Chicago Bears: Coaching decisions

Bears early cuts done as courtesy

August, 25, 2013
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CHICAGO -- The Bears released veteran safety Tom Zbikowski on Sunday, and the team also parted ways with veteran defensive end Kyle Moore.

In all, the club cut 14 players which moves the roster to 76. The moves came two days before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET NFL deadline for teams to trim their rosters to 75 players, and as often is the case around the league, done as a courtesy for players to give them the best possible chance to find work with another team as soon as possible.

Other cuts included receiver Devin Aromashodu, running back Curtis Brinkley, defensive tackles Brent Russell and Eric Foster, offensive tackle A.J. Lindeman, center P.J. Lonergan, safety Derrick Martin, tight ends Gabe Miller and Leonard Pope, linebackers Patrick Trahan and Lawrence Wilson, and punter Tress Way.

With one cut remaining, the Bears could wind up releasing another player today or in the next couple of days in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. Teams aren’t required to release players early, but this is done every season as a courtesy for veterans so they can find new work as soon as possible.

Zbikowski came into the league in 2008 as a third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, where he played four seasons as a standout on special teams. Zbikowski played in the second half of Chicago’s exhibition win over the Oakland Raiders on Friday, and contributed three tackles. As of early Saturday, at least one general manager had expressed interest in acquiring Zbikowski. The Steelers expressed an interest in free agency, but Zbikowski chose the Bears.

As for Moore, a fourth-round pick of the Buccaneers in 2009, high numbers at defensive end might have contributed to the Bears making the decision to part ways. Moore posted a sack against the Raiders for an 11-yard loss, but he was fighting an uphill battle to win a spot at a position already stocked with players such as Julius Peppers, Corey Wootton, and Shea McClellin. Moore was competing with rookie sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington and veteran Cheta Ozougwu for one of the final spots at the position.

Moore signed for the veteran minimum in April ($715,000) with no signing bonus. The club had already invested $103,788 in a signing bonus for Washington. It’s important to remember that when a team invests money in a player, it will always give him more opportunity to make the roster than a player it didn’t spend to acquire.

In addition to the sack tallied Friday night against the Raiders, Moore had contributed three tackles in three preseason outings, meaning he’s compiled plenty of film for teams to study if they’re interested in acquiring the defensive end.

Where Bears need improvement

January, 16, 2013
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Marc TrestmanPhillippe Champoux/Southcreek Global/Zuma Press/Icon SMIMarc Trestman inherits a Chicago Bears team that has a lot of holes.

Just like that, the Chicago Bears have a new head coach.

The choice of Marc Trestman comes as a surprise to many, since he has been out of the league since 2004, but given how well prepared Phil Emery has been, are you going to doubt the choice?

Trestman comes in and takes over a team that is competitive even if their inability to consistently make the playoffs has left the Bears irrelevant come January. What does he have to work with? And what pieces of the puzzle are the Bears missing?

Let's take a look.

Quarterback
The Bears paid a hefty price to make Jay Cutler their franchise quarterback and the results have been largely mixed. At times he's displayed the kind of talent that would make even Phil Simms want to use the word "elite," but all too often accuracy issues and carelessness with the ball have come back to haunt him.

Read the entire story here.

Video: Lance Briggs wraps up 2012

January, 11, 2013
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Bears linebacker Lance Briggs talks about the disappointment of not making the playoffs, finding out Lovie Smith was fired and how the defense will be affected by a new head coach.

Day later, Lovie would still go for it

December, 3, 2012
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SmithAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhLovie Smith says the Bears will "stand up" following their overtime loss to the Seahawks.
Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said he would still go for it on fourth and 1 a day after the Seattle Seahawks stopped the Bears in the second quarter of their 23-17 victory at Soldier Field.

Leading 7-0, the Bears faced fourth and 1 at the Seattle 15-yard line, and Smith, a typically conservative coach in fourth and short situations, elected to go for it. The Seahawks stuffed Michael Bush and took over on downs, ending a 14-play, 69-yard Bears drive.

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"I kick myself everytime on something that doesn't work," Smith said Monday on WBBM-AM 780. "I would do the same thing again. I feel bad that we didn't make it."

Gabe Carimi, making his first start at right guard, on Sunday blamed the offensive line for not converting on the play.

"That's on us," Carimi said. "We need to make that. We need to make that first down. That's on the linemen. When it's fourth-and-inches like that, we should get that every time."

