The Chicago Bears entered this offseason with what could only be defined as a conundrum.
Fresh off hiring a new front office in coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace, the franchise had to figure out which direction it was heading. Clearly there was plenty to be fixed, starting with a defense which leaked like a sieve during the entire 2014 season.
However, the biggest issue was deciding what to do with two specific players, men who were both marquee names on the offense, but also lightning rods for criticism throughout the city. Wideout Brandon Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler have seen their fair share of critiques during their time in the Windy City, but never more than last year. Both were labeled as locker room malcontents who were doing nothing to help the team dig itself out from an ugly season. Worth noting, too, was the fact each carried a massive cap hit if they remained on the roster this year.
Well, one domino has already fallen for the Bears. It was announced this morning the team had sent Marshall to the New York Jets. In doing so, they avoided having to pay a guaranteed sum of $7.5 million which would’ve kicked in had he been on the roster next week.
However, as the dust is still settling off this move, you can’t help but wonder what’s next. Most importantly, now that Marshall has been removed from the equation, is Cutler next to go?
It’s no secret Cutler is an extremely divisive figure in Chicago. His trademark indifference, in addition to his numerous backbreaking turnovers, has gone a long way towards making him someone the fans love to hate. Additionally, if he’s still on the team come March 10, the Bears will owe him $10 million guaranteed for the 2016 season on top of the money owed to him this year. It’s a significant hit to take on, especially for someone who doesn’t seem to have much support from the organization.
Neither Fox nor Pace have really come out and shown measurable backing towards the idea of winning with the controversial quarterback. Despite being asked multiple times whether or not he believes Cutler is the man for the job, Fox has continually dodged the question, saying the situation is up for evaluation.
However, things got even more interesting when reports surfaced this week claiming at least ten different coaches – from both the Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman regimes – left Chicago with full belief the team would never win with Cutler at the helm. Anonymous teammates have voiced their displeasure with him, as well. This, of course, comes after a season in which former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer told a reporter Cutler’s play had been killing the Bears.
So, it goes without saying the popular belief is Chicago would much rather head into the upcoming season without Cutler in the locker room. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has gone on record as saying teams around the league are well aware Cutler is available. That said, there’s a big difference between a player being available and teams having any interest.
Cutler brings a lot to the table, at least from a physical standpoint. He can make all the throws on the field, and his arm strength certainly comes off as appealing to coaches and GMs alike. But, there are two big factors which would give anyone pause on pursuing him: his extreme lack of leadership qualities and his enormous cap hit.
There always seems to be a common belief among coaching staffs that they can be the ones who can finally fix a player a lot of people have given up on. It’s a certain level of confidence, leading one to think “you know, this guy has struggled everywhere, but I bet I can get through to him.” That said, Cutler has been through multiple regimes during his nine seasons in the NFL, none of which have changed him even the slightest bit. He still seems to be the same guy who carries the label of someone who’s talented, but will never win the big game.
Because of this, Chicago has a tough sell when it comes to convincing a team to try and trade for Cutler. The quarterback has been around the league for quite some time now, and the song remains the same about him. Why bother trying to change someone who doesn’t appear willing to even consider it? Why bring such a controversial player into the locker room when you can pretty much guarantee you know what’s going to happen?
Additionally, just as Cutler’s reputation makes him difficult to sell, his price tag isn’t doing any favors either. Any team who’d consider trading for him knows going in they would owe him $15.5 million for this season alone. It’s a whole lot of money for someone whose reputation isn’t exactly the best in the league.
If the Bears can’t convince anyone Cutler is totally worth this kind of money, they could just try to release him. Of course, by doing so, they’d need to pay the $15.5 million just for the right to get rid of him. Sure, the team would prefer to cut ties with Cutler, but are they willing to pay him a ton of money just to make him go away?
Well, we’ll find out soon, won’t we? By dealing Marshall today, the Bears are showing the league they’re serious about trying to clear both cap space and questionable character out of their locker room. However, it goes without saying that dealing Marshall will be a whole lot easier than ridding themselves of Cutler.
Chicago has quite a task in front of them. They aren’t sold on Cutler, and would very much like to move him. However, trying to sell a quarterback who doesn’t appear to care much about winning and who also carries with him a ton of guaranteed money isn’t exactly what you’d call easy.
The team has just days to make a decision. Cutler is a member of the Bears, for now. Will this still be the case next week? Only time will tell.