Jay Cutler has often liked to say that it takes three years before players can master an offense and play it at the highest level. While true for the most part, the fact is he doesn’t have that kind of time. With the 2013 season passing by fast, what will the Chicago Bears do with him once it ends?
Marc Trestman effect shows positive signs but injuries are a problem
The decision would be an easy one if the Bears were losing and Cutler wasn’t playing well. Unfortunately, in typical team fashion they are 5-4 coming off a game they could’ve won with Jay hurt. It’s the kind of mind-numbingly consistent scenario that has dogged the entire era since his arrival in 2009. At times he look great, at times he doesn’t and the rest of the time he’s hurt. The hope was that new head coach Marc Trestman could bring some life to the offense, helping Cutler improve not just through better personnel around him but through better teaching. Indeed every position from the wide receivers to the offensive line have substantially stepped up their game. Cutler appeared to be doing that as well over the first half of the season. He was on pace to crack 4,000 yards passing with 32 touchdowns and career highs in quarterback rating and completion percentage. Then he hurt his groin in Washington, followed by a quick return that resulted in a high ankle sprain. Trestman can only protect Jay so much with his play calling and protection up front. At some point it has to become clear that for all his physical skill Cutler isn’t quick enough on his reads to protect himself from hits by the defense. That is why he gets hurt and is often why he gives the ball away so much. It’s gotten to a point where the Bears realize the payoff is not worth the potential
Depth of the 2014 NFL draft may prove key to the decision
So the question at hand is what can the Chicago Bears front office do next off-season. The simplest solution is letting Cutler go as a free agent. It saves them a boatload of money and allows Trestman to focus his entire effort on molding a rookie they are almost certain to take early in the 2014 NFL draft. However, that strategy has a lot of risks because drafting rookies offer few guarantees, and there is also a chance Cutler lands somewhere close by such as Minnesota, who are also in the hunt for a quarterback. The next option is to give him a long-term extension. Jay has already said he’d gladly give a hometown discount and the added injury concerns could drop the price even further. This would keep the position stable, but at the same time commit a lot of salary cap to a player who has one playoff appearance in his career. Last but no least, there is the franchise tag. It would cost the team a lot of money up front, somewhere between $12 to $15 million. On the plus side though, it keeps Cutler on the team for another year, giving him a chance to continue improving under Trestman but with no long-term commitment. It also would free the Bears from having to take a rookie quarterback early in the draft. They could instead take advantage of its much-talked about depth and find a young arm on day two or three, freeing up the early rounds for reloading the defense.
In truth the Chicago Bears have hinted they will draft a quarterback in 2014. What everybody wants to know is not whether it will happen, but whether it will be intended to replace Jay Cutler right away or down the road.