For Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, he once again entered the season with a new offensive coordinator but for a change, a new head coach. And again he had to learn a new offensive system but this year, he is playing in a contract year changing the storyline.
Cutler has shown improvement under a new coach, the quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman, as well as his improved offensive line. Even his offensive weapons have produced. But as fate would have it, the player went down with a torn groin muscle in last week’s game against the Washington Redskins. Cutler will be out a minimum of four weeks (wide receiver pal Brandon Marshall predicts two weeks) and you can’t help but ask, will he be back next season or is it time to move on?
For Bears fans, their first reaction is it’s time to move on but a closer look may change their mind. With a penchant for getting injured, without Cutler on the sidelines, the team’s 7-3 and 7-1 starts have imploded with a backup on the field.
First there was 2011 when Cutler broke his thumb and ended his season there. The Bears went on to finish 1-5 in his absence. There was no postseason. Last season, Cutler’s Week 10 concussion started the team’s downward spiral that ended coach Lovie Smith’s tenure.
Now in the middle of the 2013 season, the Bears are again in a similar situation. At 4-3, they will look for backup Josh McCown to take over the reins and keep the team on course. Once–and maybe if Cutler possibly in December, the Bears’ season could either essentially be over or with success under McCown, the team could give a nod to Trestman as one who can again bring the best out of any quarterback (see Rich Gannon).
With Cutler’s return it could go two ways. If he succeeds and leads the team to the postseason, it could build his case to return in 2014. But if Cutler plays inconsistently and the team sees no January play, there could be the old groin injury excuse, maybe cut Cutler a little slack.
As his season has come to a temporary halt, it includes 1,658 yards (65 percent pass completion and a 91.7 passer rating), 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Maybe, this could be Cutler’s 2013 stat line. Is this good enough or should we look at the alternatives?
One option, should the Bears decide to stick with Cutler in 2014 at age 31, is the franchise tag. Let’s say $15 million? Somehow I think he’d be insulted as many have assumed Cutler will want the going elite quarterback rate: the $100 million payday.
Or, as suggested by the Chicago Tribune’s Dave Haugh, given Cutler’s history of injuries, his lack of postseason play and inconsistencies, should the team give him a new contract, what about a four-year, $60 million deal?
Then there’s a Bears future without Cutler. The 2014 NFL draft class has a lot of talented quarterback candidates. Why not pick up one of these incoming rookies and let him flourish under the Trestman system? It would also free up some money to spend on the aging Bears defense.
Once again, time will tell with Cutler. Just as he’ll wait for his injury to heal, again Bears fans will also have to be patient. Unfortunately, they’re getting very used to this.