LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The thought crossed Jay Cutler's mind as soon as he found out he was being benched: He might have played his final game for Chicago.
The Bears announced Thursday that they will start Jimmy Clausen against the Detroit Lions on Sunday instead of the man who signed a massive, seven-year deal at the end of last season.
Coach Marc Trestman said Cutler will be available as the backup at Soldier Field, where boos have rained down on a punchless, porous team that is now 5-9 and playing out the string after starting the season with legitimate hopes of a playoff run. They will miss the postseason for the seventh time in eight years and it's unclear whether Trestman - or Cutler - will be back for another try next year.
''I would like to stay here,'' Cutler said. ''I really like it here. I love the guys in the locker room that I get to play with. Clearly, it's a different circumstance now. But going forward, this is where I'd like to be.''
The move comes after Trestman pledged his allegiance to Cutler as the starter several times the past few weeks.
''Certainly, it was not an easy decision,'' Trestman said. ''In my mind those types of decisions never are, and I worked it through and think it through not only myself but with our staff.''
Trestman said he met with general manager Phil Emery on Tuesday and informed Cutler and Clausen of his decision on Wednesday. He met again with Emery later in the day to discuss his decision and informed the staff that night.
Did Emery support the decision?
Trestman paused for a few seconds, then said: ''That's the way we are with each other. When we make decisions, we support it. We give our opinions and then we actively and passionately support each other with the decisions that we have to make. That's the way it's been the last two years. We talk thoroughly about it. We talk analytically about it. We talk passionately about it. And once a decision is made, we support each other.''
Cutler was taken aback by the decision, saying that he was ''Shocked, I think at first. And then, I think disappointed.''
He said he could play for Trestman next season, although there would have to be some mending to the relationship during the offseason.
Asked if he believed the team was committed to him, Cutler responded: ''I don't know if I can answer that.''
Does he wonder about that?
''Yeah,'' Cutler said. ''I think everyone would. It's a natural response to wonder that.''
The switch adds more fuel to the idea that the Bears are in a state of dysfunction and that the future of everyone from Emery on down is open to discussion. There has been plenty of speculation about Trestman, now in his second year, not to mention defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer.
Cutler's future is also in question despite the big contract.
''All I know is there's a lot of money involved in my contract, which comes with a lot of expectations and a lot of responsibility,'' he said, when asked if the change was fair. ''And whenever you're not winning and performing the way you should, there's a likelihood that could happen.''
Cutler leads the league in interceptions (18) and turnovers (24) and he was benched after arguably his worst game of the season in Monday's loss to New Orleans. He threw three interceptions and got sacked a season-high seven times as the Bears fell meekly at home to the Saints, 31-15. That performance came after Kromer admitting he was a source behind a report by the NFL Network criticizing the quarterback's ability to identify when plays should be changed at the line.
Kromer might have sealed his fate with his leak and admission. But there could be a long list of personnel taking the fall.
The defense has ranked among the league's worst in two years with Tucker, and the offense has taken a big step back in Year 2 under Trestman.
Then there's Emery, who fired Lovie Smith after a 10-win season in 2012 and chose Trestman over Bruce Arians, now rolling with the Cardinals. He also signed Cutler to that seven-year contract at the end of last season when the Bears could have applied the franchise tag instead.
Even so, the timing of the benching seems curious considering the Bears are out of contention. Trestman, who came with a reputation for getting the most out of quarterbacks, acknowledged this week that has not happened with Cutler.
So the Bears are going with Clausen, the former Notre Dame star. He has appeared in three games this season and attempted nine passes, completing three. H
''Obviously, it's tough on him,'' Clausen, who was 1-9 in 10 starts as a rookie with Carolina in 2010, said of Cutler. ''Being the starting quarterback and coach going a different way, it's obviously going to be tough on him, but he's been great with me.''
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