I’ve heard every angle suggested. Only moments after the Chicago Bears announced Jay Cutler would miss at least four weeks of the 2013 season with a partial groin tear, fans began both rampant speculation and recommendation on the QB’s future.
Some said the Bears should use the unfortunate incident as an opportunity to simply move on from Cutler. Others took the cunning approach, suggesting the Bears take advantage of a perceived low injury value and cash in on a discounted contract now.
But no matter which scenario makes more sense to you — and maybe it’s neither — the point that is being missed by proponents of both is simply this: the reality of the NFL market for a starting quarterback.
If the Bears let Cutler walk, neither he nor his agent would have to do any measure of marketing to land a hefty payday. No, I’m not talking Joe Flacco money, but the minute his contract expired, Cutler could be looking at as many as 10 different offers from 10 different teams, and while it may only come down to three or four in the end, a bidding war would exist.
I’m talking about nearly a third of the league potentially in the market for a starting quarterback in 2014. Some of those teams will look to what is expected by some to be a decent draft for signal callers to fill the void, but there won’t be enough highly-graded rookies to go around.
Like it or not, inconsistencies or not, injury history or not, a team will pay Jay Cutler if the Bears don’t.
And that point actually speaks to both thoughts listed above. The idea of letting Cutler walk in a market so desperate for an upgrade at the position begs the question just what the hell would the Bears do for a passer?
And if it were just that easy to go out and find a guy, there wouldn't be as many as 10 teams looking next year.
Additionally, the idea that Cutler would even sniff at a lowball deal right now simply because he’s injured is ludicrous. It would be like handing his future over to the Bears for a bag of magic beans.
On top of that, the Bears still technically hold the majority of the cards.
Just because Cutler is set to become a free agent next year doesn’t mean he can go where he likes. If the Bears want him, they can keep him on the roster for another year with the franchise tag while positioning themselves to plan for 2015.
The tag does have its downsides of course — namely the $15M bill that will come up due should they choose to apply it. But the overall point here is that nothing is going to happen until the offseason.
And the one thing we can’t yet know is what the Bears’ long-term vision for or with Cutler looks like. If they truly see him as a still-viable long-term option, they run zero risk of losing him in free agency this coming offseason with the tag in their pocket.
Additionally, the threat — so to speak — of the tag gives them some leverage to negotiate a fair market long-term deal should they have that desire to do so.
If they don’t have the desire to do so and do have the desire to move on, the tag could make sense as a placeholder should they want to draft and develop in 2014. But drafting a QB high when you may already have one in place is a big decision for a team with so many issues defensively.
And with just 44% of their current roster under contract for next season, the Bears can choose to afford the tag. The amount of money coming off the books won’t mean a spending spree, as Chicago will still have to replace a lot of those players, but it does mean flexibility.
Here’s the list of 2014 free agents:
- Anthony Walters
- Blake Costanzo
- Charles Tillman
- Christian Tupou
- Corey Wootton
- Craig Steltz
- D.J. Williams
- Dante Rosario
- Devin Hester
- Eben Britton
- Henry Melton
- James Anderson
- Jay Cutler
- Jerry Franklin
- Jonathan Scott
- Jordan Palmer
- Joseph Anderson
- Josh McCown
- Kelvin Hayden
- Landon Cohen
- Major Wright
- Matt Slauson
- Nate Collins
- Patrick Mannelly
- Robbie Gould
- Roberto Garza
- Sherrick McManis
- Taylor Boggs
- Tim Jennings
- Zackary Bowman
And just how bad is this defense, really? With the Bears calling up a number of practice squad players to the active roster this season, isn’t it apparent that a decimating string of injuries have been the root of the severity of the issue?
They have plenty of issues to deal with on that side of the ball, no doubt, but all I’m saying is that the situation may not be quite as dire as it currently appears.
And it’s not just the free agents who could see the door next season. Guys like Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs — who may be out most of the rest of this season with a shoulder injury — could have their deals called into question also.
Peppers figures to be an $18M cap hit next season — a completely unrealistic number for the Bears considering his decline in play this year. Clearing him from the books would still cost the Bears $6.3M, but the $12M saved seems the more important figure at this juncture.
As for Briggs, with a cap hit of $6.5M in 2014 and only $1M in dead money, the Bears could decide to cut the would-be 33 year-old loose. Although a less likely scenario, it’s probably still a situation worth noting.
Or how about a guy like Eric Weems, who will count $1.6M versus the cap next season with no dead money? Think there’s any way the Bears hang on to him? Weems hasn’t been an entirely poor performer, but the coaches know he’s limited to special teams, and while $1.6M isn’t moon or the stars, I’m not sure the Bears are getting that value back on the field.
No doubt Phil Emery will have a lot of options and a lot of decisions to make in 2014, but regardless of how Jay Cutler’s situation ultimately does shake out, it makes little to no sense for the Bears to jump into any decision now.
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