Seattle put together two long drives on their final possessions to beat the Bears (8-4) in overtime and drop them into second place in the NFC North behind the Green Bay Packers. Russell Wilson led a 12-play, 97-yard scoring drive in the final minutes of regulation to take a 17-14 lead before directing a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard TD pass to Sidney Rice for the winner in overtime.

Smith is disappointed in the Bears' inability to stop the Seahawks late in the game, but he said his team will "stand up" for the final quarter of the season.

"We're disappointed in (Sunday's) loss and how we played and how we finished, but you can't carry it on just like you can't carry on the games early in the season when we played great defense," Smith said. "We're disappointed in what happened (Sunday), but we're to the fourth quarter of our season. We control everything that happens with us. Believe me, we'll stand up."

Coach's Big Decision: Managing O-line

November, 24, 2012
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[+] EnlargeChris Spencer
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesChris Spencer will get another chance to start on the Bears offensive line against Minnesota.
A tenuous situation on the offensive line became potentially more unstable when the Chicago Bears made the decision to make changes at left guard and right tackle after last week’s debacle against the San Francisco 49ers. So the club needs to put contingency plans in place just in case the new group struggles early on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

By placing former starting left guard Chilo Rachal on the non-football injury list, the Bears eliminated one option up front as they now won’t be able to turn to him if his replacement, Chris Spencer, can’t get the job done.

(Read full post)

Coach's Big Decision: Take a shot?

November, 10, 2012
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Houston plays an aggressive high-pressure scheme under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, which will put the Texans in man-to-man coverage on some passing downs that Chicago needs to take advantage of.

The difficult decision for offensive coordinator Mike Tice is how he’ll decide between deploying extra personnel to protect Jay Cutler versus utilizing extra receivers in some routes to exploit Houston’s high-risk schemes on the back end.

(Read full post)

Coach's Big Decision: Hester or Bennett?

October, 27, 2012
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Devin Hester catching a touchdown pass against the CowboysRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesDevin Hester has 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown this season.


With Alshon Jeffery still out of the lineup, the Chicago Bears need to decide how much playing time to give to Devin Hester as opposed to Earl Bennett. Furthermore, the staff needs to determine how much increased repetitions for Hester could affect the Bears’ return game.

Hester and Bennett put up similar numbers against the Detroit Lions, with the former catching three passes for 38 yards and the latter contributing 37 yards on three receptions.

But it might be more advantageous for the Bears to give Bennett the majority of the snaps on offense, so Hester can focus more on special teams. Hester played 61 snaps on offense against the Lions, while Bennett lined up for 39 snaps.

Maybe decreased snaps on offense would allow Hester to be more productive in the return game.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub acknowledged Thursday that Hester needs to improve his decision making on punt returns. Against the Lions, Hester averaged five yards on one punt return and called for a fair catch on two, including one that Toub thought could have been returned for a touchdown.

Toub said the staff made sure to take into account how Hester’s increased offensive snaps would affect him as a returner, which is likely one of the reasons the Bears used Eric Weems for one return.

Given that Bennett can be just as productive on offense as Hester, the team might need to put off the “Hester Package” a week and give Bennett the opportunity to pick up the slack offensively in Jeffery’s absence.

Coach's Big Decision: Play Peanut?

September, 12, 2012
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Charles TillmanBob Donnan/US PresswireDespite his shin injury, Charles Tillman likely will do what he can to play Thursday.
Like last week's decision to pull MLB Brian Urlacher in the second half of the team's victory over the Indianapolis Colts, Bears coach Lovie Smith must make the same call again with CB Charles Tillman added to the mix.


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Tillman suffered a shin injury against the Colts and didn't play the majority of the game. Given his toughness, it's unlikely Tillman misses Thursday night considering the importance of it, not to mention the fact the Bears get plenty of time off after this outing. So in this situation -- if Tillman plays -- Smith will monitor the corner's snaps closely, and make a judgment call as to how long he stays in the lineup.

Smith knows he's got a capable replacement for Tillman in Kelvin Hayden, but the team is better equipped to deal with Green Bay's dangerous receiving corps with Tillman in the mix. But would playing Tillman for an extended period worsen the injury and affect the corner's long-term prospects?

As for Urlacher, he definitely wasn't thrilled about Smith pulling him early in the second half against the Colts. But he understands why Smith did it.

In a big game like Thursday night's, Smith can't let the hoopla of facing Green Bay and the coming off days cloud his judgment, which could result in Urlacher suffering a setback that could affect his availability in the future.

Again, Smith has a couple of tough decisions to make this week. Our guess is he'll err on the side of caution.

