On the Cutler contract and Sam Bradford

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.