During Bears Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Philips’ afternoon press conference, to discuss among other things their firings of general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman, the question was specifically asked whether quarterback Jay Cutler, or any other players for that matter, would be involved in the process of hiring a new general manager and head coach. Said McCaskey of Cutler:
I’m a fan of Jay’s personally and I’m a fan of Jay’s professionally. But all of the personnel decisions are going to be up to the new general manager and the new head coach.
While being a fairly simple statement, it spoke loudly of management’s stance that it would not interfere with player personnel decisions, and in particular with Cutler and his contract hanging over the collective heads of the team. For Bears fans this is a very good sign.
So now the question becomes, what is Cutler’s future with the Bears?
Well several things are in play here.
First, is the contract. Currently Cutler is scheduled to make $15.5 million for 2015, and that money is already guaranteed. Another $10.0 million will kick in guaranteed on the third day of the league year March 12th, so a decision and move of Cutler would have to happen before that date to save at least that amount (It should be noted that with the premature endings of both Trestman and Emery’s tenures, the Bears will end up eating roughly $15.0 million in salary to move on so the notion that the McCaskey’s won’t eat money to do the right thing by the team may be an outdated one now).
So while there is a sizeable chunk of money involved, it isn’t completely insurmountable to move on from Cutler if that’s what the new staff decides is best for the team. Obviously a trade would be ideal, which would move the quarterback and save the Bears the guaranteed money altogether, although a scenario would certainly exist that the Bears would eat a portion of salary to move Cutler if the trade partner thought the price tag was a bit too high for their taste. The Bears throwing in a mid-round draft pick could be another sweetener if necessary. But the good news for the Bears is there does appear to be a market for Cutler, as he is still viewed as a better option than many of the available quarterbacks who are destined for free agency or available via the draft, so an outright release is probably avoidable even though an offset clause in Cutler’s contract could save the Bears some money depending on his new salary.
And that gets me to the next point – if the new GM and coach decide moving Cutler is the best option for whatever reasons, then what’s the back-up plan at the position? Like I just stated the quarterback crop in free agency and the draft is disappointingly thin, so the new staff would have to really look hard at whether another option such as Mark Sanchez, Brian Hoyer, etc. would be better than simply retaining Cutler’s services for at least another season. Perhaps going into 2015 with current back-ups Jimmy Clausen and David Fales, and maybe another arm to compete in camp, would be enough to get the team through a rebuilding process while looking to draft their future quarterback in 2015 or 2016? Very hard to say at this point what the best option is and it’s something the new GM and coach would have to address quickly.
Finally, and probably the biggest factor in the decision, is what the new staff actually thinks of Cutler as a player and a leader. And don’t worry I’m not going to rehash all the constant bashing pertaining to Cutler that we hear on a daily basis, being his body language and visible leadership quirks and all the rest. I do know that his fellow and former teammates for the most part think highly of him, believe in him as a quarterback, are willing to follow him, and know he works hard. That may not resonate outside of Halas Hall with fans and media who think it’s a lot of teammate lip service, but it certainly should with the new staff if they get that same sense of Cutler.
However Cutler and those around him must also resign themselves to the fact that overall he is a flawed quarterback, and the several attempts by coaches to get him going down the right path hasn’t worked out in the long-term. So the new staff cannot come into Halas Hall with visions of miraculously turning Cutler into an elite quarterback given his natural talents. And Cutler, with another new coach and system to learn, must understand that his tenure as the Bears quarterback if lucky enough to get another season is no longer guaranteed, so his production on the field is what will determine his ultimate fate his current contract be damned. Certainly improvements can be made, even outside of just Cutler on the offense, to help the group on the whole to be much better than they were this past season.
What do I think? My personal opinion is that it’s time for the Bears and Cutler to part ways, and not because I have dislike for Cutler as many do, but just because sometimes a clean divorce is best for everyone involved. Reset the position on the offense, even if it means a year or two (hopefully no more) using a stop-gap option until a franchise quarterback can be found and groomed. Cutler could probably use a change of scenery himself, a fresh start in a new city with a new fanbase and media coverage. Cutler may not ever be able to run from his demons self-inflicted or not, but Chicago isn’t exactly the easiest market to survive in, especially when your performance and pay do not add up. The Bears also need severe help on defense and special teams, so unless Cutler is going to play like an elite quarterback to match his salary that money should be used much more productively elsewhere.
Time will soon tell, but at least it appears Cutler won’t be a deciding factor in who the Bears hire to fill these important positions, and that’s how it should be.