Bears-Colts: Five Things We Learned

September, 9, 2012
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CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears' 41-21 Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall had a team-high nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his Bears debut.
1. Second-class citizens no more on offense: It's not as if the Bears' defense played poorly in the regular season opener, but the story centered around the offense. Sure, taking the ball away five times (one by special teams) is wonderful, but we're used to seeing that here in Chicago. The new phenomenon is having an offense that can win games when the defense scuffles. After all these years, the Bears finally have that sort of firepower with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Matt Forte and Michael Bush. No longer does the defense have to play near perfect football for the Bears to be victorious. Get used to scores like 41-21 or 35-28 because gone are the days when the Bears had to win games 10-6 or 13-3, back when the defense was dominant and the core was younger. Don't get me wrong; I'm a fan of good defense just as much as the next guy, but does it really matter how much the opponent scores if the Bears keep finding ways to get in the end zone? We all know the answer to that.

2. Lovie Smith made the right call with Urlacher: Smith didn't last nine years as Bears head coach and win 75 career games by simply falling out of bed. Smith knows what he is doing, and his decision to take Brian Urlacher out early in the third quarter smacked of a smart coach who sees the big picture. Urlacher was just OK on Sunday, but he finished the game. That's all that matters. He is going to get better every single week as he sees more live game action. There was no point keeping him out there and exposing him to another knee injury with the Bears up 34-14 and the game in hand. Besides, you know Urlacher is going to have the play the whole game on Thursday night versus the high-powered Green Bay Packers, so why burn him out when the team has to make a quick turnaround? Smith played this perfectly.

3. Jeffery is the No. 2: We didn't exactly know how the Bears planned to use Jeffery heading into the regular season after the rookie second-round pick turned in a solid preseason. But there is no misunderstanding now; Jeffery is the No. 2 outside receiver opposite Brandon Marshall, and for good reason. The Bears are at their best with the taller Jeffery and Marshall lining up on the outside and Bennett working inside out of the slot. Remember when it used to take Bears receivers three years to develop coming out of college? Not Jeffery, who had an impressive three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. This guy is a playmaker and should go down as one of the steals of the 2012 draft. Cutler won't be able to target Marshall 15 times every game, and on those days when Marshall isn't open, Jeffery provides a terrific second or third option. Devin Hester still has a role in this offense, but Jeffery on the field for the majority of the snaps takes the group to another level.

4. Jennings’ stock is way up: Last season, Tim Jennings had a tough time catching the football. But not this year. Jennings was all over the place on Sunday; intercepting two Andrew Luck passes and deflecting another into the hands of free safety Chris Conte. Not bad for a guy who lost his starting job for a brief moment at the end of 2011. Ever since Jennings re-signed with the squad in free agency he has been a rock star. The 5-foot-8 cornerback had arguably the best offseason program and preseason of any Bears defender, and his great start to the regular season made some people forget that Charles Tillman had to leave the game early with a leg injury.

5. The Colts are in good hands: This was a tough way for Luck to start his NFL career, but the No. 1 overall selection in the draft did not embarrass himself as he threw for 309 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. It's obvious Luck has a big arm and can make all the throws, and eventually, the Colts will begin to win games. Rebuilding is tough, but it's made easier when a team has a future franchise quarterback. Luck appears to fit that bill. Give Indianapolis two years and they'll be contenders to make the playoffs in the AFC. Hopefully Reggie Wayne can keep playing that long because he was dynamite in the losing effort. It was a toss up as to who was the best receiver on the field Sunday: Marshall (nine catches, 119 yards, one touchdown) or Wayne (nine catches, 135 yards).

Harris ready to regain starting spot

October, 19, 2011
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris returned to the practice field Wednesday, determined to get past his benching and deactivation last week, followed by a subsequent request to seek permission for a trade.

Asked whether the objective was to earn back his starting job, Harris didn't hesitate.

"Absolutely," he said. "I'm a competitor. So I'm gonna do everything right, everything in my power to get back out on the field."

The NFL's trade deadline on Tuesday passed without the team consummating a deal to move Harris, who was benched last week and deactivated for Sunday's win over the Vikings before requesting and receiving permission to seek a trade. Harris' agent Albert Elias said his client's availability sparked interest and discussion with other teams.

Elias added that Harris decided "to finish with the Bears." General manager Jerry Angelo said he spoke with Harris and his representatives on Tuesday, and the group seemed to resolve some of their differences. Interestingly, though, Bears coach Lovie Smith hasn't spoken to Harris about any of the latest developments.

Asked whether they've conducted any discussions, Harris flatly said, "No."

