Fire

Bears' biggest decision will focus around Cutler

964745.png

Bears' biggest decision will focus around Cutler

Screams to fire Lovie Smith have been bouncing off downtown Chicago buildings for the last couple weeks, and as the rest of the regular season winds down, that decision will work itself out based on the team's final number of wins and losses.

But a much more difficult decision the Bears brass will face is what to do with Jay Cutler. The Bears quarterback, like his head coach, has one more year left on his contract.

Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst Jim Miller recently said he thought the team should not extend Cutler based on his injuries alone, and while I agree with that, I would take it one step further and question whether Cutler has earned a new contract and even bigger money based on his play.

Quarterbacks are defined by the numbers they post and the amount of wins they bring to their team. It's an evaluation that can be much more difficult than judging a head coach.

Here's a look at Cutler's four season with the Bears:

In his first season, he threw for 3,666 yards with 27 touchdowns. The negative was the 26 interceptions, a whopping number that killed many drives. The Bears finished 7-9 that year.

In 2010, Cutler threw for 3,274 yards with 23 touchdowns and another 16 picks. The big difference from the season prior was the fact the Bears reached the NFC title game, which was lost to Green Bay.

The 2011 season was cut short due to Cutler's thumb injury, but he did have the team on pace for a playoff run.

But there are a couple of factors that have to be considered as well:

Cutler has played with three different offensive coordinators since arriving in Chicago, which is typically a disaster for any quarterback in the league. He's played with an offensive line that most people would agree has been sub-par. On the flip side, Aaron Rodgers has played behind an equally poor front but has continued to produce and win games, including a Super Bowl.

Has Cutler made the team better? Bears general manager Phil Emery will have to decide if Cutler is truly a franchise quarterback. This season, he's near the bottom in completion percentage at 59.7 percent and has throw 14 more interceptions and only 17 touchdowns.

Young QBs providing a threat

Something that may hurt Cutler is the number of young quarterbacks that are thriving in the league, including rookies Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. All three of their teams are in the playoff mix.

Seeing Kirk Cousins' production on the field has been an eye-opener too -- another rookie who fills in for the Redskins and in one game pulls out a victory, followed up by throwing for over 300 yards and leading Washington to another win. You see a player like Colin Kaepernick, a second-year quarterback who has started a handful of games, but has led San Francisco to a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Emery may decide there is a better direction to go rather that re-signing Cutler. It's been proven by teams like the Colts that blowing things up and starting over isn't always a bad decision.

Remember the Broncos let Cutler go in the prime of his career. NFL teams don't do that if they feel they have a franchise quarterback.

Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning (injury factored in) were all let go by the teams they led to Super Bowls. Cutler is not in the same league, so it shouldn't be an open-and-shut case that he remains the Bears' signal caller into the future.

He has to prove he deserves it.

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

joao-1118.jpg
USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16