The first leaked details of the Jay Cutler contract put the average value for the first three years at $18 million, with $54 million guaranteed.
The details were accurate. Per a source with knowledge of the deal, Cutler will make $54 million over the next three years, with a rolling guarantee that starts at $17.5 million upon signing, increases to $38 million on March 14, 2014, moves to $48 million in March 2015, and caps out at $54 million in March 2016.
The deal contains no signing bonus, creating a pay-as-you-go series of cap charges for the Bears, based only on his base salaries.
In 2014, Cutler will earn a base salary of $22.5 million. In 2015, the base salary is $15.5 million. In 2016, it increases to $16 million.
After 2016, the deal becomes a year-to-year, no-cap-hit proposition, with salaries of $12.5 million in 2017, $13.5 million in 2018, $17.5 million in 2019, and $19.2 million in 2020. In each of those four seasons, Cutler earns $156,250 for each game he appears on the active roster, for a maximum additional earnings of $2.5 million per year and $10 million over four.
Thus, he’ll get the full $126.7 million only if he’s on the active roster for every game from 2017 through 2020.
The contract also has an annual de-escalator of $500,000 based on participating in the offseason workout program. If he fails to show up, the base salary reduces accordingly.
It’s a real three-year, $54 million contract, with a team-held option at lower rates for each of the next four years.
Under three years of the franchise tag, Cutler would have earned more than $60 million. He therefore reduced by more than 10 percent his total haul in exchange for shedding the injury risk.
Cutler also has shifted most of the risk of poor performance, with the Bears most likely to pay him $48 million over two years.
Is it the best possible deal Cutler could have done? No. But it’s a very good deal under the circumstances, it keeps him in Chicago for the next three years at $18 million annually, and it gives the Bears the annual right thereafter to decide whether to keep him or to walk away.