Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler

Chicago’s hiring of new head coach John Fox on Friday naturally leads to speculation about what is to become of quarterback Jay Cutler.

Signed to a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million last offseason, Cutler figures to become a hot topic of conversation among Fox and the brass at Halas Hall in the coming days. But new general manager Ryan Pace, who had been director of player personnel for the Saints, recently said the team won’t make any decisions until he gets a chance to get to know Cutler.

Pace can do that now that he’s hired a head coach.

“The quarterback obviously is a critical, critical position to achieve sustained success. But it’s not the only position. For us to have a lot of success, all 53 guys are going to be accounted for,” Pace said. “So, yeah, I witnessed things with Drew Brees that I have in my mind that I know why he was successful and those are ingrained in me. But I want to get to know Jay. I want to get to know him further before I come to these conclusions.”

Team chairman George McCaskey will leave Cutler’s fate solely up to Pace and Fox. But regardless of the conclusion Pace and Fox reach, options regarding Cutler seem limited.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhNew GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox will decide about Jay Cutler's future in Chicago.
Whether or not Cutler remains on the roster in 2015, the Bears are still responsible for $15.5 million in fully guaranteed salary and would owe the quarterback another $10 million in fully guaranteed money for 2016 if he’s still on the roster on March 12, three days into the new league year.

Cutler’s contract does include offset language for guaranteed money. So if Chicago were to release Cutler, whatever salary he receives from his next team would be subtracted from the $15.5 million owed by the Bears, with cap savings deferred.

With multiple teams around the NFL appearing to need quarterbacks -- such as Buffalo, the New York Jets, Houston, Tennessee and possibly Cleveland -- trading Cutler would seem a logical move, too. But the Bears would need a contingency plan in place before trying to make such a deal.

It’s worth noting that the upcoming free-agent class of quarterbacks doesn’t present many viable options for Chicago, and we all know no sure things exist in the NFL draft.

The problem with trading Cutler is receiving fair compensation, as teams interested in acquiring the quarterback know the Bears would be desperate to dump his large contract. So if the Bears decide to move Cutler, they’d have to do so knowing they’re not likely to receive fair value. But the money freed up could allow Chicago to build in other areas, namely the defense.

This might irritate some Bears fans, but perhaps the best course of action for the club is to keep Cutler. The Dallas Cowboys proved in 2014 it’s possible to mitigate the effects of a mistake-prone quarterback by building around him and changing the offensive philosophy, which is something Fox demonstrated an ability to do during his tenure in Carolina.

If Pace and Fox rebuild the defense and the coach shifts to more of a run-first philosophy that would allow Cutler to operate more efficiently off play-action, Chicago could win games similarly to the way the Seattle Seahawks get it done.

Statistically, Cutler produced one of his best seasons in 2014, completing a career-best 66 percent of his throws for a career-high 28 touchdowns. Cutler’s 3,812 passing yards ranked as second best of his career, and he finished the season with a passer rating of 88.6, which registers as his second-best rating in nine NFL seasons.

Obviously, turnovers (24) and questionable decision-making significantly diminished Cutler’s 2014 campaign, as opponents scored a total of 95 points off the team’s 29 giveaways.

But that’s not to say Fox can’t win with Cutler, because he can.

“I’m a big fan of Jay personally, and I’m a fan of Jay professionally,” McCaskey said. “But all of the personnel decisions are going to be up to the new general manager and the new head coach.”

For Pace and Fox, the Cutler clock is now ticking.

John Fox most sensible choice for Bears

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips took a critical look at the club’s disastrous 2014 season and reached the conclusion that keeping "the status quo was not an option."

The hiring of soon-to-be 60-year old John Fox represents a genuine break from the status quo.

Fox arrives in Chicago with a wealth of head coaching experience after spending nine seasons in Carolina (2002-10) and four in Denver (2011-14), reaching the playoffs a combined seven times, and finishing as the runner-up in two Super Bowls.

This breaks the franchise’s tradition of hiring first-time head coaches.

Though new general manager Ryan Pace had what several sources described as a "tight" relationship with former Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone, whom the Bears interviewed on Tuesday along with Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Fox became a no-brainer the moment he "mutually parted company" with John Elway and the Broncos.

The Bears, coming off a 5-11 train wreck, could ill afford to pass on Fox, especially after the Bruce Arians debacle from two years ago, when former general manager Phil Emery bypassed Arians (21-11 in Arizona) in favor of Marc Trestman (13-19).

Can you imagine Pace choosing Marrone over Fox, and two or three years later firing Marrone after he failed to pan out in Chicago?

It would be disastrous for the organization.

Even if Fox falls short of turning the Bears into a perennial playoff participant, at least the young GM would be able to mount an honest defense: He hired the best man available at the time.

However, strong evidence suggests Fox can change the Bears’ culture.

Fox comes from a defensive background, serving as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Raiders and New York Giants before landing his first head coaching gig in Carolina, where he went 78-74 overall (three playoff berths, one NFC championship).

Fox’s four-year stint in Denver produced 49 total wins, four consecutive division titles and a Super Bowl appearance last season.

