It took Jay Cutler two months to win over his new bosses — to have coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace publicly declare the Bears veteran their starting quarterback for 2015.
It took even less time, it seemed, to convince his new teammates.
Tuesday, they reinforced what they’d believed all preseason: that Cutler, entering the most desperate of his make-or-break seasons, is a team leader.
He was one of two offensive players voted a captain by a secret ballot this week. The Bears named five — two on offense, two on defense, and Robbie Gould — and will rotate a sixth person every week, starting Sunday against the Packers.
The honor wasn’t Cutler’s first. But after quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman decided to rotate captains last year rather than name Cutler one full-time, the vote mattered — to the quarterback and his teammates.
Just ask the player who controversially criticized the Cutler-as-leader narrative earlier this preseason.
“I think he’s one of the right guys to be voted for captain,” tight end Martellus Bennett said Thursday at Halas Hall. “As far as a captain goes, I think he’s already done what captains do — leading and being the same guy every day.
“I think he’s a good captain.”
The move should throw the final shovel of dirt over one reputation Cutler has received unfairly: that he’s a bad teammate. Sure, Cutler at times seems aloof. His sideline facial expressions are Internet meme-worthy. But his offensive cohorts like him.
“I think us voting him as captain tells you all you need to know,” said wide receiver Eddie Royal, a former Broncos teammate.
Cutler’s not the prototypical rah-rah guy. His teammates don’t care, even if those outside Halas Hall do.
“The thing is, he doesn’t lead like a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady or Andrew Luck —guys who [people] see as a prototypical quarterback,’” guard Matt Slauson said. “And it’s like, ‘Whatever. Who cares.’ He leads his way. ….
“We all stand behind him. We all believe in him. And everybody in this room will tell you that No. 6 deserves that.”
Slauson said “the perception outside of this facility has been completely false,” calling Cutler a “tremendous leader.” Even Aaron Rodgers is aware of the stereotype. Asked if his rival receives too much criticism, the Packers’ quarterback blamed the media.
“I think that’s on you guys that cover him all the time,” he said. “I don’t think he cares a whole lot about that either way.”
Thursday, Cutler listed his added responsibilities as a captain: fielding complaints from teammates, meeting regularly with coaches and leading by example. Truth is, he’s done the latter for years. When Trestman brought his new offense to Chicago, Cutler stayed up late teaching his teammates.
That happened again this offseason.
“Playing quarterback is the toughest thing to do in this league,” left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “When you have a guy that cares enough to put the extra work in, not just with veterans but with the young guys, it goes a long way.”
Receiver Josh Bellamy said “everybody knows” that Cutler deserves the C on his chest.
“You look at it like, ‘Who’s working every day?’” he said. “A guy you can depend on, a guy that gives you everything he’s got. A guy you want to play for.”
It might not be him for long.
With a contract that’s more financially palatable next offseason, the Bears might find it easier to move Cutler then. If he improves, as Packers coach Mike McCarthy predicted, the Bears will have to decide — again — if he’s their quarterback of the future.
For his first time as a Bear, judging Cutler by the team record might be unfair. Holes on defense and special teams might conspire against him.
Fox must be pleased his quarterback won the vote, though he demurred when asked if his life was easier because of it.
“Life’s easier,” he said, “when you win.”
From his perch as a leader, Cutler knows that.
“I don’t see the benefit of pessimistic about it,” he said. “So I’m going to remain optimistic. And the rest of the team is too.”
Adam Jahns and Mark Potash contributed.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley