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Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Ready or not

By Scoop Jackson
ESPNChicago.com

Cutler
Jay Cutler no longer will have Brian Urlacher by his side to share the spotlight.
When Brian Urlacher was shown the exit, what was the first thing that came to mind?

• "This is wrong. He's a lifer. He should never be seen in anything but a Bears uniform."

• "It's about time. His best days were long gone. It's time for some new and younger blood on defense."

• "First Lovie, now this?! Phil Emery has no understanding of the Bears' legacy and how we do things here. He has no clue what honor and loyalty mean in this city."

• "Emery is a cold-hearted GM with no patience for nonsense or under-productiveness. He's nothing like Angelo. He's just what the Bears needed. Kinda reminds me of Mayor Rahm."

The one thing many of us never considered was how the absence of No. 54 immediately gives Jay Cutler the sole role as the face of the franchise/grand poo-bah/all-high-exalted-mystic-ruler/the-be-all-end-all/that dude/the unchallenged, unequivocal leader of the Chicago Bears.

For the four seasons he's been here, Cutler has seemed to shy away from it, yet at almost all times shared the unofficial title as the Bears' leader. The team's identity during his tenure has always been split three ways between him, Lovie Smith and Urlacher.

Which was cool because as bad as things got, it kept things democratic. Sure, Cutler took a lot of the heat for his production and attitude on the field, and his behavior and attitude off the field, but the fact that both Smith and Urlacher are no longer here -- and Cutler's the last leader standing -- proves that heat was shared.

But now -- especially with the upgrades Emery has made on the offensive line -- the heat index is unilateral. Jay Cutler will be the first and last voice of consequence when it comes to gathering information, dissecting information and coming to conclusions pertaining to every Bears win and loss. He is the singular voice and image attached to how this team (and franchise) will nationally be judged and identified. (Locally, by nature, we'll spread that wealth.)

Kinda scary, ain't it? Now that you've had fewer than three minutes to think it over, what's the first question that comes to mind?

Is Jay Cutler really ready for this?

(And … are we?)

The cruel yet understandable way to look at this is to conclude that Jay Cutler hasn't done anything over the past four years (eight if you go back to his days in Denver) to show and prove to anyone, anywhere, that he's ready to handle this weight by himself.

Especially since part -- if not half -- of the job is PR. Cutler doesn't have the stomach to digest what comes with the PR side of being the face of an NFL franchise. That "smile for the camera, say the right thing into the microphone, all for the public image of the team" DNA isn't a part of his molecular structure. Although "The Jay Cutler Show" on ESPN 1000 during every week of last season went a long way in letting people get to know Cutler. And he's on board for the weekly show again this season.

Cutler
Is this face ready to be the face of the Bears franchise?

But PC to Cutler stands for "Players Code" and nothing else. "Face of the Franchise" players have to be able to look out for more than just the players they co-exist and go to battle with. They have to be diplomatic, have an edit button. They have to actually care and think at least four times about what's about to come out of their mouths.

Again: At what part or point thus far in Cutler's career have we seen that person?

To lead in the midst of microscopic attention to adversity is a requirement that comes with this job. And it has to happen on and off the field.

Before parting ways with the Bears after free-agent negotiations flatlined, Urlacher built up his credibility as a leader over 13 seasons. He was a first-team All-Pro, defensive player of the year and one of the leaders on a Super Bowl team. He was respected around the league as one of the best (and sometimes most overrated) players at his position. He had eight Pro Bowls under his belt, and some consider him a probable Hall of Famer.

Cutler has taken the Bears to one postseason. Two playoff games. The same number as Russell Wilson. And it took Wilson 78 fewer games to do it. Yet Jay now has sole possession of the keys to the ride the Bears are about to be taken on?

But just because we haven't seen Jay be that person means that person doesn't exist.

Cutler has now been given the opportunity to exist. All by himself. To prove that Marc Trestman's new offense isn't the only thing he can master. To prove that he got this. All of it.

Perhaps the fact that Cutler expects to go into next season -- which will be the last on his current contract -- without an extension means the new Bears regime isn't completely sold on him just yet, either. Forget being the overall face of the franchise; Emery may want to know whether Cutler is the franchise quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers last week put the Urlacher exit in perspective, saying "It's kinda like [Green Bay] with losing [Charles] Woodson." Uh, no Aaron, it isn't.

Because at the end of the day, when Woodson isn't there, there's still a leader in a Packers uniform who has an MVP, who has won a Super Bowl, who is considered one of the elite QBs in the league, who is not compared to Tony Romo and Philip Rivers, who is inarguably one of the five best leaders in the NFL. Someone capable and ready for all of unshared pressure that comes with being a franchise's face.

And we are left with Cutler.

I don't think losing Urlacher is quite the same.