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No gold rush: Bears QB Cutler puts off chasing endorsement dollars
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has put off any talks about endorsement deals so he can concentrate on his new teammates and the playbook.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/5/2009 12:00 AM

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There's a perfectly good reason Jay Cutler hasn't been seen or heard doing commercial spots for car manufacturers, hotel chains or anything else.

He's not interested, at least not right now.

"With all the excitement that's happened so far, there have been a lot of endorsement opportunities," the Bears quarterback said. "But I've kind of steered clear of those because I haven't even stepped on the field yet. I'm trying to take care of that before I step into that (other) realm."

As soon as he was acquired from the Denver Broncos in a trade April 2, the 26-year-old Cutler was elevated to elite status in the Chicago area, one of the biggest sports markets in the country.

He already is one of the most popular and recognizable athletes in a city with plenty of big-name players. But capitalizing on that popularity commercially isn't an immediate priority for Cutler.

"I want to go out and play some games and prove myself first," Cutler said. "I want to get rid of some of the skepticism surrounding me and just go out there and play."

The skepticism comes from his awkward departure from Denver, and from Cutler's mediocre won-loss record of 17-20 as a starter.

Cutler has admitted he could have done a better job of handling the situation that led to his trade, and he has been working overtime to acclimate himself to the Bears' system and his new teammates.

That kind of focus doesn't leave much time for selling sports drinks or endorsing automobiles.

From a mercenary standpoint, it appears Cutler is leaving an awful lot of money on the table because there already are plenty of opportunities, as there are for almost any NFL starting quarterback, especially one coming off a Pro Bowl season.

"Any NFL quarterback has a whole bunch of endorsement opportunities if he wants them," said Terry Lefton, editor-at-large for the SportsBusiness Journal. "It all depends on the athlete's willingness to do them."

But Cutler clearly believes now is not the time for him.

It's not as if he has been keeping a low profile or trying to avoid the spotlight that he knows comes with his celebrity status.

He has been seen out on the town and at sporting events. He also has visited hospitals, talking to children who are learning to live with type-1 diabetes, as he has been since being diagnosed a little more than a year ago.

The Jay Cutler Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for underprivileged children and those suffering from diabetes.

"I'm doing stuff for my foundation," he said. "I could do some more of that, stop by a few hospitals, but as far as going out and trying to make money and doing that kind of stuff, I won't do that until (later)."

If Cutler's performance on the field continues to progress as it has since he was the Broncos' first-round draft pick in 2006, he will have plenty of offers to consider. He already has retained the services of Jeff Jacobs, an entertainment lawyer and the former president of Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Entertainment Group.

"My job is to examine opportunities and discuss with Jay what may make sense for him to consider," Jacobs said. "But Jay's focus right now is playing football and to keep working with children with juvenile diabetes.

"Jay came to Chicago to play football. As far as the other opportunities, everything will come in due time. Jay's off-field time has focused on giving back to the community. That is more important than the commercial opportunities for the moment."

When it does come time for Cutler to supplement his six-year, $48 million contract (including escalators and bonuses), he doesn't appear likely to rush into anything.

"I'm going to do what I'm comfortable with," Cutler said, "and what's good for me in the long run."

Jacobs already has specific ideas on what Cutler's business associations will be, even though that won't happen for a while.

"My philosophy, and not just with Jay, is to work with companies whose brands have dignity and integrity," Jacobs said. "We'll focus on working with good people and attempt to negotiate win-win relationships."

And if Cutler helps the Bears win big the field, he will be a big winner off the field, too.