LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears left no doubt about their confidence in Jay Cutler.
Cutler, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, signed a seven-year contract with the team, general manager Phil Emery announced Thursday.
Although financial terms were not released, Cutler's deal is expected to eclipse the $17.6 million average the Detroit Lions gave Matthew Stafford in July. It also includes at least $50 million in guaranteed money, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Cutler isn't worried about his critics panning the deal.
"Anything that would have happened, [anywhere] I would've went, there's always positives and negatives," Cutler said. "There's always critics. Coming off an 8-8 season, we're not happy with how it ended. But I think everyone in this building is really excited about the direction we're going.
"Moving forward, there's definitely gonna be people saying that this was the wrong move. That's fine. That's their opinion. The people in this building will stick together, and we'll keep going in the direction that we think is right."
In explaining the thought process behind locking up Cutler for the long term, Emery discussed the quarterback's growth in 2013, a season the general manager described as his best.
"He's a demonstrated winner with the Chicago Bears," Emery said. "He can be a key player in terms of being the reason you win."
Emery pointed to Cutler's leadership during a difficult 2013 campaign, in addition to his improvement and display of toughness.
"Very excited to have Jay for the long term," Emery said. "Cutler battled through the tough times."
Also Thursday, the Bears re-signed cornerback Tim Jennings and guard Matt Slauson to four-year deals. The Bears have signed five players who were pending free agents in the aftermath of the team's season: Cutler, Jennings, Slauson, kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammetta.
Cutler had a 103.8 passer rating in Sunday's loss to the Green Bay Packers and concluded the season with a career-high rating of 89.2 while throwing for 2,621 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has, however, been picked off 75 times since joining the Bears in 2009. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick have thrown interceptions on a higher percentage of passes than Cutler's 3.6 during that span.
He said Thursday that he never really was interested in becoming a free agent.
"We wanted to stay here," Cutler said. "So it was going to have to come from the Bears not wanting me back for me to test" free agency.
Backup quarterback Josh McCown came on this year when Cutler was hurt and was the best QB in the league for a short stretch, but even he lauded the Bears' move to lock up their franchise quarterback.
"Oh, I'm excited for him, he said on ESPN's "SVP & Russillo." "One of the things, when I came back here to work alongside Jay and to back him up I knew that this was a contract for him. I wanted to help him to put himself in a position to do what he's done and that's to be here for the long haul and so I'm definitely very excited for him."
One of the guys who tries to keep Cutler upright was in full support of the new deal.
"I couldn't be more happy about having solidified somebody at that position," guard Kyle Long said on ESPN Radio in Chicago. "Such a tremendous player and smart guy and that's the guy who's gonna take us where we need to go."
Now that Cutler has his deal, he's looking toward the future and possibly finishing his career with the Bears.
"I don't think that part of it has set in yet. That will set in over the next month or so," Cutler said. "I think we're all kind of caught up in just the excitement of being here and looking towards the future. Like you said, to be here for possibly 10, 12 years, hopefully we can win some championships. That's what it's all about.
"If we look back 20 years from now and say, 'Hey, I was here 12 years and we didn't win a championship,' we're gonna be disappointed, I'm gonna be disappointed by it, and I think the rest of the organization is gonna be disappointed. So that's what we have to start working towards starting tomorrow. I know the coaches will, I will and the rest of the players will."
Before signing the deal, Cutler ranked 11th among quarterbacks in terms of average salary at $14,718,500. Players comparable to Cutler, such as Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub, were averaging more in salary, which means Cutler likely received a contract at the very least in line with those of his peers.
With Jennings, Emery discussed "rewarding excellence" for a veteran who took on the responsibilities of a No. 1 cornerback after Charles Tillman was lost for the season with a torn triceps. Jennings earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2012 and was recently named to the All-NFC North team. He has 13 interceptions over the past two seasons, second in the NFL to Seattle's Richard Sherman. Jennings also forced two fumbles and recovered a third.
Jennings acknowledged he had some anxiety playing in the final year of his contract.
"I was lost in the dark, not knowing what was gonna happen," he said. "I've been through this process before; didn't work out well for me, and it kind of lingers [in] your mind. My agent did a great job of keeping me out of the loop.
"I just wanted to focus on football and help this team win as much as I could. I'm blessed for it to happen the way it did of me not having to see what was out there. There was no question if I had the opportunity to stay here and they wanted me, it was a no-brainer."
Slauson joined the Bears this past spring on a one-year contract to bolster what had been a porous offensive line in recent years. Emery discussed Slauson's physicality and leadership while also calling him a key part of the group's dramatic improvement in 2013.
Chicago surrendered 30 sacks in 2013, 14 fewer than it did in 2012. With Slauson leading the way on inside runs, along with help from rookie Kyle Long, veteran running back Matt Forte finished with career highs in rushing yards (1,339) and rushing touchdowns (nine).