Bears GM Emery likes what Jennings, Slauson offer
The re-signings of cornerback Tim Jennings and guard Matt Slauson to four-year deals were overshadowed by quarterback Jay Cutler's seven-year contract, but both are expected be major players in general manager Phil Emery's master plan.
Jennings made $4.25 million in 2013 after activating escalators in the two-year deal he signed before the 2012 season by being voted to his first Pro Bowl and leading the NFL with 9 interceptions last season. While Jennings was not voted to the Pro Bowl this season, he had 4 interceptions may have played just as well as he did a year ago.
With fellow cornerback Charles Tillman sidelined for the final seven games, Jennings usually was forced to handle the opponents' top wide receiver. In consecutive weeks, he shut down the Cowboys' Dez Bryant (2 catches, 12 yards), the Browns' Josh Gordon (3 catches, 67 yards) and the Eagles' DeSean Jackson (4 catches, 29 yards), holding each of them to well under their normal production.
"I told him when I got here that he's one of my favorite players that I've ever scouted," Emery said of the former Georgia Bulldog. "I've always been very impressed with his athletic suddenness, his competitive fire and the energy that he brings along with a key thing -- he's a playmaker.
"I watched Tim when they were trying to put receivers in the end zone on him. His ability to match and mirror an opponent, to shadow an opponent and keep the quarterback from throwing to the best receiver, was very impressive to me."
Slauson essentially gambled on himself last off-season, signing a low-priced deal for $820,000 with the promise from Emery that the Bears would compensate him later if he played well in 2013. Slauson did just that, often grading out among the highest members of the team's rebuilt offensive line.
"Matt certainly deserves that future with the Bears," Emery said. "Matt is exactly what we were looking for -- a big, long-armed, physical, tough, smart anchor point for our quarterback to be able to step up when he has pressure. I can't say enough about him in terms of leadership, toughness and physicalness he brings to that group. When you're a defender and you line up against Slauson, at the end of the day you know you played a football game."
No one appreciates the 6-foot-5, 315-pound five-year veteran more than Cutler. While protecting the quarterback and running his streak of consecutive starts to 64, Slauson mentored rookie right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills.
"He brings a toughness, a nastiness, a veteran leadership, which was needed for those younger guys," Cutler said. "He's constant. Every single day he's grinding. He was able to show Kyle what it takes to be a successful guard in the NFL. Kyle was able to see it firsthand and on film and be able to talk to him on a daily basis. So it was huge.
"And I think Matt enjoyed doing it, being a semi-coach for Kyle and the young guys and helping them along. Matt did a great job. I was really excited to hear that he's going to be here four more years protecting me."