So, this is what it has come to. In a season that has seen embarrassing blowouts and three-phase ineptitude, not to mention as much dysfunction and off-the-field drama as on it, the Bears have benched their franchise quarterback, whom they just signed to a 7-year, $126 million contract this offseason.
The news that the Bears will sit Jay Cutler this week and start backup Jimmy Clausen came as a bit of a surprise late Wednesday and has left many pundits wondering the reason behind it. Among the theories being pondered is whether Cutler’s time in Chicago is drawing to a close.
Could the Bears be protecting Cutler from injury so that they can trade him in the offseason to a team desperately seeking a quarterback even more than the Bears are? Or maybe they’re just trying to keep him safe because there is nothing more to be gained this season and they want him healthy for offseason workouts?
Another theory for the benching is that head coach Marc Trestman knows that he is on his way out after the season and he wants to salvage his reputation as a quarterback whisperer. Because Cutler was “going rogue”, so to speak, and not following the game plan that Trestman laid out, it made it look as if Trestman wasn’t as quarterback-savvy as people initially thought. Trestman even admitted during his Wednesday press conference that “I haven’t been able [to get the best from Cutler] and we haven’t been able to do the things that we want to get done.” By starting Clausen, maybe the unheralded backup can show that Trestman helped him grow and that could help Trestman’s résumé in his next job search.
During Monday night’s broadcast of the Saints-Bears game, Jon Gruden noted that a switch in quarterbacks was probably due. Trestman got wind of that and maybe he took it to heart. After all, Trestman worked under Gruden in Oakland early last decade.
Whereas trading Cutler would save the Bears some money that they sorely need to fill holes all over the roster, I’m not sure what the Bears could get in return for him. As ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, it may not be much more than a mid-round pick. Any general manager worth his salt would want to explore a “conditional” pick or set of picks that would be determined based on Cutler’s performance on the field with them.
I think the surest, most effective way to sum up the disaster of this season and Cutler’s contract is this: The highest-paid player in the NFL will not be playing in the NFL this week … and not due to injury or suspension.
Whatever the reason may be for the benching of Cutler, things are about as bad as they can be for the organization. Whether the Bears get rid of Cutler, fire Trestman, or even go so far as cutting ties with general manager Phil Emery — the man responsible for Trestman’s hire and Cutler’s contract — expect some kind of change from the Bears and possibly a long rebuilding process to follow.