For comparison's sake -- Marrone went 15-17 in Buffalo.

One former Fox player predicted: "[Coach Fox] will bring stability to the Bears. Coach Fox is definitely a players’ coach, but he also preaches discipline, and he’ll lay down the law if he has to. He will immediately improve the defense, while also putting a higher priority on running the football. Honestly, he is a great fit for the Bears. Chicago is lucky he left Denver."

What about Jay Cutler? Can Fox co-exist with Cutler if the quarterback remains on the Bears’ 2015 roster?

"I don’t know what the plans are with Jay, but if he stays, Coach Fox won’t have a problem with him," the player said. "Jay will respect John. How can he not? Coach Fox is a tough guy. He won’t tolerate anything less from Jay."

Respect, authority, stability and credibility -- four words rarely uttered at Halas Hall since Lovie Smith left town.

Even close to 60 years old, Fox provides a breath of fresh air the Bears badly craved.
Finally, the Chicago Bears hired a new general manager in Ryan Pace. Now the club can intensify the search for a new head coach.

As we prepare for all the names to emerge in the search for a new coach, let's tackle a couple other questions with today's Twitter mailbag.

Thanks everyone for participating.

@mikecwright: I could see that happening. Jay Cutler's 2015 salary of $15.5 million is already fully guaranteed, and this team is looking at another $10 million for 2016 if Cutler remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year. If the Bears want to move on from Cutler, they need to have a plan in place, and I don't really see one with new general manager Ryan Pace just taking over and no head coach in place. As much criticism as Cutler has taken this season, you can't discount the fact he put up career numbers in completion percentage (66.1) and touchdown passes (28). Cutler's 3,812 passing yards ranked as the second best of his career, and his passer rating of 88.6 was also second-best in his nine NFL seasons. Obviously turnovers (24) and decision-making were the major issues for Cutler in 2014, but there were other factors involved beyond his control. When pondering moving on from Cutler, you have to look at all the viable options out there, and there aren't many. The upcoming free-agent class of quarterbacks is underwhelming, and even if the Bears were in position to select one of the top signal callers in the draft, throwing a rookie into the fire is still a crapshoot. Pace and Chicago's brass need to make sure they hire a coach capable of coaxing the most from Cutler without coddling the quarterback. That coach doesn't have to be a quarterback guru. In fact, he could come from a defensive background. The new hire needs to bang home the importance with Cutler of playing complementary football. I believe Cutler can be reined in, similar to what the Dallas Cowboys did with Tony Romo by beefing up the offensive line and shifting to more of a run-first philosophy. I'm not going to write off Cutler just yet.

@mikecwright: That makes sense, but to me they have got to fix the secondary first. Chicago's defense ranked No. 30 against the pass, and opponents completed 66.8 of their attempts against the Bears for a passer rating of 101.7. Obviously, the front seven plays into that, because if quarterbacks aren't being pressured, they are going to light you up. But it's unlikely cornerback Charles Tillman returns in 2015, and Tim Jennings struggled last season. So you have to think the team needs at least two new cornerbacks. Chris Conte likely won't be back, but even if the club did plan on re-signing him, the Bears still need at least two more safeties. At linebacker, the Bears at least have a couple of players in Jonathan Bostic and Christian Jones to build around. The club certainly needs to add there, but I'd say the secondary would be the priority this offseason.

@mikecwright: I'd go with Christian Jones, Kieran. I think he is this team's starting strongside linebacker for years to come. It's just too bad the coaching staff didn't put him in the mix earlier in the season. As Jones' reps increased, you saw a young player developing quickly, and I believe that will continue as he learns more about the NFL game. Obviously, a new coaching staff and possibly a new system could slow his growth somewhat. But to me, of all the players you listed, Jones has the best chance of making a significant jump. Ka'Deem Carey doesn't receive enough reps playing behind Matt Forte to make that leap. Brock Vereen, in my opinion, needs to drastically improve his strength and physicality moving forward.

@mikecwright: Not really, because I believe the priority from the beginning was for the Bears to fill the opening at general manager. With the club finally accomplishing that, I'd expect more names to emerge in the coaching search. There is definitely a chance the Bears missed the boat on Rex Ryan, because last I checked he was about to interview for a second time with the Atlanta Falcons. Consider this though: Pace did work with Rex Ryan's brother, Rob, in New Orleans. So there's some familiarity from that standpoint, and remember, Pace was bringing in players in New Orleans that fit that style of defense. So even though Rex Ryan hasn't emerged as a candidate for the Bears, I wouldn't rule it out, because nobody knows exactly what Pace and the team's brass is looking for in this search.

@mikecwright: See my answer above. I definitely believe the secondary is the more pressing issue. The Bears will need to fix it through a combination of smart decisions in the draft and free agency..

videoLAKE FOREST, Ill. -- After Ryan Pace's general manager interview Wednesday, George McCaskey, Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi shared a moment.

“When he left the room, Ernie, Ted and I looked at each other, and you could tell by the looks on their faces, he was the guy,” McCaskey said.

