinator Ron Turner on Cedric Benson's claim that offensive coaching staff didn't have his back during his three up-and-down seasons in Chicago.

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