It has long been speculated that the Bears would jettison quarterback Jay Cutler after the 2016 season as they search for a younger option with more upside. Cutler’s contract has largely driven that speculation, as the seven-year, $126MM deal that he signed with the Bears in January 2014 provides for no more guaranteed money once the 2016 campaign is over. As such, Chicago could save $14MM against the cap by releasing Cutler, thereby allowing the club to start afresh at the quarterback position.
But while Cutler’s release is still a strong possibility, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports that the Vanderbilt product could remain in the Windy City next year. After all, he is owed a $12.5MM base salary in 2017 to go along with $2.5MM in roster bonuses, which is hardly unpalatable for a starting signal-caller in today’s NFL. Plus, this year’s quarterback draft class is considered very weak, and Brian Hoyer, who performed well in limited action for the Bears this season before he was placed on IR with a broken forearm, will be a free agent at season’s end. And even though head coach John Fox is far from Cutler’s biggest fan, Fox is no lock to keep his job.
From my vantage point, it would still be something of a surprise to see Cutler back with Chicago in 2017. For the last several seasons, a quarterback has not been the best player on the board when the Bears have been on the clock, and it would not have made sense for the team to reach for a signal-caller when they had a solid quarterback on the roster with guaranteed money still to be paid. But now that the guaranteed money is gone, it would be especially difficult to continue with a 33-year-old quarterback who has a 51-51 record and only one playoff victory in seven-plus seasons in Chicago.
Cutler, of course, is also dealing with significant injury concerns. He has a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which has already been beset by significant wear-and-tear from years of bumps, bruises, and countless throws. The result is painful tendonitis that threatens to end his season, although he has not been officially ruled out for the remainder of 2016.
At this point, the Bears may need to make a change just for change’s sake. Though Cutler enjoyed a strong season under former offensive coordinator Adam Gase in 2015, he is clearly not the long-term solution in Chicago, and the Bears should probably divert their resources elsewhere in 2017.
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