A day later, Pace was hired as the sixth general manager in Chicago Bears history. Phil Emery, we hardly knew ye.

[+] EnlargeRyan Pace
AP Images/Nam Y. HuhRyan Pace said during his introductory press conference that the Bears need to regain their identity as a tough, physical team on defense.
Now, you, me and everyone else in the free world trust exactly one guy in that room’s opinion when it comes to football matters, and it’s Accorsi, the former Giants general manager who’s now earning a nice, fat paycheck for a few weeks' work as a consultant.

So if Ernie liked him, that’s a good sign, I suppose.

Even Phillips, the team president, joked about his reputation, telling reporters, “Hey look, you guys have all convinced me I’m not a football guy, all right?”

When asked about the Bears' brain trust betting on Pace, a 37-year-old New Orleans front-office veteran, to fix this mom-and-son operation, McCaskey quoted Accorsi.

“Ernie had a good analogy,” McCaskey said. “He said when you see that great young quarterback, you've got to take him -- that's the analogy he applied to Ryan. So we think and we hope we have the right guy.”

A good young quarterback in Chicago? Does anyone here know what that looks like?

It wasn’t Cade McNown or Rex Grossman or even Jay Cutler.

In his televised introduction to Chicago, the new “great young quarterback” of the Bears' organization looked the part. He’s tall, good-looking and young. He said “sustained success” so often I believe he owes royalties to Cubs president Theo Epstein.

He didn’t have much to say, because there’s not a lot to talk about yet. His vision for the Bears is your vision for the Bears. He wants to win a lot of games behind a bunch of athletic football players.

There’s no coach yet, no coaching staff, and Pace definitely didn’t want to wade into the dangerous waters of publicly evaluating Cutler, the $54 million elephant in the room.

Pace can’t remake the guts of the football operations department until the draft, so what’s there to say to the world? Not much. Just vague statements, a joke or two, and that’s it.

There’s a lot of work to do in a very short window. Emery lasted three years at the job, Marc Trestman just two as head coach. The Bears bottomed out at 5-11 in 2014, their worst record in a decade.

The roster isn’t rife with talent, and there are some expensive questions to answer. There are schematic questions, philosophical quandaries. But really, there’s only one acceptable result.

“This is a winning league. You must win,” Pace said. “We’re all judged on wins and losses. I understand that. In fact, I thrive in that. I know I’m evaluated on wins and losses. As far as the time frame and all that, I’m not concerned with that. I want to win. I want to win.”

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – New Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace said Friday that he plans to schedule a future meeting with Jay Cutler, but he declined to evaluate the quarterback’s on-field performance, a resume that includes a league-high 24 turnovers in 2014.

“I just found my office this morning,” Pace said. “I have a list. I’m going to meet with him soon. But right now, seriously, I’m really narrowed in on this head coach search right now. I’ll have time to talk to Jay. But I don’t have a set date.”

I don’t want to comment on specific things about him right now. Evaluating the quarterback is more than just what I see on tape. There are a lot of other things that go into the position. For me to fully that question [about Cutler], I need to get to know him as a person.”

Pace is no stranger to the football DNA of great NFL quarterbacks.

The 37-year old talent evaluator spent the last two years (2013-14) in New Orleans as director of player personnel, but he held the title of pro scout in 2006 when the Saints acquired free-agent quarterback Drew Brees, who suffered a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season while a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Brees went on to rewrite the record books in New Orleans, leading the Saints to the 2009 Super Bowl title.

“The quarterback obviously is a critical, critical position to achieve sustained success, but it’s not the only position,” Pace said. “For us to have a lot of success all 53 guys are going to be accounted for. I witnessed things with Drew Brees that I have in my mind that I know why he was successful, and those are ingrained in me. I want to get to know Jay. I want to get to know him further before I come to these conclusions.”

Pace fondly recalled the Saints' push to land Brees in free agency, and their original trepidation over the quarterback’s injured shoulder.

“That seriously was a group effort,” Pace said. “I’m not saying that as a generic answer. It really was [a group effort]. We talked about Drew Brees at the time. Obviously, there were some concerns with this shoulder. We had a plan in place to possibly draft a quarterback, and acquire a veteran free agent, if we didn’t get Drew Brees. That was our backup plan. We were fortunate to get Drew.

“Once you get to know him, once you interviewed him, you realized that he was coming off a shoulder [injury], but he was going to persevere through that. I remember we joke about our first training camp practice, because Drew didn’t throw the entire minicamps or OTAs. So [we’re at training camp], and here’s Drew’s first throw, right? He drops back for a little 5-yard out and he skips [the pass] off the ground. We all look at each other like, ‘Oh, man.’ But that guy’s work ethic, he progressed right through that, and hey, led us to a championship.”
Phillips/McCaskeyAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhGeorge McCaskey and the Bears have a tendency to play it safe rather than institute real change.
CHICAGO -- To borrow a phrase popular around these parts back in the day, change is something I believe in.

After all, change is something for which we assemble, something we argue about, and at times, demand.

