Bears' Jay Cutler set to undergo surgery, done for season

Bears' Jay Cutler set to undergo surgery, done for season

His last pass as a Chicago Bear in the 2016 season, and likely for good, was intercepted, by the New York Giants. Somehow it seems an appropriate exit note for quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Bears had been holding out some hope that Cutler would be able to recover enough from a shoulder injury suffered in the game against the Giants. But hope turned to unpleasant reality on Thursday when the Bears announced that Cutler would undergo labrum surgery on his right shoulder Saturday and be placed on injured reserve.

"He's tough and waited the weeks doing a lot of rehab," said coach John Fox. "They are in there doing rehab at all hours of the day. There were some different treatments. I'm not going to get into all the specifics, but he did things you do to try and avoid surgery. They didn't take form like they were expecting, and we're at the surgical mode at this point."

The longer-term impact on Cutler and the Bears remains to play out in 2017. "The offseason is the offseason,” Fox said. “We are not there yet."

The injury removes any chance of Cutler stepping back in this year, meaning that Matt Barkley is the franchise’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, backed up by David Fales.

“It [stinks],” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “It’s unfortunate and we’d love to have him out there. But there’s nothing we can do. We can’t go back in time, and Barkley’s playing real well and was that last game. I know Barkley from [Arizona] and what kind of guy he is, so he’ll be fine.”

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

The Bears may not be able to go back in time but looking forward in time, into next offseason, is possible, and the Bears will be with Cutler, who did not miss a game due to injury in his first four NFL seasons but has not played a 16-game schedule since the Bears traded for him in 2009.

The Cutler injury history looms as a factor in the Bears’ deliberations on Cutler, and potentially on other teams considering a move to bring him in as their starter.

The injury list:

2016 11 Thumb, Shoulder
2015 1 Hamstring
2014 1 Benched (non-injury)
2013 5 Groin, Ankle
2012 1 Concussion
2011 6 Hand
2010 1 Concussion

Cutler was signed to a seven-year contract topping out at $126.5 million after the 2013 season, with then-GM Phil Emery using words like “franchise quarterback” and “elite” to characterize Cutler. The guaranteed money in the contract is done with this season, meaning the Bears have no money committed to him going forward.

The Bears opted to stay with Cutler last year on the strength of support from then-offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Cutler produced the best full season statistically under Gase, who left to become Miami Dolphins coach after the 2015 season.

Cutler regressed this year, from a career-best passer rating of 92.3 last season and a dramatic reduction in turnovers, to a lackluster 78.1 rating in his five games played this season, which finished with 4 touchdown passes vs. 5 interceptions in addition to 3 fumbles lost.

Cutler’s return for a ninth Chicago is a longshot given his failure to reach the playoffs in all but the 2010 season. But decisions in that regard will trickle out and probably not until the Bears have exhausted trade possibilities, such as then might be.

“Like everything else we do, basically we won’t [make a move on Cutler] until that time,” Fox said. “I think right now we have five games left and all our focus for myself, the coaching staff and the players is on San Francisco.”

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

USA Today

The Bears are getting key contributors Bilal Nichols and Taylor Gabriel back sooner than later

The Bears returned to Halas Hall with a flurry of injury updates, most notably involving Kyle Long and Mitch Trubisky

And while the starting quarterback for Sunday's game against New Orleans is still TBD, wide reciever Taylor Gabriel will be back out there. Gabriel technically announced his return via Instagram on Sunday night, but confirmed to reporters on Monday that he's been cleared to play. 

"It’s just good to be back, to be around the guys," he said. "To be on the sideline just watching what’s been going on, I’ve been hungry to get back on the field... I probably practiced the hardest I’ve ever practiced in my life. I just had fun, and am glad I’m back." 

Gabriel suffered a concussion in the second half of the Bears' win in D.C., and dealt with the lingering effects of it up until last week. 

"I just woke up and I felt like myself," he said. "It was just a blessing. You always hear about concussions and all the crazy things. The athletic trainer, they did a great job with the whole process. I’m glad that I’m back."

Gabriel was coming off the best game of his Bears tenure: a six-catch, 75 yard performance that included three first-half touchdowns. The third touchdown – a 36-yarder featuring a highlight-reel catch – showcased the type of wrinkle that the Trubisky-Gabriel connection can bring to the offense. 

