Jay Cutler enters the 2013 season at a crossroads. He is in the final year of a five year contract at just under $50 million. Cutler and 43 other Bears have expiring contracts at the end of the season. Cutler is likely going to have to have his best season in 2013 to earn a new contract. Phil Emery made it clear in his press conference this week that no one will receive contract extensions during the season.
With Brian Urlacher retiring, most of the focus both on and off the field will be on Cutler. He will have to have a pro-bowl season and lead the Bears to a playoff victory to earn the deal he wants. Here are the five things Jay Cutler must do to earn a new contract.
Lead the Bears to a Playoff Win
When the Bears traded for Cutler in 2009, he was being hailed as the player who would lead the Bears to the next level. He was coming off a Pro-Bowl season in Denver when he came to the Bears. The Bears were coming off a 9-7 season. They missed the playoffs, finishing a half game behind Philadelphia for the last wild card.
In seven seasons in the NFL, he has led his team to only one playoff appearance. In Denver, the Broncos collapsed in the 2006 and 2008 seasons with playoff berths on the line.
In 2006 the Broncos lost to San Francisco in the final game of the regular season at Invesco Field. In 2008, Denver blew a three game lead with three left to miss the playoffs.
In his four seasons with the Bears, their only playoff appearance was after the 2010 season. They finished the season 11-5 and earned the second seed in the NFC. After his only career playoff win over 8-9 Seattle (including their playoff win. Their 7-9 regular season record was the worst for a playoff team in NFL history.). The Bears lost at Soldier Field to Green Bay.
Cutler is one of the most polarizing players in Chicago. He has gotten both praise and criticism from everyone that follows the Bears. He has a 34-22 record with the Bears in four seasons. In the last three, the Bears are 27-11 when he starts.
The postseason is where legacies and new contracts are earned (just ask Joe Flacco).
Cutler's future will likely depend on how the Bears do this postseason.
Make the Pro Bowl
Despite all the hype and immense physical tools, Cutler has made only one pro-bowl appearance in seven NFL seasons. That was following the 2008 season with Denver. Cutler has had an up and down career, but he needs to make 2013 his best ever. He hasn't finished in the top ten in a major passing category since 2009 (in part because of injuries). If he and the Bears are going to make a charge, that will need to change in 2013.
Making a pro-bowl or all-star game requires big stats. For Cutler to make the trip to Hawaii, he will have to finish in the top ten in most of the major categories this season.
Finish in the Top Ten in QB Rating/QBR
Passer rating measures the efficiency of how a Quarterback is as a passer, while "QBR was developed to measure the degree to which a quarterback contributed to scoring points for the team, and also to a win by the team".
Cutler has never finished in the top ten in either category. The West Coast offense should give Cutler a better opportunity to be more efficient. If he lacks efficiency or reverts back to throwing a lot of interceptions, the Bears season will suffer. His efficiency will be one of the keys to the Bears season and for a contact extension.
Post a High TD-Int Ratio
Interceptions have plagued Cutler throughout his career, especially in Chicago. He has never finished above 14th in TD-Int. Ratio in his career. The West Coast offense should provide Cutler with the opportunity to cut down on interceptions and raise his touchdown passes. If he does that, Cutler and the Bears will benefit.
Learn the Trestman offense quickly
This will be the fourth offense Jay Cutler has run in his five seasons in Chicago. Earlier in the offseason, Cutler said it takes three seasons to completely install an offense. If Trestman if truly the offensive genius he is hailed to be, then Cutler needs to produce quickly.
In his first season as the Montreal Alouettes Head Coach, they won the Eastern Division and finished advanced to the Grey Cup. Quarterback Anthony Calvillo had arguably the best season of his career. He finished with 5,633 yards and 43 touchdowns. That was his third and best seasons as a pro in those categories.
Cutler needs to heed that result and produce immediately.
Trestman's first season as a coach was a volunteer assistant and Quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami in 1981. Jim Kelly had his best collegiate season that year.
All of the team's on which Trestman has been the Quarterback's Coach, offensive coordinator or Head Coach have had successful offensive seasons in first year with that team or program. It might take Cutler or any other quarterback three seasons to completely learn the offense. There is no reason though for the Bears not to have their most successful season offensively since 1995. Led by Quarterback Erik Kramer and Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner, the Bears finished eighth in points and ninth in yards that season.
Cutler is set up to succeed. Trestman represents the best offensive mind since Mike Shanahan's last season in Denver. If nothing else, fans will have to stay in their seats when the offensive takes the the field at Soldier Field this fall.