But when it comes to the Chicago Bears, if you demand change, you might as well spit in the wind during Peak Bear Weather. Because change is still a four-letter word in Lake Forest.

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears, Emery, Trestman
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhPhil Emery and Marc Trestman are out, but will it be more of the same with whoever replaces them?
Real change, I mean. Not cosmetic alterations, not shuffling in Halas Hall expats and friends of friends. Not giving power to the same guys over and over again.

Remember the “massive change” press conference of 2010?

After the expected, necessary firings of general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman last week, there was a lot of buzz about a sea change inside Halas Hall, where previous McCaskeys let the Bears flounder for years under Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron.

Not even the laziest McCaskey would’ve let Emery and Trestman return after this past season.

But the reality of what we saw the Monday after the regular season ended were two well-meaning neophytes in George McCaskey and president/consigliere Ted Phillips explaining the obvious (The Bears were a joke this season) and going over the process to find the family’s latest savior (It'll work!).

They dabbled in organizational philosophy and vague assurances. They kept saying “foreclose” like it was the game played by the cops in “Super Troopers.”

No need to ridicule these guys. But they didn’t, and don’t, inspire any confidence that the Chicago Bears will change under new management.

Hiring “Football Guy” Ernie Accorsi as an advisor, the big news out of the meeting, was a smart move -- and surely no guarantee of success. After all, the final decision comes down to a “collaboration” between Phillips and McCaskey. Accorsi, the former New York Giants GM and “old school” steward is just a guide.

The Bears are a mom and pop shop that rarely make the playoffs. They aren't cheap, as has been their reputation in the past, when it comes to players. But this ain't JerryWorld either.

There's a reason people aren't falling over themselves for these open jobs. Some of it is Jay Cutler and the lack of talent on the roster. Some is the Bears are a cornerstone NFL organization in name only. They are the embodiment of the league's past.

Former Bears scout Chris Ballard, now a player personnel chief in Kansas City, interviewed with the trio Wednesday and has been a local favorite since before Emery was officially axed.

Given that he’s turned down other general manager interviews leads you to believe he’s confident in this landing spot. Ballard worked for 12 years in Halas Hall under Jerry Angelo and briefly, Emery. He’s well-respected, but once you get into the insular world of anonymous league execs, who isn’t?

“[Ballard] should be a lock unless they want to totally move on from the [former general manager Jerry] Angelo ties,” a scouting director who has worked directly with Ballard told ESPN NFL Nation reporter Michael C. Wright. “If [the Bears] don’t hire Ballard, they would be making a big mistake. ... He’s more qualified than anybody I have ever been around in this business."

Given that this person worked with Ballard, you have to listen to these plaudits and still reserve judgment.

“He’s got a great head of hair,” Bears guard Kyle Long noted on the “Carmen and Jurko” show Wednesday afternoon. “He’d give Jay [Cutler] a run for his money.”

Duly noted.

I was in favor of forgoing all attachments to Bears Past, regardless of their qualifications, and snagging a young personnel executive from, say, the Green Bay Packers.

I also wanted Rex Ryan, the erstwhile Jets coach who would completely and positively change the franchise for the better. He’s a culture builder, a change agent. An establishment coach who acts like an outsider.

Again, I was way off. That’s why they don’t hire me as a consultant.

Ryan won’t be interviewed. No Packers will be smuggled south.

Accorsi, obviously, knows what he’s doing as he steers Lake Forest’s Bunk and McNulty to their next lead.

The idea of paying a consultant to tell you to hire a guy who already worked at Halas, who will then, in turn, hire Dave Toub, who coached here for nine years, well, is pretty funny.

It reminds one of when Tom Ricketts hired an advanced statistical analyst to figure out who would be Jim Hendry’s ideal replacement and he came up with no-name Theo Epstein.

Good ROI on those hires.

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Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston plans to declare for the NFL draft, but that won’t mean much for the Chicago Bears, who own the No. 7 overall pick.

First off, the Bears aren’t exactly what can be described as a quarterback-needy team, considering they’ve already got a $126.7 million signal-caller on the payroll in Jay Cutler.

So before the Bears can devise a plan of attack to thoroughly vet Winston’s background as a potential pick, they’ve got to figure out what they want to do with Cutler, who is certainly talented enough to lead the club in 2015, provided the organization puts him in a position to succeed with the proper support system (general manager, coaches, players).

ESPN’s Todd McShay believes Winston is a better prospect than Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, but there’s a chance neither would be available when the Bears make their selection.

“They both have a chance to be great,” McShay said Tuesday during a conference call. “But they both come with red flags. Winston’s red flags are off the field.”

That brings us to another point. How could the next GM of the Chicago Bears sell Winston to ownership and the club’s fan base?

Football players don’t have to be choirboys, and from this vantage point football character trumps off-the-field character, provided the latter isn’t significant. But the new GM would have a difficult time convincing a conservative ownership group that Winston is worthy of being selected with the team’s first-round pick.

If the Bears did draft Winston, the staff would have to fight the temptation -- not to mention the outside noise from fans and media -- to play him immediately in the harsh spotlight of one of the NFL’s largest media markets.

