To Jay or not to Jay?
That is the question in Bears fans' minds as the season approaches. GM Phil Emery and rookie head coach Marc Trestman will be making the biggest decision of their young careers with the Chicago Bears at the end of the season, as they ponder whether or not to bring controversial quarterback Jay Cutler back after the 2013 season.
Cutler has a high ceiling, as the experts like to say. His ability to be great is easily seen in his play on the field, but it has been the dismal lows, and inconsistency, of Cutler's play that once again finds the city taking sides.
Some Bears fans already know that they want Cutler to return, dreading his departure would be the dawn of a new era of quarterback futility in the form of failed draft picks and scrap heap free agents. Others have seen enough of Cutler already, believing the QB will never take that "next step" that fans and experts alike have been waiting for since his arrival in Chicago. Many believe that Cutler's status must be determined after evaluating his play in this season, giving him one more chance to earn a long term deal.
2013 will make or break Jay Cutler's career one way or another. The 30-year old is now an NFL veteran heading into the final year of his contract with the Chicago Bears. With a new offensive-minded head coach in Trestman, a revamped offensive line, and an actual NFL tight end (in free agent acquisition Martellus Bennett), Cutler now has all the tools in front of him to succeed.
Is his situation perfect? No. Cutler will be running yet another new offensive system, has an offensive line that has not played a single NFL game together yet, a tight end entering a new city, and, arguably, still lacks a number two receiver. That being said, the talent on the offensive line, including at tight end, has been dramatically improved since the last couple years, and players like runningback Matt Forte, second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery, and Earl Bennett should be better utilized in Trestman's system.
Some may say that the defense is a question heading into 2013, following the firing of Lovie Smith at last season's end. While Lovie and future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher have left, forever changing the look of the Chicago Bears defense, the talent is still there. Phil Emery has done a nice job filling in the vacancies left by players from last season's defense, and the likes of Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Henry Melton are remaining assets for new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
The defense may not be as strong as it has in years passed, but should not impact the decision on Cutler either way. Cutler needs to be evaluated on his personal play, not the overall success of the team. If the quarterback is either brilliant or awful, the Bears' record will likely reflect that anyways. Over the past two seasons fans have seen a mediocre final record for the Bears due to the spottty, up-and-down, play of Cutler, among others on the team.
The Chicago Bears have truly nothing to lose this season. There are three options. The first is to reward Cutler if he proves he can lead this team and be the primary reason they are winning games. Truly, this is what everyone would like to see: Cutler earn an expensive, lengthy contract with spectacular play from start to finish in 2013.
While disappointing, the second option is just as satisfying. If Cutler fails to improve this season, the Bears can let him go and move on, knowing that the franchise honestly gave Cutler every chance to be the quarterback that Chicago has been seeking for since... well, ever.
Options one and two provide clear cut decisions. Either the Bears will embrace Cutler and fans can settle in for the next chapter in the Cutler saga, or the team will break ties, allowing Emery and Trestman to seek out the particular individual that they believe will succeed in their system. If Cutler is inconsistent yet again in 2013, and Emery/Trestman do not like the quarterbacks potentially available to them in the 2014 draft class, then the Bears have one more option.
Putting the franchise tag on Cutler is a comfortable last option, should that specific need arrive. There is no sense in dumping Cutler to try and force a rookie or free agent into the new system. If Emery and Trestman see true potential with someone in the draft, or a quarterback that may become available through free agency or trade, then dumping Cutler after another so-so year would make more sense. In other words, do not move on from Cutler unless there is a clear reason to; if he is not awful and there is no one the Bears would bring in as a true potential franchise QB, then Emery should put the franchise tag on Cutler.
Franchising Cutler would allow the Bears one more year, this time with the same system, to give Cutler a last last chance to prove he is the guy. Perhaps the 2015 draft class looks like a better quarterback lottery to Emery and Trestman, so paying Cutler under the franchise rules for one more year may be the best bet for the team.
The Bears have an answer for every potential scenario that plays out with Jay Cutler this year. The only factor left to chance is injury. Saving some sort of drastically-shortened 2013 season for Cutler, the Bears will be able to determine what the best direction for the team is after this season, and will be free to act accordingly under any Cutler-related scenario.
While this is a big decision for the franchise, and especially Emery and Trestman, the Chicago Bears are in an enviable, flexible position with Jay Cutler. At this point, fans do not have to trust in Cutler, they just have to trust in the head coach and GM.
With no reason to doubt Trestman or Emery just yet, this makes for what will surely be an entertaining and exciting season for the Chicago Bears and their fans, no matter the outcome.