"The one thing that Taylor brings is he has that one element of downfield speed that helps out," Matt Nagy said. "So you’re able to take the top off of some defenses with him. And then he’s one of those wide receivers for us, like Allen Robinson, he’s got experience. So there’s a calming in the huddle that you understand that he knows what to do versus certain coverages. He’s coming off a pretty good game in Washington, and unfortunately got hurt, but there’s a calming element to him and then being able to take the top off.”

The Bears also had good news regarding second-year defensive tackle Bilal Nichols. Nichols returned to practice for the first time since breaking his hand during the Week 2 win in Denver. It's especially good news considering the team expects to be without Akiem Hicks sidelined for the foreseeable future. 

"[I] felt good today," Nichols said. "Just trying to continue to keep moving in the right direction and we'll see where it goes." 

Nichols wouldn't commit to playing on Sunday, and plans to see how he feels after a full week of practice. Nagy indicated that, at this point in his recovery, it's more about getting back into playing shape. 

"He’s been out a couple weeks, so now it’s just the ability for him to show probably more conditioning than anything," he said. "He has that cast on him, but he has the fingers that he’s able to use. Again, if you’re able to be out there and you’re able to suit up and go out there, then to me, let’s go.”

If Nichols is able to play against New Orleans, he'll do so wearing a club for extra protection. This was the first hand injury he's ever suffered, and Nichols admitted that playing with the cast takes some getting used to. Leonard Floyd wore the same type of club during the first half of last season, and has talked with Nichols about how to deal with it. 

"He's giving me a lot of insight and what to expect," Nichols said. "And things that he did that helped him out a lot. You know, we'll see. I'm going to try some things out."

Putting Kyle Long on IR was necessary for the Bears, but that doesn't make it sting any less

USA Today

Putting Kyle Long on IR was necessary for the Bears, but that doesn't make it sting any less

For the fourth season in a row, Kyle Long’s season ends on injured reserve. 

Matt Nagy opened Monday's daily press conference –– his first since the morning after losing to Oakland –– officially announcing that the right guard’s season is over. 

“Obviously everyone has seen the news [about] Kyle, with putting him on the IR,” he said. “I think it's a tough situation just because of what he's been going through and where he's at … He's always been really good to us and what he's done. We just felt like that was where he's at right now and it's what we wanted to do.” 

Long’s nagging hip injury was clearly affecting his play, and the team felt – given all the run game struggles – that trying to fight through it on a week-by-week basis was no longer a realistic option. And while it’s true that Long came into 2019 camp as healthy as he’d been in years, the wear and tear of three injury-shortened seasons on the 30-year old guard were evident. 

The news was especially tough to swallow for those around Halas Hall given Long’s reputation among teammates and coaches. A first-round pick in 2013 with multiple Pro-Bowls, he was one of the team’s vocal leaders and well-liked throughout all corners of the locker room. 

“Kyle [is] a great dude,” Bilal Nichols said. “My whole rookie year, Kyle helped me out a lot because I lined up against him every day. Guys like him is why I had a pretty good season as a rookie last year.”

“You get a guy like Kyle, who’s poured his heart and soul into this organization and has worked really hard to be dominant in a lot of areas,” Nagy added. “We appreciate that. I’ve only been with him for a year and a half but I appreciate the way that he’s gone about things.”

Now the Bears turn to Rashaad Coward and Ted Larsen – the latter of which returned to practice after missing the Raiders game with a knee injury. Despite his relative inexperience playing on the interior (and frankly, on the offense in general), the team’s eager to see how Coward’s athleticism can help a running game that’s only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. 

He hasn’t been named the starter yet, but was taking first-team reps on Monday afternoon. 

“I just want to play with a dog mentality,” Coward said. “It’s the NFL. Guys come out here and try to kill you every week. So you can’t go out there playing soft. You’re going to get pushed around. And I don’t like that.” 

He also conceded that he was pleasantly surprised by how well he adjusted to having to be an emergency guard in the Bears’ win over Minnesota. Coward hadn’t gotten interior reps during that week of practice, and had to sub in when Larsen hurt his knee. 

“Going into the game, I was like F it,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s either you do it or you don’t.”

“Coaches were like, ‘Hey, this is what you’re supposed to do.’ At the end of the day, just keep it going.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.