The Bears officially opened for business in Bourbonnais at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. With many of the players still not even in town yet, two things were clearly established when general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman met the media.
Emery expects the Bears to contend for a championship this season, and he is fully aware he has an unusually high number of starters and key backups in addition to Jay Cutler in the final year of their contracts. Yet none of them, including Cutler, will have their contracts extended during the season.
Emery's opening statement before the first question was asked was: "No. 1 is to restate our organizational goal, which is to win championships. All of our efforts, our skills, our talents, our time, will be spent with that goal in mind."
I'm sure that will be music to the ears of Bears fans everywhere, and I can't wait to see how they react to the next point Emery made, which was this: There will be no contract talks or extensions for anyone during this season, including Jay Cutler. Emery wants those contracts earmed on the football field.
On the subject of contracts, Emery explained: "I don't think we extended any contracts last fall, so I prefer the focus to be on the field in the present tense, fully dialed in on this season and our efforts to win championships, and it also is a reflection of where we are at with the cap. You have to have room with both cap and cash to make those type of extensions, and we're just not in that position."
One could certainly take Emery's comments as a simple attempt to deflect conversation about Cutler's contract, but a closer look at the Bears' roster and contract and cap status reveals that key starters and backups – Roberto Garza, J'Marcus Webb, Matt Slauson, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Henry Melton, Major Wright, Corey Wooton, D.J. Williams, James Anderson, Sedrick Ellis, Kelvin Hayden, Zack Bowman, Devin Hester, Robbie Gould and Pat Mannelly – are just a partial list of players also in the last year of their deals.
When Cutler arrived at camp later Wednesday, he said what was expected: "I haven't really talked about any of my contracts in my career, so I'm not going to start now."
Emery acknowledged the situation when he said: "It's not all about Jay. We have a number of players that are either in the last year of their deals or on one-year contracts, so it's the same for all of them. Moving forward in their NFL career, they have to show improvement and consistency as players to move forward, whether it's with the Bears or someone else."
How else are we to interpret all this but that Emery is telling his troops we think we can win now, and if we don't it will be time to clean house? When I asked him specifically about players like Tillman, Garza and Hester being unlikely to improve at this stage of their careers, he said: "When you get to those contract discussions, obviously where they're at moving forward and number of years are different variables with each and every player depending on their circumstances."
Emery did point out that he thought veterans, including Tillman and Lance Briggs, were still improving, but it's hard to digest all of Emery's comments and not consider the recent fate of Brian Urlacher.
From where I sit, none of this is bad news, and I admire Emery taking the stance he has, which is basically: Earn your new contract on the field, and if we can't contend for championships with you we'll have to move on.
But looking at the makeup of this Bears team, and the age and experience of all the key players, it seems pretty clear to me that if the Bears don't make the playoffs and contend this year – consider what happened to Lovie Smith – Emery's opening statement of 2014 could be, let the rebuilding begin.