Cutler Cleared To Play Sunday, But Should He?
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler met with the media a few moments ago after being cleared to play and start for the team Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
There's been a ton of debate on sports talk radio and in the daily newspapers over whether Cutler should start for the Bears Sunday or take a back seat to the red-hot Josh McCown, an argument that has even divided Chicagoist's Benjy Lipsman and Rob Winn.
Time To Start Cutler
So it looks as though quarterback Josh McCown will take his Offensive Player of the Week honor and gaudy passer rating to the bench in favor of Jay Cutler. That is exactly the right decision from head coach Marc Trestman.
Over the last four years we have been waiting for a true evaluation of Cutler. A lack of weapons, a defensive-minded head coach and a clown car full of offensive coordinators left us without a true idea of exactly what Cutler is capable of. Now the Bears have an offensive head coach and one of the best receiver/running back combinations in the league. What better time to evaluate Cutler than when the offense is humming and the playoffs are on the line?
Reading the tea leaves, it seems as if the negotiations for a contract extension have already begun with Cutler. There are daily leaks of interest from other teams as well as the Bears willingness to look to the draft for a quarterback. However, Cutler’s performance over the last three games of the 2013 season can seal the deal for the Bears front office. If he comes in and leads the Bears to the playoffs, the decision will be easy. But if he struggles under the pressure with an offense that has proven it can score, it may persuade general manager Phil Emery to look to draft a young quarterback. Either way, the decision will be obvious. For Cutler, the time is now.
However, the long-term outlook puts the 2013 season on the line. Sure, if he fails it will cost the Bears a playoff berth, but the Bears weren’t guaranteed that anyway. If Cutler comes back and heats up, the Bears’ playoff ceiling is considerably higher than it is with a game-managing quarterback. No one believes the Bears are built for a long playoff run, considering their defense can’t stop even the most mediocre NFL running back. But if Lance Briggs returns and Culter gets hot, the Bears have a better chance to surprise teams than relying on a career backup to lead them to a road playoff win. —Rob Winn
Stay on the Bench, Jay
Marc Trestman's decision making has come into question in recent weeks and starting Jay Cutler with a playoff spot on the line could be his biggest mistake yet if it costs the Bears a game and jeopardize their shot at the playoffs. Trestman's decisions to stick with an injured Cutler for too long against Detroit and his call to attempt a 47-yard field on second down against Minnesota each may have cost the Bears victories. Will switching things up under center at this point ensure they miss the postseason?
Josh McCown has played incredibly well in Cutler's absence, including two big wins on Monday Night Football over the Packers and Cowboys, and his 109.8 quarterback rating currently ranks third in the NFL behind only Nick Foles (another back-up having a great season) and Peyton Manning. In seven games (five of them starts) McCown has completed 147 of 220 passes for 1,809 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception. Cutler has played in eight games and completed 167 of 265 pass attempts for 1,908 yards, 13 TDs, eight interceptions and an 88.4 QB rating. That's not bad but not as good as McCown. And having played in just one game since Oct. 20, there's sure to be rust.
I'd go with McCown.
I'm especially befuddled by Trestman's choice of Cutler given the team's long term options at the QB position. Cutler is an unrestricted free agent after the season and will command eight figures on the market. Do the Bears commit to him with a long term deal and tie up a large chunk of their cap on him? Do they think it over for another year by applying the franchise tag and paying Cutler upwards of $20 million next year? Or do they realize that McCown can work well enough in Trestman's system to let Cutler go elsewhere? Some reports suggest that is the way Bears management is leaning. And they certainly could use the salary cap space to re-build an aging, injured and porous defense.
McCown isn't the Bears QB of the future, but at 34 and primarily being a backup, he's certainly got a couple seasons in the tank. He has proven successful in Trestman's system with the other offensive weapons at his disposal. So let McCown start while the Bears find a QB to develop in the draft or through free agency. After all, developing quarterbacks is Trestman's claim to fame. And if that is the Bears plan, then they should ride McCown the rest of the way this season. What's the upside to switching horses at this point in the race? —Benjy Lipsman