by Kent Sterling
Jay Cutler is not a bad quarterback, and the Chicago Bears didn’t lose to the Green Bay Packers yesterday because of his play. But the Bears don’t win enough with Cutler to justify a pricey extension that will prevent the Bears from using their money to bolster other areas of need (like the worst rushing defense in the NFL).
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday movie staple that allows humdrum banker George Bailey to see what life would have been life for others if he had never been born. Depending upon the quality of the life led, the chance to view it as though you never existed can be a gift or a curse. Cutler, Bears fans, and the media got a solid glimpse of the Bears offense without Cutler, and nothing backup Josh McCown did during his five starts made anyone pine for Cutler’s return.
With Cutler as a starter in 2013, the Bears were 5-6. McCown led the Bears to a 3-2 record. No one would argue that the 34 year-old McCown is a legitimate franchise quarterback, but his comparative success in running Marc Trestman’s offense is undeniable.
In his five starts, McCown threw 11 touchdown passes and only one pick. His passer rating was never below 90 in any of the starts, and in his last three starts came in at 102.4, 114.9, and 141.9.
Cutler’s quarterback rating in 2013 was 89.2 – the highest of his eight-year career. He three 19 TD passes and 13 picks, including one yesterday.
In only one season has Cutler managed to lead his team to the playoffs – in 2010, when the Bears lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship at Soldier Field.
The reason to move on without Cutler has nothing to do with last night’s inability to beat the Packers in a winner takes the NFC North battle, but in the consistent mediocre-to-good play that has kept his Bears and Broncos from excelling.
Cutler will turn 31 in April, and that means that past is prologue for the native of Santa Claus, Indiana. He isn’t going to have a breakthrough season. Cutler will be the quarterback that he has been, and that level of play, especially as the defense has unraveled, will not be enough to propel the Bears deep into the playoffs.
The unfortunate truth for Cutler is that he will never be the best quarterback in the NFC North or a top ten QB in the NFL, and doesn’t have a package of attributes that will allow him to enter the elite club of NFL quarterbacks. Minus a dominating defense, it takes an elite quarterback to win in the NFL.
At no point in his career has Cutler been elite, or shown himself capable of playing at that level.
The Bears will sit down over the next two months to decide whether the risk that the offense will take a step backwards without Cutler as they try to rebuild their defense is worth letting him leave. Allowing Cutler to sign with the Vikings, Raiders, Jaguars, or other club in need of the kind of upgrade Cutler would represent is not without downside. If Cutler signs with the Vikings, and Minnesota goes 8-8 while the Bears drop to 6-10, someone is going to get fired.
Because NFL coaches and GMs are especially keen on retaining their jobs, Cutler may have the leverage needed to stay in Chicago. Minus the fear of unemployment, there is no justification for keeping a quarterback whose decision making creates turnovers, and leads to wins roughly as often as losses (56-49 in eight seasons).
Let me pose a question to you to gauge your ability to make the right call in a potentially sticky situation:
You are the quarterback of an NFL team drinking a few beers with teammates at a bar with three teammates in the city where you play. A table of similarly sized athletic guys from a rival NFL team’s city start to playfully make jokes at your expense. What do you do?
- A – Rush to the table, and throw a punch at the biggest of the guys.
- B – Call the manager over, complain, and ask that the guys be removed from the bar.
- C – Diffuse the situation by buying a round of beers for the table.
Selection A is an old school option that might get you sued, and would almost surely land you on TMZ. Choosing B is a weasel play that shows you are unwilling to solve a problem yourself. Buying a bucket of beers shows you are a good guy, and likely results in winning the guys over. You show yourself that you are a good guy yourself, and even though rivalries make for friction among fans, there is no quicker way to win a guy’s admiration that buying him a free beer.
In this exact situation, Cutler called over the manager and had some member of Loyola’s basketball team tossed from a north side bar. If a team can’t trust a quarterback to make the right choice in a simple social situation, how can a team invest $50 million over four years in him.
So unless the Bears front office chooses job security over the chance to succeed, Cutler will be the latest Bears gunslinger to fall short, and the latest to fail to be the Bears starter for a sixth consecutive season. The last Bears QB to start the most games for six straight seasons – the late great Ed Brown who did it from 1955-1960 while also serving as the punter.