Jay Cutler was rewarded Thursday when the Bears locked up the potential free-agent quarterback as the face of the franchise through the 2020 season.
His 89.2 passer rating was a career high for Cutler, who despite missing five and a half games to groin and ankle injuries proved himself an ideal fit for the front office's vision of a franchise quarterback capable of bringing a Lombardi Trophy to Chicago.
The deal announced by the club — financial terms were not disclosed — locks up the strong-armed passer who would have been the most coveted quarterback in free agency had he hit the market after the season.
"We feel very comfortable moving forward that Jay is a key part of winning championship football in Chicago," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "I'm very excited to have Jay for the long term."
Cutler said he didn't want to test the open market, adding his wife, Kristin Cavallari, considers Chicago home and that he feels the Bears are well positioned for a Super Bowl-winning run.
"I'm looking forward to the future,'' Cutler said Thursday at Halas Hall. "Obviously, I'm going to be here quite a bit longer.
"I'm happy to be joining the rest of the guys, the rest of the coaches, the rest of the organization in our pursuit for a championship. That's the reason I wanted to come back. Because I truly believe we have the right people to make that happen.''
Since arriving in a 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, Cutler is 39-28 in 67 starts and led the Bears to the NFC Championship game following the 2010 season.
"You get to the point where it's, what's the most important part of your career? Dollars? Championships? We're here to win,'' said Cutler, who turns 31 April 29.
"We reached the amount of money that we're going to be taken care of – Whether it's $15 million or it's $22 million, it's hard to spend all that in your lifetime.''
The seven-year extension is expected to reach the $18 million-per-year range.
It seems no coincidence the long-term commitment was announced the morning after it was learned by USA TODAY Sports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were closing in on a deal to hire Cutler's former Bears coach, Lovie Smith as their new head coach.
Cutler has had just one playoff win (in 2010) in eight seasons, but the Bears were sold on Cutler's growth as a more assertive leader who showed instant comfort in Trestman's quick-hitting system.
Cutler completed 63.1% of his passes with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while throwing for 2,621 yards during the 11 games he started for the 8-8 Bears.
"He's a demonstrated winner with the Chicago Bears," Emery said. "He has a special bond with our coaching staff.
"The thing I loved seeing is though he went through some tough times, he never stopped battling, never stopped being a leader.
"I see improvement in his ball security, ball distribution and a transformation in his demeanor as a leader."
Cutler expressed optimism a deal would get done when he spoke Monday on his weekly WMVP AM-1000 radio show.
He showed impressive signs of growth behind an improved offensive line surrounded by his best weapons to date in Pro Bowler receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, in addition to receiver Alshon Jeffrey and tight end Martellus Bennett.
"I think if you polled quarterbacks around the league, everyone is going to want to come here," Cutler said. "Why wouldn't you want to play here? We've got a lot of guys who can make some plays. It would be fun to stay here.
"Obviously, I want to stay here."
Emery also announced that cornerback Tim Jennings has been locked up for the next four years and guard Matt Slauson for the next three years.
"In signing Tim, it's about rewarding excellence," Emery said of the ball-hawking cornerback who has 13 interceptions the last two seasons.
Follow Jim Corbett on Twitter @ByJimCorbett