Who will backup Jay Cutler in 2012?

Caleb Hanie isn't coming back and no one is really sure if Josh McCown is the answer. We look at the free agent quarterbacks that could serve as the No. 2 signal caller Chicago.

The Chicago Bears informed Caleb Hanie this week that he will not be re-signed this offseason. This should come as no surprise to anyone, considering Hanie threw nine interceptions compared to just three touchdowns in his four starts filling in for Jay Cutler last year.

Josh McCown, who was signed off the street after the Cutler injury, started the final two games of the 2012 campaign, leading the team to a season-ending victory over the Minnesota Vikings. In his two starts, McCown completed 35 of 55 pass attempts for 414 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions – good for 68.3 QB rating.

The team now has to decide whether or not McCown is good enough to be the primary backup to Cutler. It's as important a question to solve as any this offseason. Last year, Hanie inherited a 7-3 team that has just won five in a row. Few teams were as potent all-around as Chicago through 11 weeks last season.

Yet Hanie's almost-comical ineptness sent the team into a downward spiral from which they never recovered. The club went 1-5 from that point, finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs. If the Bears learned just one lesson last year, it's the value of a backup signal caller.

After the season, many were ready to anoint McCown the No.2 but his don't support that notion. A 68.3 QB rating won't win many games in the pros, while his touchdown-to-interception ratio was downright Hanie-esque.

McCown looked decent but only because Hanie looked so bad. He's a 32-year-old passer with a little bit left in the tank. The team isn't ready to commit to him yet and will feel out other options in free agency.

The Bears showed no confidence in Nathan Enderle last year, activating him for just five total games. Chicago will likely bring in a few developmental players to challenge Enderle for No. 3 spot in training camp, a battle Enderle is likely to lose.

The organization won't be going after Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn or Alex Smith, guys that are expecting to be starters. The Bears need an experienced player that would be accepting of his role as the team's primary backup.

Let's take a look at some of the veteran quarterbacks set to hit the open market.

QB Shaun Hill
Timothy T. Ludwig/US Presswire

Shaun Hill, DET (6-3, 220) Age: 32
Hill has been a backup his entire 10-year career in the NFL. He has never started more than 11 games in a season, yet he always performs well when called into duty. In 26 career starts, he's completed 61.7 percent of his passes, throwing 39 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He is truly the ideal candidate for the backup spot in Chicago. He's proven time and time again that he can step in at a moment's notice and lead an NFL offense. As an added bonus, he could provide Bears coaches with tons of information about Detroit's offense.

Kyle Orton, KC (6-4, 225) Age: 29
Orton is still a borderline starter in this league. He's not the type that makes guys around him better but in the right system he can still be very productive. The Bears put a waiver claim on Orton last year during their frantic search to find a QB after Cutler's injury. I'm sure the coaching staff would still like to have a player like Orton in their back pocket. Yet it's doubtful he'll want to return to the Bears to backup the player for whom he was traded three years ago. He'll likely sign with a team that will give him a shot at starting.

Jason Campbell, OAK (6-5, 230) Age: 30
Campbell is in a similar situation to Orton. He's a borderline starter with experience. Like Orton, he'll be looking for a situation that will at least allow him to challenge for a starting spot in training camp – which won't be in Chicago.

Josh Johnson, TB (6-3, 205) Age: 25
Johnson is an intriguing option. He has started just five games in his four NFL seasons but he's an athletic, skilled player that still has upside. He lacks accuracy and decision-making but he has good wheels and a powerful arm. The Bears could do a lot worse.

Dennis Dixon, PIT (6-3, 209) Age: 27
Dixon is a slightly older version of Johnson. He has little experience, starting just three games in four NFL seasons, but he has good speed and a big arm. Another quality option that still has the potential to improve.

Chad Henne, MIA (6-3, 230) Age: 26
Henne has all the physical tools to be a quality pro quarterback but he lacks the mental toughness and decision making to be a full-time starter. Yet unlike Johnson and Dixon, Henne has started plenty of games during his four years in the league. His 31 starts were far from spectacular and riddled with turnovers, but at 26 years old, he still could improve.


Obviously, Hill is the best option out of this group. His experience as a backup, as well as his production when called upon, makes him a perfect fit to backup Cutler. Had the Bears had Hill last season, the team would have cruised into the playoffs. He'll cost more than $2 million per season but the Bears have money to spend. What better position on which to spend it than one as crucial as a No. 2 quarterback?

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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