Since the start of the 2013 season, Winston ranks fourth in touchdown passes (65), fourth in passing yards (7,964) and second in passes for gains of 20 yards or more (124).

But ultimately, it boils down to whether Winston would be best option in 2015 for the Bears at the quarterback position.

Even without knowing what the Bears' plan is for Cutler, the answer to that question would still be a resounding no.
It's wild-card weekend, and Chicago Bears fans get to sit around for the fifth consecutive year watching teams other than their own participate, as the organization continues to sift through candidates for its general manager and head coach openings. As you sit down and prepare to watch Saturday's offerings, here's a mailbag for you to peruse covering a variety of subjects regarding the Bears. Thanks everyone for participating.

@mikecwright: Glad you asked that question because we need to debunk myths regarding Mike Shanahan. While he deserves plenty of credit for winning a pair of Super Bowl titles in Denver, let's not anoint him as Vince Lombardi. You mentioned that "if anyone can do something with Cutler, it's him." My question to you would be: What did he do? In three seasons with Jay Cutler (2006-08), the Broncos never made the playoffs and posted a 17-20 record. In fact, I'd venture to say that Shanahan really hasn't done much in terms of winning without John Elway. Shanahan's record with Elway as the quarterback is 47-17 in four seasons (1995-98). Take those four years with Elway out of Shanahan's regular-season record, and he's sitting at 123-121 over 16 seasons at the helm with only one playoff victory (2012). So while I understand people's fascination with Shanahan, you have to admit that Elway has a lot to do with the coach's 170-138 regular-season record. Great quarterbacks tend to do that.

@mikecwright: I'll let team chairman George McCaskey answer that question for you because we definitely asked after the team announced the firings of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman. Here's what he had to say: "We feel that the structure we have is a good one, with the head coach reporting to the general manager, the general manager reporting to the president, and the president reporting to the chairman. But if that needed adjustment in order to get the right person, we wouldn't foreclose that possibility." Now, the second part of that certainly makes sense. But remember, McCaskey spoke quite a bit that same day about the need to maintain the club's "tradition," which leads me to believe he'd like for things to stay the same in terms of the organizational hierarchy. What's interesting to me is McCaskey wants to keep this "tradition". Last I checked, this franchise has only one Super Bowl title. It's tradition that times have and always will change, and I think until the organization gets on board with that, you won't see much different from what we've continued to see over the years.

@mikecwright: Appreciate the kind thoughts. I was about a heartbeat away from roundhouse-kicking the television. Getting to your question, I believe trading Cutler is a viable option. I also believe that there will be a market for him. But you can't ignore Cutler's contract. He's fully guaranteed $15.5 million for 2015, and another $10 million of his salary is guaranteed for 2016 if he remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year. So if the plan is to move Cutler, the organization needs to get cracking. But given the fact teams around the league know the Bears might be looking to move Cutler, the team probably won't get proper value in a trade for the quarterback. So then it becomes a question of how motivated Chicago is to move on. It's impossible to know the answer without a power structure in place. Things will become clearer once the Bears hire the new general manager and new head coach. But I do know for a fact that at least two of the candidates who interviewed for the head coaching job prior to the Trestman hiring didn't want Cutler as the team's quarterback. One of them mentioned it to Emery during the interview process, which basically squashed his bid for the job.

@mikecwright: The problem is defensive tackles -- especially players the caliber of Ndamukong Suh -- command big money in free agency, and the Bears will be a little cash strapped due in part to the cap hit associated with Cutler's deal. Last April, I remember asking Emery and one of the current GM candidates whether they'd trade for Suh if it were financially feasible, and both unequivocally said yes, citing the difficulty of finding dominant interior defenders. Just for comparison's sake, Linval Joseph signed a five-year deal worth $31.5 million last year in free agency with Minnesota. Former Bear Henry Melton signed a four-year, $29 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys. Paul Soliai received $33 million over five years in Atlanta. None of those players is the special talent Suh is. My guess is Suh will receive a deal similar to the six-year, $100 million extension J.J. Watt signed with the Houston Texans.

@mikecwright: I think it depends on how much McCaskey plans to defer to recently hired consultant Ernie Accorsi. McCaskey recently mentioned: "The conventional timeline is to hire the general manager first. But Ernie has already advised us that if we see the right guy out there as a head coach, we need to be prepared to move quickly to get him." So if McCaskey adheres to that, the Bears won't hesitate to go unconventional if it means acquiring the coach they want because you obviously know there will be plenty of competition between the teams in trying to lure these candidates.  
Healthy all season for the first time since 2009, Jay Cutler completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes in 2014 and set a career record for touchdown passes (28) in addition to racking up the second-most passing yards (3,812) in his nine NFL seasons.

Yet from 2013 to 2014, the quarterback experienced the steepest decline of his Bears tenure in Total QBR (from 66.4 to 54.0).

So while the raw numbers indicate Cutler produced a strong campaign in 2014, the Total QBR tells a different tale as his 54.0 QBR in 2014 ranked as 21st in the NFL, down 14 places from 2013, when the quarterback ranked No. 7 in the league in that statistic.

