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Jay Cutler’s media move signifies how perceptions of him changed

Jay Cutler. (AP)

Dec. 18, 2014, was a signature day in Jay Cutler’s career. He met the media when he didn’t have to during one of the most controversial seasons in recent memory.

Former coach Marc Trestman, who was hired to get the best out of Cutler, had turned his back on him. Cutler was benched, and Jimmy Clausen got the start.

All of it was mind-blowing. But there was Cutler in the Bears’ new media center at Halas Hall.

“There’s enough distractions going on in this building that my focus could only be just helping the guys and the offense, trying to help Jimmy,” Cutler said then.

From there, the conversation turned to whether Cutler thought he played his last game for the Bears.

“It definitely crossed my mind,” Cutler said. “For sure.”

His willingness to engage those who had ridiculed him for years — for his turnovers to leadership skills to body language and so on — at a time when anarchy ruled Lake Forest encapsulated his changing narrative.

It was a low moment for the Bears — Trestman, general manager Phil Emery and plenty of players would be gone soon enough — but it was a good one for him.

On Friday, the changes in Cutler that were seen and heard over the past few years in Chicago were finally recognized at a national level. Cutler officially joined Fox Sports as a game-day analyst. He will team with play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt, analyst Charles Davis and sideline reporter Pam Oliver.

Cutler’s first game as a member of the media will be the Bears’ third preseason game against the Titans Aug. 27 in Nashville, where he played collegiately at Vanderbilt and where his family now calls home.

In an interview on ESPN Radio, Cutler called his decision permanent, though he acknowledged that he would still be playing with the Bears if they hadn’t released him. At 34, only certain teams would have interested him, and that didn’t materialize.

“If things would have worked out differently in January, February and March, we might be in a different situation, but they didn’t,” Cutler said. “So this is where we are, and I feel really good about it.”

Cutler first considered the move to broadcasting in January after talking to his wife, reality star Kristin Cavallari.

With a Cardinals-Sea-hawks game as his assignment, Cutler auditioned with Burkhardt last Thursday in Los Angeles. He studied the analysis of Troy Aikman, Jon Gruden and John Lynch.

“I felt as prepared as I was going to be,” Cutler said. “I just kind of went in and winged it.”

In 2013, Cutler’s public persona began to change locally. He engaged more with the media, starting with weekly appearances on a radio show. He still scoffed at certain questions, but queries about the X’s and O’s and certain matchups often led to insightful responses.

At times, Cutler’s sense of humor took over news conferences. His sarcastic, dry wit garnered real laughter.

Reporters sought reasons for the change. Columns went from ridiculing his body language to highlighting his maturation and to detailing how marrying

Cavallari and becoming a

father changed him.

It helped that Trestman and Emery — at least initially — believed in him. He was signed to a seven-year deal worth $54 million guaranteed.

Cutler’s detractors can still point to his .500 record, interceptions and his run through coordinators.

But Cutler always had his backers inside Halas Hall, though many still ignore it.

“We’re excited for the fans to get to know the Jay Cutler we knew inside the walls of Halas Hall,” chairman George McCaskey said in a statement.

General manager Ryan Pace might have been eyeing the Bears’ next quarterback, but he, coach John Fox and former offensive coordinator Adam Gase also warmed to Cutler. And current offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is a friend.

“I already told him I’m going to crush every play call,” Cutler said.

Of course, that was a joke.

It’s another example of the “new” Cutler who arrived in town a few years ago. And it’s what Fox wants.

“I’m really happy with where I am in my life,” Cutler said, “and really the future going forward.”

Follow me on Twitter

@adamjahns.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

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