Cannon for an arm…check. Height and mobility…check. Ability to make all the throws...check. So the Bears should sign their most talented quarterback in franchise history to a long contract extension correct? Maybe, but not just yet.
With the new CBA in place, teams have the ability to use the “franchise tag.” This allows teams to control the player’s rights for up to three years without having to sign him to a long term extension. It’s essentially a one year contract with the player’s salary determined by the average salary of comparable players. This allows the team from having to pay big bucks to a guy they aren’t quite sure if they want to sign long term. If anyone has ever epitomized a “franchise tag” player, it’s Jay Cutler.
Even with all of Jay’s natural ability, he’s yet to show the consistency of a franchise quarterback. In Jay’s last three full seasons (excluding 2011 due to injury), he’s had 67 touchdowns and 56 interceptions. There is another starting quarterback in the NFL who’s had similar numbers over the same time period (69 touchdown passes and 53 interceptions). The quarterback listed above isn’t Aaron Rodgers (102 TD’s/25 INTS), Tom Brady (105 TD’s/22 INTS), or Peyton Manning (97 TD’s/43 INTS), its Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’m sure there are people who are reading this saying “WHO?” Fitzpatrick is nothing more than a journeyman quarterback who has bounced around in the league. Statistically, both he and Cutler are very similar players.
To Jay’s defense, he hasn’t been surrounded by the best of talent. Since the day he’s come to town, he’s had to deal with a below average offensive line. All quarterbacks struggle with poor offensive lines (with the exception of Aaron Rodgers). But with the addition of Phil Emery as general manager, he’s shown drive to fixing the offense. Phil’s predecessor Jerry Angelo continually ignored the problems on offense. In Emory’s first season, he brought in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, two legitimate wide receivers. It’s impossible to fix an entire offense in one season. Let him continue to build the offense around Jay and see if the numbers improve.
Another major issue with Jay is his history with concussions. Concussions are something that no team wants to deal with. They are becoming more prevalent in today’s game. With a player who has already suffered several concussions, it becomes even more risky to sign him to a long term deal. Back in 2010, Bears starting linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer had to retire early to due to concussion problems. You never know if Jay’s next concussion will be his last.
The Bears have dealt with the dilemma of extensions vs. franchise tags in the past. Just this past offseason, Bears starting running back Matt Forte was in a similar situation. He wanted a contract extension, and the Bears wanted to continue to franchise him. While Matt thought of himself as a “special” back, the organization wasn’t as sure. They ended up giving in, and signing him to an extension. Forte has rewarded them this year with averaging 4.3 (17th) yards per carry and 3 TD’s (38th). I’m sure the Bears were expecting a whole lot more than that when they extended him.
While Jay isn’t at the elite level yet, there’s no reason to run him out of town. The fact is, Cutler is the most gifted quarterback we have ever seen in this town. But a true elite quarterback, that has yet to be seen. As an organization, they can’t rush to judgment when it comes to a contract extension. With the revolving door at offensive coordinator and talent up front, it has been very difficult to assess Cutler. Emory needs to continue to build the line and provide Cutler with a legitimate tight end. If his numbers continue to struggle, then it’s back to the drawing board and the search for the 29th quarterback since 1990.