Total QBR was developed to measure the level at which a quarterback contributes to putting points on the board, and obviously victories.

Yet what’s interesting about Total QBR as it relates to Cutler, however, is there’s really no correlation between how well the quarterback performs in that statistic and the team’s overall success.

For instance, Cutler ranked No. 16 or worse in the NFL in Total QBR in all but one of his six seasons in Chicago (2013). Yet Cutler’s worst performance as a Chicago Bear in Total QBR (44.7 in 2010) came during a season in which he was sacked 52 times(the most during his tenure with the team), yet the Bears were 11-5 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

So that’s ammunition for the Cutler defenders. But more than anything, that oddity speaks more to the importance of playing complementary football, an element sorely lacking in Chicago during the past two seasons because of the decline of the defense and special teams.

It’s certainly something worth considering for the team’s new general manager and head coach, once they come aboard.

Of the last eight Super Bowl champions, just three times (2006, 2009, 1010), their starting quarterbacks were among in the top 10 in Total QBR, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Over that same span, the defenses of those Super Bowl winners ranked in the top 10 six times in Total QBR.

Again, complementary football.

In 2014, the team with the higher Total QBR won 85.7 percent of its regular-season games, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and that registers as higher than the comparable mark for teams finishing games with the edge in total yardage, turnover differential and NFL passer rating.

So while Cutler continues to gain plenty of detractors -- including one here -- it’s difficult based on the numbers to definitively prove he isn’t the answer in Chicago.

Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery spoke confidently Sunday during a pregame interview on WBBM, as if business would continue as usual at Halas Hall in the wake of the team's season-ending 13-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

"Obviously, it's at the end of the season," Emery said. "So on Monday, we'll have a team meeting. Our coaches will hold that meeting. After that, they'll start evaluating players. We've already done that from a personnel perspective, and we'll move forward."

Perhaps Emery knows what the coaches don't at this point, which is unlikely, as multiple staffers believe they'll be fired as soon as Monday, according to sources. But regardless of whether Emery or the coaching staff is retained, several key issues need to be addressed, and it's unclear whether it can all be accomplished in one short offseason.

The new league year and the start of free agency fall on March 10. Then on April 30, the 2015 NFL draft kicks off in Chicago. A few months later, in July, the Bears begin training camp at Olivet Nazarene University.

Somewhere between now and July, the Bears need to make decisions and moves that push the franchise in the right direction. Coach Marc Trestman believes he has the answers and plans to present them soon at Halas Hall.

"I expect to be back. I couldn't look at it any other way," Trestman told reporters after the finale in Minneapolis. "My plan is to continue to finalize my notes now that this season is over and make sure that [when] the opportunity arises, I'll be able to explain how we fix this thing. All I know right now is we've got a meeting tomorrow at 11 o'clock with the team, and we're moving forward from there. Nobody understands the situation better than I do. I've lived it every day for the last two years and certainly the last six months. So I think I have some expertise in that area. In putting my thoughts down, I don't think there's anybody in a better position to assess it other than myself and Phil [Emery]."

In stumbling to a 5-11 record and five consecutive losses to close the season, the Bears fielded a roster in 2014 featuring an NFL-high 17 rookies, which would be a positive heading into the offseason, if the majority of the young players were promising. Some are, no doubt, but for the majority that's not the case.

Regardless of whether the organization drops the general manager or the coaching staff, once the preliminary decisions are made in the coming days, the Bears need to upgrade the personnel on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Bears possess several talented weapons at the skill positions and adequate blockers in the middle. But the club needs to add a legitimate deep threat in the slot to take some of the pressure off Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside, in addition to acquiring some depth at the position.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
AP Photo/David GoldmanDespite a five-game losing streak to end the 2014 season, Bears coach Marc Trestman expects to return to the organization for 2015.
Most importantly on that side of the ball, the Bears need to figure out what to do with enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler, who finished Sunday's game with a passer rating of 75.2 on 23-of-36 passes for 172 yards and no touchdowns. Cutler's 2015 salary of $15.5 million is already fully guaranteed, and if he remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year, a $10 million guarantee on his 2016 salary kicks in. Given the team's decision to bench Cutler after a horrid performance during a 31-15 loss to New Orleans on Dec. 15, his future appears to be murky, and there's no guarantee a new coaching staff or general manager would be on board with the quarterback leading the 2015 Bears.

Trestman said Sunday he believes Cutler can be part of the team's plans in 2015, but that's not set in stone, either. Given Cutler's immense arm talent, there's no doubt a market will exist for the quarterback's services this offseason. But the Bears need to make a move on that front sooner rather than later.

Cutler said he hasn't considered the possibility of having to play for a fifth offensive coordinator since 2009 if the team fires the current coaching staff.

"I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen," Cutler told reporters. "No one knows what direction we're going. I'm pretty confident we'll know soon. I don't think it's going to be something that's going to drag out. We won't consider anything until decisions are made, then we'll take it from there."