"I can't really get into that," he added. "It was a decision that the coaching staff made. It's a decision that I can't control. So I won't worry myself with it."

Harris cracked a smile when asked how Smith's fickle nature regarding safeties could lead to him regaining his spot in the starting lineup. Through the first six games, the Bears have utilized five combinations of starters at safety.

"That's a great question," Harris said smiling. "Possibly [I could become a starter again]. As you can tell, nothing here is really set in stone at the safety position. Hopefully, I'm back out there at some point in time this season."

Forte, Bears dialogue may not be on hold

September, 8, 2011
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo expressed regret Thursday about the team being unable to reach a deal to extend the contract of running back Matt Forte.

Despite the belief there was a mutual agreement between the sides to end discussions because of Sunday's start of the regular season, it's too early to close the door on a potential deal, given the up-in-the-air nature of difficult contract negotiations.

NFL sources and Forte have indicated as much.

Angelo, meanwhile, maintained the focus remains on "taking care of business" on the field.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Don McPeak/US PresswireMatt Forte didn't burn any bridges when it was thought talks with the Bears are over until the season is over, and now it appears talks may be ongoing.
"The big picture right now is the business of taking care of team business; winning football games," Angelo said. "That's the big picture. They did their best. We did our best; that's all I can say.

"Our intent was to get a deal done. We've had a good track record of doing it. Unfortunately, we were unable to accomplish that. It doesn't mean Matt's not going to be a Bear, and that it's over for Matt. We're not saying that. We think the world of Matt as a person and as a player, [and] we're excited to see what he does this year."

Forte maintained he plans to continue handling the situation professionally, and harbors no ill will toward Angelo. Forte is scheduled to receive $600,000 in base salary for the upcoming season, and apparently wasn't satisfied with the team's last contract offer, which according to ESPNChicago.com sources, was worth between $13-$14 million guaranteed.

Angelo declined to discuss a timetable for discussions between the sides restarting in earnest, and wouldn't confirm or deny whether the team and Forte's representatives have even stopped talking completely.

"What I don't want is [a situation where] every day [there's a] what's going on with the Matt Forte negotiation [update]. I don't want it. He doesn't want it," Angelo said. "My job is to keep all the core players that we can."

By all indications, Angelo appears to still be attempting just that.

Taylor unsure why he didn't face Titans

August, 27, 2011
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[+] EnlargeKahlil Bell
Don McPeak/US PresswireLovie Smith said the reason Chester Taylor didn't play was the team wanted to take a better look at Kahlil Bell.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chester Taylor benefitted from the NFL's business side in 2010, pulling in $7 million, but on Saturday the running back received what he considers a sobering dose of it.

"That's how the business is, I guess," Taylor said. "I don't know what's going on."

Just minutes after the club returned to the locker room after its pregame warmup for Saturday's matchup with the Titans, Bears running backs coach Tim Spencer informed Taylor he'd be standing on the sidelines for the club's 14-13 loss at LP Field, instead of playing.

Bears coach Lovie Smith explained after the game that Taylor's lack of repetitions came as a result of the team's desire to take a more extensive look at third-year running back Kahlil Bell.

"We wanted to take a look at someone else tonight, in particular, Kahlil Bell," Smith said. "Kahlil hadn't gotten an opportunity to play much. We wanted to take a good look at him, [and] we were able to. I think he did a good job of taking advantage of the carries he got."

Truthfully, Bell has received plenty of opportunities to run the ball throughout the preseason; 28 to be exact. New acquisition Marion Barber, who strained his left calf after running once for 2 yards against the Titans, has run the ball 21 times this preseason.

Taylor, meanwhile, has carried the ball just six times.

"Coach came to me before the game and just said I wasn't playing," Taylor said. "He didn't give me any reason or nothing. So I don't know if it's because of my play or not. It can't be from the competition because it's hard to get three carries in a game while somebody else is getting 14, and you're trying to compare that [to evaluate the running back competition]. So I don't know what it's from."

Taylor signed a four-year, $12 million contract last offseason that included $7 million guaranteed to serve as a complementary back to starter Matt Forte. Although Taylor averaged 2.4 yards per attempt in 2010, the team spoke highly in the offseason of the running back's contributions that didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheets.

Taylor played just six snaps against the New York Giants on Monday night, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz said recently that "Chester is having a heck of a camp."

It's worth pondering whether the team plans to pay Taylor $1.25 million in base salary as a backup with players such as Barber and Bell waiting in the wings. Bell represents a younger and cheaper option, considering he's set to make $525,000 in base salary in 2011. After receiving a $500,000 signing bonus to join the team on Aug. 1, Barber will receive an additional $2 million in base salary for 2011.

