The Chicago Bears locked up quarterback Jay Cutler for the long term on Thursday with a seven-year contract, a move that might finally also secure some stability on the club’s offense.

“It rewards Jay, and it helps the team continue to be able to build a championship-level team,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said.

Throughout his tenure in Chicago, Cutler has rightfully received plenty of criticism for several things, ranging from truculence with the media and demeanor in games, to a record of futility against NFC North rival Green Bay. But what was undeniable for Cutler in 2013 is the fact he improved tremendously during his first season in a new offense under Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer.

Emery saw as much almost immediately, and admitted it.

In leading the Bears to a 3-0 record to start the season, Cutler completed 67.3 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and three interceptions to go with a passer rating of 94.2. At that point, Emery knew “we were headed in the right direction” in regards to Cutler.

But when Cutler suffered a groin injury on Oct. 20 at Washington, Emery had to pump the brakes on rushing to hand the quarterback a new deal.

Cutler returned too quickly from the groin injury and played in the club’s Nov. 10 matchup against the Detroit Lions. Largely ineffective in that outing, Cutler finished with a passer rating of 69.8, a performance Emery admitted “wasn’t his best day.”

“But you know what? He battled back and he put us in a position” to tie the game, Emery said. How Cutler handled that adversity provided more evidence that Chicago needed him for the long term. In that game, Cutler suffered an ankle injury that would put him on the shelf for the next four games while backup Josh McCown performed well enough to conjure discussion about a potential quarterback controversy.