On defense, Chicago needs a severe talent makeover, mainly in the secondary at both safety positions, as Ryan Mundy was basically a career backup before joining the Bears, while Chris Conte isn't likely to be brought back, as his deal is set to expire. The Bears could also help themselves by acquiring at least one cornerback to pair with promising rookie Kyle Fuller, as veteran Tim Jennings has underperformed since signing a four-year deal last January worth $24 million. Perhaps he's better suited, at this point, to play nickel. Charles Tillman isn't likely to return either, considering he's finished on the injured reserve in each of the past two seasons, due to tearing the same triceps muscle, and the club also needs to upgrade at linebacker, as franchise stalwart Lance Briggs isn't expected back.

"It's an absolute necessity this offseason. You don't just sit around and talk about what happened last year," defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff told WBBM just hours before Sunday's game. "Get up and do something about it every day; weight room, running. Everyone individually knows what they need to get ready for next year. So don't dream about it. Go do it."

Same goes for this franchise's ownership.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 28, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 13-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium.

What it means: The season is mercifully over. With team matriarch Virginia McCaskey and team chairman George McCaskey in attendance, the Bears' record dropped to a disappointing 5-11, the franchise's worst single-season finish since 2004 (also 5-11). Embattled head coach Marc Trestman awaits word on his future after posting a futile 13-19 record in two years on the job. For weeks, Trestman refused to directly answer questions related to job security, but’s Michael Wright reported Sunday morning that at least three assistant coaches expect to be fired. Now it’s only a matter of time before the general public learns Trestman’s fate.

General manager Phil Emery’s future is unknown. Emery hit on recent draft picks Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long and Kyle Fuller, but he’s responsible for two colossal blunders: hiring Trestman and awarding quarterback Jay Cutler a lucrative contract extension. Emery watched Sunday's game in a private suite alongside the McCaskey family.

Stock watch: Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is not a popular figure in Chicago. However, the defense turned out to be the least dysfunctional of the club’s three groups. Tucker’s defense limited Minnesota to three points and 118 total yards of offense in the first half. On multiple occasions throughout the year, the defense did enough to keep the Bears in games, only to be let down by the offense. Sunday was no exception. Fuller's early third-quarter interception, and subsequent return, gave the offense the football at the Vikings’ 9-yard line. Sadly, the Bears had to settle for a field goal.

Eventually, the defense made its share of mistakes in the second half -- including a busted coverage on Adam Thielen’s 44-yard touchdown reception -- but the effort was evident. The Bears even stopped Minnesota on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Trestman’s offense predictably struggled in Week 17, even with Cutler back at quarterback in place of concussed Jimmy Clausen. The Vikings' 15th-ranked total defense stymied the Bears for much of the afternoon. The Bears end 2014 without scoring more than 28 points in a single game.

Forte milestones: Bears tailback Matt Forte passed Larry Centers for the most single-season receptions by a running back (102). Forte also topped the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in his seven-year NFL career.

Game ball: In a lost year, Forte again proved to be one of the most versatile all-purpose tailbacks in the league, topping the Bears in rushing yards and catches. His current contract is set to expire following the 2015 season, meaning Forte’s agent is likely to press the Bears for another extension in the offseason.

What’s next: The Bears return home to Lake Forest, Illinois, for exit physicals and one final team meeting on Monday. While the team is scheduled to hold an open locker room period Monday for reporters, the Bears have not released any further media information.
The teams possess similar records, but make no mistake about it -- the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings are headed two totally different directions. So throw out the records and the fact Chicago defeated the Vikings 21-13 back in November at Soldier Field.

That seems like ages ago.

Since then, the Bears have dealt with the drama of offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer outing himself as an anonymous source in an NFL Network report, losing receiver Brandon Marshall for the season due to injury, the benching of Jay Cutler only to go back to him due to a mysterious concussion suffered by Jimmy Clausen, not to mention the overall lack of trust between players and the coaching staff, as well as kicker Robbie Gould's recent admission that what’s going on right now is not “the Chicago Bears way.”

The day after this game, win or lose, you can expect the Bears to start the process of upheaval at Halas Hall.

By the way, there’s actually a game to play Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Players talk about filtering out the outside noise, but in Chicago, there’s so much now, that’s basically an exercise in futility.

Quarterback Jay Cutler tossed three interceptions and finished with a season-low passer rating of 55.8 in his last start. By halftime, Cutler had thrown two picks while generating a passer rating of 14.9 on 6-of-14 passing for 56 yards.

Expect more of the same in this one. Nobody will say it, but it’s clear the relationship between Bears coach Marc Trestman and Cutler is damaged. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cutler play a backyard brand of ball where he’s operating outside the confines of the system and slinging the ball all over the yard. In fact, you should expect that.

The pick: Minnesota 21, Bears 17.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Nothing tangible remains to play for Sunday in the season-finale at Minnesota, but Jay Cutler plans to muster up investment for "the guys in the locker room" in what could wind up being his last game as quarterback of the Chicago Bears.

"The guys that have been in the huddle all year long that I’ve been with, those are the guys I’ll play for this week," Cutler said.