"I'm disappointed that I didn't play. I expected to play today," Taylor said. "I practice all week, and they didn't give me a heads up or anything. If it comes to them [making a decision to cut me], so be it. I know this is a business. It is what it is."

Bears, Smith agree to 2-year extension

February, 25, 2011
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Chicago Bears rewarded coach Lovie Smith with a two-year contract extension on Friday following an 11-5 regular season record and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

Read the entire story.

What's fair value for Lovie extension?

January, 25, 2011
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Lovie SmithJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJerry Angelo said he's working on Lovie Smith's extension, but what will it be worth?
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo revealed Monday that a contract extension is in the works for coach Lovie Smith.

Perhaps now it's time to ponder some factors that could go into getting something done for Smith, who has one year remaining on a four-year, $22 million contract he signed shortly after taking the Bears to the Super Bowl after the 2006 regular season.

"We're fine, we'll get into that," Angelo said Monday, a day after the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game. "Right now, the first thing I did when I got up this morning -- it was hard to sleep last night -- that was not on my mind. We have a number of things on the agenda, and we'll talk about that. When there's something to announce we'll announce it. It's that simple."

But is it really?

With Smith earning more than $5 million annually, other than the obvious question of whether Smith deserves an extension is the issue of what would be the next step up for the coach in terms of a salary increase. Former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who left Stanford to become coach of the San Francisco 49ers, received a five-year, $25 million deal, which puts him on a salary level close to Smith, despite him not ever coaching a down in the NFL.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan sat out of football a year before returning to the league to the tune of $35 million over five years (Redskins owner Dan Snyder has a reputation for being a big spender), and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll left USC prior to the 2010 season for a reported NFL salary of $33 million over five years.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the NFL's longest-tenured head coach, has taken six teams to the playoffs since 1994, with no Super Bowl rings and just one appearance in the league's championship game. But he's making a reported $5.75 million annually, while Eagles coach Andy Reid signed a three-year extension in 2009 that pays him $5.5 million per year.

So the Bears have to determine where Smith fits. In seven seasons with the Bears, he's won three division titles, and has taken the team to the postseason three times, where it has a 3-3 record. By comparison, Reid has taken the Eagles to the playoffs eight times in 11 seasons with five NFC title game appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. Fisher, meanwhile, has led the Titans on six playoff trips over the past 12 seasons, three division titles, two AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance.

It appears Smith would be in line to receive an increase commensurate with the $5.75 million Fisher receives. The question then would be whether Smith would agree to those financial terms. The length of the contract (Reid signed a three-year extension) would also be somewhat of an issue, although Smith has stated the desire "to be there for many years to come."

Does Smith deserve an extension? That's debatable. But the truth is that although he's no Bill Belichick -- reportedly earning more than $7 million annually -- Smith compares favorably to Fisher, having achieved the same milestones (three division titles, two conference title games and one Super Bowl appearance) despite a shorter tenure.

The support Smith receives from his players and staff is also telling, not to mention how he held the team together through widespread criticism of his defensive system, quarterback Jay Cutler, the offensive line, and the receiving corps, in addition to myriad other issues.

"The one thing he's done is he's stayed consistent the entire year through the ups and downs," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "This is a good football team. We were able to carry his message to the players, and [now] the players know they're good, too."

Several players, most notably linebacker Brian Urlacher and center Olin Kreutz, have campaigned publicly not only for Smith to receive an extension, but to be given strong consideration for coach of the year.

Urlacher credited Smith with "all of" the team's 2010 success.

"Coming into this season, he believed in us. This summer, he told us we were going to be good, and we've been just that," Urlacher said. "He never doubted us, and we appreciate that."

When questioning Bears, start with QB

January, 23, 2011
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CHICAGO -- “If the Bears win, does Caleb Hanie start in Dallas?”

That’s what an ex-teammate of Jay Cutler’s texted me after Hanie led the Bears’ first scoring drive of the game at the start of the fourth quarter.

Crazy, right? But what does it say about Cutler that an ex-NFL player, one who doesn’t like Cutler but respects his talent, could think Hanie, perhaps the most anonymous backup quarterback in the league, is a better option for the Super Bowl than Cutler and his million-dollar arm?

Exactly what you think it does.

Of course Cutler starts in that fictional reality, if healthy, but you can’t tell me his performance before leaving the game with a vague knee injury augured any hope for his future, or heck, his present.

Read the entire column.

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