Bears

Presented By Mullin
Bears

The maelstrom of unpleasantness that began sometime Sunday in the Bears’ 36-10 loss to Tampa Bay, ranging from (but not limited to) the dismal game to Alshon Jeffery’s four-game suspension to Kyle Long’s ankle injury served to ratchet up the furor surrounding a Bears team of which much more was expected in the second year under coach John Fox. It has also led to a swirl of issues to ponder and even straighten out… .

The Cutler Conundrum

First, the overarching situation of Jay Cutler. Start with a basic NFL axiom:

Coaches don’t make decisions. Players make the decisions for them. Cutler is making theirs for him.

Last week this space detailed how Cutler was in position to present the Bears with a “problem,” that of choosing between apparent “good” quarterback options. On Sunday in the Tampa Bay debacle, Cutler all but made the coaches’ and the organization’s decision for them, with the four turnovers and all-around poor play that resulted in a game that saw the Bears’ only touchdown come on a Hail Mary to end the first half.

Here’s the broader problem: The game was the third in Cutler’s four 2016 starts in which the quarterback played as he has throughout too much of his career, turning the football over, failing to get the most out of his supporting cast, and producing a passer rating in the 70’s, or worse.

 

[MORE: Bears, Alshon Jeffery feeling ripple effects of the receiver's 4-game PED suspension]

Cutler apologists annually decried his lack of “weapons” as cover for his inadequacies and shortcomings. Consider: With Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester as his top three wide receivers in 2010, Cutler’s passer rating was 86.3. Given the weapons of Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett in 2013, Cutler’s passer rating was 89.2.

Cutler’s body of work in 2016 may yet include a run of performances like the one against Minnesota. At this point, though, those will effectively be garbage-time numbers in a season of garbage time. Cutler had his chances to play his way into a 2017 Bears uniform. How that happens now is beyond problematic.

What about Fox?

An extended question, looking past 2016, would be the ripple effect of Cutler and the losing football on the future of Fox. Cutler was intertwined in Fox’s situation last year and this. No longer, and not to the degree some may imagine.

(One amusing issue some raise about Fox is about his drive, motivation or interest in doing this job at age 61. Considering that Tom Coughlin won Super Bowls with the New York Giants, the Bears’ next opponent, at ages 61 and 65, some folks clearly don’t know a whole lot about correlations between calendars and people.)

Fox is not going anywhere after this season, unless somehow by his choice, which is difficult to envision. He and Ryan Pace will have their shot with a quarterback (and some other positions) of their choosing, particularly since both made a major effort to make work the financial albatross that Phil Emery hung around the neck of the organization. Ownership isn’t blind.

Fox and the organization acceded to the strong wishes of the offensive coordinator last year and allowed Adam Gase to stay with Cutler, leading to an NFL “first” of an offensive coordinator actually GETTING a job instead of losing one because of Cutler. Gase had done in-depth research in February into what previous Cutler coaches felt was the real situation with Cutler and the result was Gase structuring a system with truncated decision-making and a career-best season for Cutler.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

But the underlying realities also included Cutler being guaranteed $10 million in 2016 if he was on the roster past a March 2015 deadline, which he was at Gase’s insistence. Bears Chairman George McCaskey did state publicly at the outset of the incoming Pace-Fox administration would not be ordered to keep players based on monies owed. Still, the broader landscape was that 2016 was in fact Cutler’s prove-it year because no more of the Bears’ capital – or Pace’s salary cap – were tied to Cutler.

 

The Bears were always going to cast their fate with a quarterback other than Cutler; the question was simply when. They, like myriad other teams, looked into dealing up for Marcus Mariota; they did not, however, hard-shop Cutler as widely posited. Neither Pace nor Fox were driving to overrule Gase.

But neither will Pace and/or Fox end their times in Chicago without a fair chance with the ingredients of their collective choice.