There's been a debate on Twitter, the locale of seemingly all sports debates these days, on what Bears quarterback Jay Cutler must achieve in 2013 to earn a lucrative contract extension from Phil Emery and the purse string holders at Halas Hall. The opinions range "HE MUST HAVE A 2012 FLACCO SEASON AND WIN IT ALL" to "he can't screw up". When asked the question myself I have balked at responding. Til now.
Cutler has to improve.
He has to stop forcing passes into locations they don't belong. He has to stop abandoning his mechanics when the pocket seems ready to implode around him. He has to learn the value of throwing the football into the third or fourth row of the stadium, sacrificing the far-too-valuable completion percentage. He has to stop taking sacks he does not have to take.
But more than anything snap and toss-related, Cutler must improve as a leader of men. Marc Trestman will instill #6 with every resource necessary to make the on-field adjustments listed above. If he fails to take advantage, so be it. The Bears will move on and be shopping for a quarterback in next May's draft. But improving as a passer and decision maker is no longer enough.
The Bears organization, for the first time in their illustrious history, have made the decision to be an offensive-minded organization. In today's NFL that means an emphasis on the passing game. That's why Trestman was hired and that's why Cutler now becomes THE focal point of everything happening on the lakefront. If he fails, the Bears fail. If the men in the locker room don't believe in him, they will not play for him.
The great NFL organizations have already made this transition and their quarterbacks have stepped to the plate. Manning. Brady. Rodgers. Manning. Brees. Roethlisberger. So on. All their teams have won championships and all of those championships have been won because of them. But they also share another trait: they own their locker rooms.
There can be no more on-field displays of insubordination from Cutler. There should be no reports of locker room dissension. Whether or not the Bears sign Cutler to a lucrative contract extension should be moot. The Chicago Bears, moving forward, should not conceivably exist without Cutler. He should be the organization. He should be the future. He should be every bit as indispensable as Walter Payton and Brian Urlacher were during their primes.
This is his time. This is his franchise. But it will require maturity for him to cease it. You will need to look beyond the stat sheet to see if he's matured.