Fair or not, Cutler is no longer the starting quarterback in Chicago. That “honor” has been bestowed on Jimmy Clausen.
So what will the team do with Cutler, who leads the league in turnovers (24)?
The first option is to trade him. By sitting Cutler, the Bears guarantee he won’t get injured or further hurt his trade value over the final two contests.
There are a number of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, including the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. Only six QBs in the league have more touchdown passes than Cutler (26), while his 66.1 completion percentage is also seventh best.
The Bears could dangle those numbers in front of a team desperate for quarterback competency and thus dump his salary.
Yet his contract will be the sticking point in any trade scenario. He’s owed $15.5 next season, which is a hefty sum.
Other roadblocks include Cutler’s age (32 next year), his penchant for turnovers and the fact most of his production this year came in garbage time. Additionally, Cutler has won just one playoff game in his career and negative press follows him wherever he goes.
Only the most desperate team is going to trade a quality player for an aging, turnover-prone quarterback with one of the largest contracts in the league.
The second option is to waive Cutler. If the Bears want to truly start from scratch, eliminating their polarizing quarterback is essential.
Yet again, Cutler’s contract may get in the way. The Bears would have to eat the $15.5 million he’s owed next year, on top of a prorated $4 million in dead money. The frugal McCaskey ownership has never flushed $19.5 million down the drain in such a manner.
In addition, having to swallow a potential $19.5 in dead money would cripple the team’s cap number heading into free agency, making significant roster upgrades nearly impossible.
A third option is to retain Cutler for one more season. GM Phil Emery signed Cutler to his big deal. If Emery is retained, he may not be willing to dismiss Cutler as quickly as Marc Trestman, whose career in Chicago will be over in two weeks.
Emery may give one last-ditch effort to find a coach who can maximize Cutler to his potential next season.
In that scenario, the Bears could also use a first- or second-round draft pick to put pressure on Cutler. Who knows, if a new coaching staff quits treating him with kid gloves – which has been the case with Cutler since he was in high school – it might compel him to play at a more consistent level.
And if it doesn’t, the team moves forward in 2016 with their high-round passer.
Let’s be honest, none of these options are ideal. The monstrous contract Emery gave Cutler has essentially handcuffed the team. Emery could have franchised Cutler at a little more than $16 million this year, which would have allowed the team cut ties without repercussions. Now, his deal will continue to cripple the organization for at least one more season.
The likeliest of the aforementioned scenarios is the third. The team’s 5-9 record this year isn’t solely Cutler’s fault. The club has the 32nd ranked scoring defense, no run game and painfully inept special teams. Trestman’s playbook has been predictable and repetitive, while the offensive line has struggled in pass protection all season.
He hasn’t played well but Cutler is just one piece of a team that has collapsed at every level.
At this point, Cutler is little more than a pawn in a battle between Emery and Trestman, both of whom are trying to pin the blame on the other. If Emery wins and keeps his job, don’t be surprised if Cutler is on the roster next season.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.