Historically the Chicago Bears have fielded mediocre, or downright horrible, quarterbacks. When you consider just the recent past – players like Craig Krenzel, Kordell Stewart and Cade McNown – you see it's no surprise why former GM Jerry Angelo tossed away two first-round draft picks, plus a third rounder and Kyle Orton, to acquire Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos in 2009.
Cutler was just 25 years old and coming off a Pro Bowl campaign. It appeared that Chicago's quarterback issues had been solved. That, unfortunately, has not panned out as planned, although hope isn't all lost.
Let's look back at the play of the Bears' signal callers in 2012 to find out where Cutler can improve and what the team should do about the backup situation.
For two years under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz and quarterbacks coach Shane Day, Cutler suffered in an antiquated passing system, with no protection and no good receivers. He wasn't even allowed to call audibles.
Jay Cutler & Brandon Marshall
After Martz retired following the 2011 season, new GM Phil Emery made it a priority to give Cutler all the things he didn't have his first three seasons in Chicago. Emery traded for Cutler's favorite target, Brandon Marshall, and hired Jeremy Bates, whom Cutler openly lobbied for, as the QB coach. Finally, Cutler had no reason to be unhappy. The excuses were gone. In 2012, he was supposed to finally reach his considerable potential as an NFL quarterback.
Instead, despite getting everything he wanted, Cutler regressed measurably last year. In 2012, he threw for just 19 touchdowns, the first time in his seven-year career he failed to throw 20 or more TDs when starting 15 or more games. His 58.8 completion percentage, 7.0 yards per attempt and 81.3 QB rating were the second worst totals of his career. His 3,033 yards were the lowest of any season where he started 15 or more games.
He had his favorite receiver and quarterbacks coach, plus the ability to call audibles, yet Cutler's numbers regressed across the board. Amazingly though, he led all NFL quarterbacks in fourth quarter passer rating (114.7). Go figure. Still, it was a disappointing season on multiple levels.
The first regression came with his fundamentals. Having a Yes Man by his side did him no good, as obviously Bates was not willing to be firm about Cutler's mechanics and technique. He threw countless balls off his back foot, many of which sailed into the arms of defenders.
His second problem was his absolute addiction to throwing to Marshall. Yes, his second, third and fourth receivers, and his tight end, were not dependable, yet forcing passes to the same receiver play after play is not a recipe for success. It got to the point where, if the defense shut down Marshall, they effectively shut down Chicago's passing attack.
New head coach Marc Trestman has a history of working with and developing some great NFL quarterbacks. Among them are Bernie Kosar, Steve Young and Rich Gannon, during his 2002 MVP season. With the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL, Trestman turned a 40-year-old quarterback into the league MVP, on their way to a Grey Cup Championship.
Trestman also has history with Cutler, having trained him in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine in 2006. It is now his job, as well as that of new QB coach Matt Cavanaugh, to break Cutler down and build him back up. His fundamentals are so poor that they'll need to start from scratch, re-teaching him how to plant and step into his throws, and not hold the ball around his waist.
Emery would also be wise to upgrade the wide receiver and tight end position this offseason, to give Cutler other targets than Marshall. In 2013, if Marshall again is the second most-targeted player in the league, like he was in 2012, then the passing attack will not improve.
If Trestman can do for Cutler what he's done for his quarterbacks in the past, Chicago fans may finally see the player the Bears traded for five years ago. If not, and Cutler clashes with Trestman or Cavanaugh, then don't expect him to ever reach his potential.
If that happens, the Bears will be in a tough spot regarding his future with the club. He will become a free agent following this season and another disappointing campaign could give Emery pause before handing over a huge contract to a mediocre quarterback. It would definitely behoove Cutler to get his head on straight and have a big season in 2013.
The Bears shelled out $3.5 million to Campbell to be the backup QB last year. It was an obvious overreaction to the failed Caleb Hanie experiment in 2011. Yet it was obvious from the start that Campbell wasn't worth the paycheck. In training camp, he showed a strong tendency toward the check-down pass and struggled mightily with the deep ball.
He sat on the bench for all but roughly a game and half this year. He had one start on the season, in Week 11 against the San Francisco 49ers. The stat line for Campbell, a $3.5 million "insurance policy", was: 14 for 22, 107 yards, 4.9 average, 1 TD, 2 INTs, six sacks, a 7.1 QBR and a 52.7 passer rating.
Money well spent.
Campbell is set to hit free agency this offseason. The Bears would be absolutely crazy to fork over more money to him. That experiment didn't work. Time to move on.
The Bears signed Matt Blanchard, whom they stashed on the practice squad last year, to a reserve/futures contract earlier this month. He was an undrafted rookie last season yet he showed poised beyond his age in training camp and the preseason. He has potential as a developmental signal caller but he's still a few years away from becoming a quality backup.
Chicago could look to free agency again for a quality veteran but they already have that with Josh McCown. The best move might be to re-sign McCown, let him serve as the backup, then draft a passer in the middle rounds, a player with high upside. That would give Trestman two developmental quarterbacks to mold. If both show enough potential, he can keep the rookie as the No. 3 and again put Blanchard on the practice squad.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.