By benching Cutler, Bears make statement about franchise's future
The dysfunction in Chicago continues. Two days after a listless and ugly loss to the Saints at home on Monday Night Football, the Bears have benched quarterback Jay Cutler, casting doubt on the signal-caller’s future in Chicago and the fate of head coach Marc Trestman.
The benching comes on the heels of a report that the Bears (5-9) were having “buyer’s remorse” over the seven-year, $126.7 million contract ($54 million guaranteed) given to Cutler earlier this year. While the team and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer denied such regret, this move certainly suggests otherwise.
Cutler, in his ninth year and sixth in Chicago, threw three picks Monday, giving him an NFL-high 24 turnovers. He’s been erratic even when he’s not turning it over and has received criticism for his lack of game management skills. As Doug Farrar noted Monday, at this point, he seems to be giving off an air of capitulation that’s notable even for someone with his history of poor body language.
Has Cutler started his last game for the Bears? Performance won’t be the only factor in such a decision. Cutler is owed $15.5 million next season, which is reportedly fully guaranteed. That’ll make trading the embattled signal-caller tough, but QB-needy teams such as the Jets, Rams, Bills and Buccaneers would certainly consider Cutler if they miss out on the top QBs in the draft. Remember, he’s just two years removed from leading the Bears to a 10-5 record (he missed one game in the regular season), and those teams are starting the likes of Geno Smith and Shaun Hill. If a trade does happen, Chicago can’t expect much in return given the financial considerations and Cutler’s rocky season.
Starting in place of Cutler on Sunday will be former Notre Dame star Jimmy Clausen. The fifth-year quarterback has had an unremarkable career to this point: a 1-9 record his rookie season in Carolina and little action since.
"He stood tall through a lot of tough times in Carolina, and gained the respect of his teammates and the team there with the way he handled himself in a very, very difficult year," Trestman said in naming Clausen the Bears’ backup in August.
The move to Clausen is a curious one. One could make the case that he hasn’t had a chance to really play outside of that tumultuous rookie year in Carolina -- conditions won’t be much better in Chicago over the final two games -- but he’s 27 and playing on a one-year contract. Further down the depth chart is rookie David Fales, the Bears’ sixth-round pick. Fales wasn’t a physical marvel at San Jose State, but he showed good accuracy and decision-making, compiling 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions on 72.5 percent passing his junior year. Why not see what the rookie can do?
What does all this mean for Trestman’s future? Reports out of Chicago on Tuesday suggested Trestman’s fate was sealed, but if he’s able to coax a strong performance from Clausen, perhaps ownership could be swayed. Trestman made Josh McCown look like a Pro Bowler last season; would a resurrection of Clausen really be more surprising?
"Moving forward, there's definitely gonna be people saying that this was the wrong move,” Cutler said upon receiving his contract extension. “That's fine. That's their opinion. The people in this building will stick together and we'll keep going in the direction that we think is right."
The Bears did move in the direction they thought was right Wednesday. Unfortunately for Cutler, it’s clear he’s no longer part of their plan.