Signed to a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million last January, Cutler takes over as the starter after being benched last week in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who on Monday was diagnosed with a concussion. In 10 starts against the Vikings, Cutler has thrown for 2,434 yards, 23 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a passer rating of 98.0.

Cutler declined to speculate on his future, but admitted it will be difficult to generate energy for the season finale with so little to play for and uncertainty about what might transpire as soon as the Monday following Sunday’s outing at TCF Bank Stadium.

Cutler’s 2015 base salary of $15.5 million is fully guaranteed, and another $10 million guarantee for his 2016 salary kicks in if the quarterback remains on the roster on March 12, the third day of the 2015 league year.

"I think you’ve just got to prepare yourself that anything could happen," Cutler said. "That’s kind of what I’m prepared for. I mean, everyone could stay. Everyone could get axed. You just never know what direction it’s going to go. You just have to stay open-minded and know that things happen for a reason."

Asked whether he’s ever come to grips with the human element of what could take place on Monday and the number of people it could affect, Cutler said he ponders such scenarios during training camp.

"You chop [the roster] down, chop it down," Cutler said. "You wonder where those guys go, what happens to them. Some of them never play football again. The situation after the year, it’s gonna be similar. Coaches could leave. Players could leave. I could leave. That’s part of it."

Cutler has called the 2014 season his most difficult as a professional, and admits all the turmoil has conditioned him to "expect the least expected at this point."

"Hopefully, we can make it through the next couple of days without something else happening," he said. "You never know though."

QB snapshot: Jimmy Clausen

December, 23, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Jimmy Clausen and how he played in the Chicago Bears' 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 16:

Seeking a "spark" to ignite Chicago's dormant offense, Bears coach Marc Trestman benched Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen, and while the tactic appeared to work initially, ultimately the club dropped its fourth in a row as the unit put up just 14 points.

For the most part, Clausen produced an error-free game, but he did throw one interception with 2:02 left to play on a fourth-down desperation heave. So while Clausen didn't make many of the game-changing mistakes we've seen from Cutler, the truth is the quarterback proved only that he's a capable NFL backup. Nothing more. But we won't discount the fact Clausen played against one of the NFL's best defenses with little prep time, and without the services of starting left guard Kyle Long.

Still, Clausen was only mediocre in his first start since 2010, finishing the game with two touchdown passes and a rating of 77.0, while completing only one pass for a gain of more than 18 yards (20-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter). In Clausen's defense, Jeffery did drop four passes, and the Bears were unable to generate a sufficient rushing attack (55 yards rushing from Matt Forte). But the quarterback put together only one legitimate scoring drive (80 yards on 15 plays, aided by a roughing-the-kicker penalty that gave Chicago a first down after a stalled drive).

Clausen's second scoring drive came as the result of a muffed punt recovered on the Detroit 11.

Marc Trestman benched starting quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen for Sunday's 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Then mysterious circumstances -- the team's announcement that Clausen was ruled out after suffering a concussion Sunday for which delayed symptoms surfaced Monday -- called for Trestman to go back to Cutler for the season finale at Minnesota. Trestman mentioned that Cutler gives the Bears the best chance to win, which is absolutely true. But if Cutler's future is truly as murky as the team's recent actions indicate, why risk getting the quarterback hurt, which would diminish his trade value while potentially making the Bears liable for $10 million of the quarterback's $16 million base salary for 2016 if he's still on the roster on the third day of the 2015 league year (March 12)?

Remember, you can't move an injured player.

Cutler said all the right things last week in the wake of the benching. But from this vantage point, Trestman made a move in benching Cutler that he can't undo. In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to keep his job, Trestman damaged the relationship with Cutler. Likely forever.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesIn a questionable move, Jay Cutler will start in the Bears' Week 17 game at Minnesota on Sunday.
So Trestman's decision to go back to Cutler makes little sense, given there's absolutely nothing left for the Bears to play for Sunday in Minnesota.

Even receiver Brandon Marshall admitted Monday during his radio show on ESPN 1000 he's "sure there's some bitterness there or something there," and that Cutler coming back "is playing with your emotions a little bit."

Cutler's salary guarantees make it difficult enough to trade the quarterback because any franchise grabbing him would basically be forced to make a two-year commitment. So the quarterback going down with an injury in a meaningless game would only increase the difficulty the Bears already face this offseason, if the plan truly is to move Cutler.

Trestman insisted the relationship with the quarterback isn't strained. But even if that's truly the case, it's still bad business to play Cutler against the Vikings. Besides, why not give rookie David Fales a chance to showcase his skills?

"Jay's comments to the media were very similar to mine. We didn't practice together, in terms of what we were going to say. I said very specifically that I believe that Jay can work his way out of this," Trestman said. "And I've enjoyed coaching him and working with him. And we had dialogue last week. And we worked together last week. It was a tough week on him. I empathize with him on that. But we're moving forward, both with the idea that we've worked together for a long time and that hasn't changed."

What has changed is the functionality in the Chicago Bears' organization. That, certainly needs to change.