- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
The fervor of the local fan base concerning Chicago's potential pursuit of San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson hasn't pushed the organization's need to add a capable backup quarterback to the back burner.
That became apparent when news surfaced of the team's plans to set free reserve Caleb Hanie in free agency. Given the team's tight-lipped stance recently regarding potential plans for free agency and the draft, its actions indicate a real desire to upgrade the talent behind starter Jay Cutler.
"I just feel we'll be able to strengthen that position more than we were this past year," Bears coach Lovie Smith said last month at the NFL combine.
That's certainly understandable given Chicago's tumble from 7-3 to 8-8 due largely to Cutler's fractured thumb, which cost the quarterback the final six games of the season, not to mention the Bears a shot at a second-straight appearance in the postseason.
Hanie started four games in relief of Cutler, and played a role in the Bears losing all four; throwing nine interceptions and three touchdown passes. Hanie's play down the stretch led to the team informing him of plans to move on in 2012 without him.
So that leaves the team with just one quarterback -- 2011 rookie Nathan Enderle -- on the current roster. Smith said Enderle would be "in the mix" in 2012, but considering he was virtually handpicked by former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the quarterback might not be viewed as a fit in the scheme expected to be employed under new coordinator Mike Tice.
Veteran journeyman Josh McCown figures to return in 2012. Signs point to the team extending an offer to the unrestricted free agent. Taking over during the final two weeks of last season, McCown engineered a strong performance in a loss to the Green Bay Packers before playing a role in ending the team's five-game losing streak in the season finale at Minnesota.
While it appears McCown earned at least a shot to compete for the No. 2 job, it's believed the team plans to look elsewhere for Cutler's primary backup.
That search could lead the Bears back to Kyle Orton, who flashed in 2011 filling in for an injured Matt Cassel in Kansas City, where new general manager Phil Emery worked before coming to Chicago. Orton passed for 1,758 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in '11, and might be in line for a starting job -- or at least the opportunity to win one -- elsewhere. The Bears put in a waiver claim to land Orton last season when the Broncos released him. This time, it's likely the team has a chance to acquire him in free agency, but it will likely encounter plenty of competition in that endeavor.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard presents a more realistic option than other free-agent quarterbacks such as Oakland's Jason Campbell or Green Bay's Matt Flynn, who appear to be looking for opportunities to start. Garrard sat out the '11 season after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc, but told ESPNChicago.com early last month that "by the end of March I will be 100 percent," adding that he feels comfortable with playing a reserve role provided he's in a good situation.
Garrard worked with Tice four years in Jacksonville (2006-09), compiling a 44-42 record as a starter, and is familiar with many of the concepts the new offensive coordinator plans to implement in Chicago's offense. Similar to Cutler, Garrard possesses a strong arm, good mobility and the courage to stand in the pocket and take shots to deliver the ball.
Garrard also owns the same 1-1 record as Cutler in the playoffs.
"I don't have a big ego," Garrard told the Florida Times-Union. "I love starting. I love being the guy that everybody looks up to. If that's not quite the situation, I don't have any harsh feelings toward that."
Here's a list of some other potential options for the Bears in their search for a No. 2 quarterback:
Dennis Dixon, Pittsburgh Steelers
David Carr, New York Giants
Shaun Hill, Detroit Lions
Drew Stanton, Detroit Lions
Josh Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Byron Leftwich, Pittsburgh Steelers
Luke McCown, Jacksonville Jaguars
Tyler Palko, Kansas City Chiefs
Sage Rosenfels, Minnesota Vikings
Charlie Whitehurst, Seattle Seahawks
Vince Young, Philadelphia Eagles