Could the Chicago Bears trade Jay Cutler after the season?
That news from ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday, who reported that the Bears could shave $12.5 million off their 2015 cap number by unloading the 31-year-old QB. Of course, that assumes another team would be willing to pick up the fully guaranteed $15.5 million owed Cutler for next season, plus $16 million for 2016 which becomes guaranteed before that season begins.
There is limited money promised to Cutler beyond that (a prorated signing bonus from 2016-18 plus possible roster bonuses from '17-20, per OvertheCap.com); the overall $18.1 million per-year average on Cutler's contract currently makes him the seventh highest-paid QB in the league, ahead of the likes of Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford.
"Moving forward, there's definitely gonna be people saying that this was the wrong move. That's fine. That's their opinion," Cutler said after signing his new contract. "The people in this building will stick together, and we'll keep going in the direction that we think is right."
Cutler has been one of many under fire with Chicago off to a disappointing 3-6 start. Statistically, though, he's still on pace to break his career-high in TD passes (26) and to top 4,000 yards on the season.
It's a definite longshot that Cutler can be moved given the aforementioned financial terms on his deal. It's no secret which teams could be looking for new starting quarterbacks this coming offseason: Tennessee, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Houston and the Jets among the most obvious.
Would rolling the dice on a high-priced veteran over drafting a QB or hitting free agency be worthwhile?
A 2015 QB draft class that's shaping up to be relatively thin and a free-agent group that may match could push a franchise in Cutler's direction, with Tampa Bay being the clear wild card in any Cutler rumors. (On the other hand, those factors also point toward Chicago keeping Cutler and hoping he rediscovers his mojo.)
Though part of the reason Lovie Smith was let go by the Bears had to do with the offense failing to reach elite levels, Cutler did win 34 regular-season games and help Chicago to a playoff berth under Smith's watch. Smith's Buccaneers have shuffled between Mike Glennon and Cutler's former Bears backup, Josh McCown, at quarterback this season. Neither appears to be the long-term answer.
Even with Cutler's history and potentially rising desperation levels in other spots shy on QB talent, there likely would not be much in compensation coming back the Bears way in any trade. The extra cap space and ability to move another direction would have to be enough, with a conditional draft pick or two about all that feels realistic as a price tag.
That is a long way from what the Bears paid to land Cutler back in 2009: they sent Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to Denver for Cutler and a fifth-rounder.
Thanks in large part to his contract, Cutler no longer carries anywhere near that level of value on the trade market.
A lot of variables have to add up for a Cutler trade to make sense. While the seemingly imminent coaching (and GM?) change coming to the Windy City might put all rebuilding options on the table, the Bears still would need to find another team willing to throw its full support behind the oft-criticized QB.