The Chicago Bears owe Jay Cutler $17 million next season, with $13 million guaranteed. A year ago, that price tag for an underachieving quarterback would have made Bears fans cringe.
Yet after last season, in which Cutler made significant strides in a number of crucial areas, his salary in 2016 is much more palatable. In fact, Cutler's salary next year will be just the 16th highest among NFL quarterbacks. It's an average deal for a slightly above average quarterback.
Beyond 2016, Cutler's guaranteed cash drops substantially. In 2017, he's guaranteed just $2 million. In 2018 he's guaranteed just $1 million, and in 2019 and 2020, he is guaranteed nothing.
The Bears will ride Cutler through next year, yet he'll 33 by the start of the regular season. So unless he suddenly develops into a top-tier signal caller, 2016 could be his last year in the Windy City.
General manager Ryan Pace is fully aware of this situation, as well as the importance of the quarterback position in today's NFL.
"I’ve said before how important that position is and that will continue to be the case," Pace said three weeks ago. "I think Jay played really well this season. I was happy with his performance, especially with a lot of injuries to our skilled players. He persevered through that. Jay played well. In regards to the draft, and I honestly mean this, it’s always going to be best player available. So if it’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback."
The market for young, reliable quarterbacks in free agency is bare, meaning Pace will be looking to the draft to find Chicago's signal caller of the future.
One player Pace will surely be investigating is North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz. At 6-5, 233 pounds, Wentz has ideal size, as well as a strong, NFL-caliber arm. He was 20-3 as a starter for the Bison, helping lead N.D. State to two straight FCS Championships. The small-school quarterback flew under the radar this year but his draft stock is rising as more and more people realize his talent.
Wentz is considered a first-round draft pick in this year's draft and could be on Pace's radar when it's his turn to pick with the 11th overall selection.
Helping or hurting his cause will be Wentz's performance at the Senior Bowl this week. In the video above, he discusses the upcoming week of practice, his injury-filled senior season, the 2016 NFL Draft and much more.