"Polarize: divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs." --Webster's Dictionary
In the history of Chicago sports, has there ever been a player more polarizing than Jay Cutler?
In 2009, the Bears traded two first-round picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton to acquire Cutler, who was coming off a Pro Bowl campaign in 2008. It was former GM Jerry Angelo's last effort to finally put an end to an era of less-than-mediocre quarterback play that had plagued the team since Jim McMahon.
Cutler was a big-armed first-round quarterback who had thrown for more than 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns the previous season. He was widely heralded as the savior to a franchise that had lacked stability at quarterback for 20 years.
With a Lovie-Smith-led defense, Cutler was considered the final piece to the championship puzzle.
In his first game as Chicago's quarterback Cutler threw four interceptions in a 15-21 Week 1 loss to the Green Bay Packers. In his first season with the Bears, he threw 26 interceptions.
Since then, the Cutler debate has raged, with the coals stoked steaming hot every draft season. Yet this year is different, as the guaranteed money in Cutler's contract runs out at season's end. If the Bears cut Cutler next year, they'll owe him just $3 million total over the final four years of the deal, which amounts to a burp in the wind for NFL teams.
There are many who believe Cutler will soon be on his way out and that finding his long-term replacement is a necessity in this year's draft. Others believe Cutler will start under center for the Bears for the next three-to-four years and that drafting a quarterback is pointless.
Let's take a closer look at each argument.
The case FOR drafting a QB
Cutler has a 67-67 career record. The Bears are just 50-47 in games he's started. Over the last three years, Cutler has gone 16-25 as a starter. He's won just one playoff game in 10 NFL seasons.
Take Cutler out of the equation for one second. Based solely on his record, would you have any confidence in a 33-year-old who has accomplished so little during a decade-long career?
Bottom line, no matter where he's played or what type of supporting cast he's had, Cutler-led teams do not have consistent success. In nine years as a full-time starter, he's had two winning seasons.
Cutler has accuracy issues and technique issues, which are often intertwined, and his decision making has been a problem throughout his career.
It's clear he's not the long-term answer and it's unlikely the Bears are going to win a championship with a mistake-prone veteran passer who hasn't been to the playoffs in five years.
The Bears can waive Cutler after this season without repercussion, so now is the time to acquire his long-term replacement, ideally in the early rounds of the draft. Let the rookie sit and learn under Cutler for one season before handing him the keys to the car in 2017.
The case AGAINST drafting a QB
Cutler had arguably his best season as a professional in 2015. He threw just 11 interceptions, which was his lowest total in any season in which he's started at least 15 games. Three of his interceptions came in the meaningless season finale, with two coming after he was hit when releasing the ball.
Under former coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler made correct decisions, which includes his pre-snap checks, and consistently kept the ball out of harm's way for the first time in his career. His 92.3 QB rating was by far the highest of his career, while his 64.4 completion percentage was second best. He also tied his career high in yard per pass attempt (7.6).
Even at 32 last season, Cutler improved in nearly every facet of the game.
Gase's departure shouldn't mean much, as last season's QB coach Dowell Loggains will take over as offensive coordinator. Loggains doesn't get enough credit for Cutler's improvement last year and understands better than anyone his strengths and weaknesses.
The Bears have already said the offense won't change much, so in essence Cutler will be returning to his second year in the same playbook. There's no reason to think he won't take another step forward, especially with Alshon Jeffery returning and last year's first-round receiver Kevin White on the field.
There's a chance Cutler could have his best season as a professional in 2016, which would earn him at least 2-3 more years in Chicago. If that happens, drafting a quarterback this year would be flushing a high draft pick down the toilet.
With improved play on defense, the Bears can win with Cutler under center next season and beyond.
The Bears can absolutely win with Cutler if he again plays the way he did last year.
Cutler is by no means perfect and history has shown he's not good enough to carry a team to victories. He needs help but so do most quarterbacks. Just because he's not Aaron Rodgers doesn't make him worthless. If Loggains maintains the same offensive concepts as his predecessor - balanced attack, commitment to the run game, catering the passing game to his quarterback's strengths - Cutler can have a 2016 season comparable to that of 2015.
If that happens, that would give GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox the confidence to move forward with Cutler under center for at least another year or two.
In that scenario, drafting a quarterback this year makes no sense, as he'll likely never see the field unless Cutler gets hurt. With so many other needs on the roster, the top draft picks this year should make the team better immediately, not in 2019.
Yet we know too much about Cutler to just assume he's going to elevate his game further. Gase did a great job of building an offense around Cutler's strengths, yet his weaknesses still exist.
Loggains only has two years of OC experience, neither of which was particularly impressive. We don't know if he has the coordinator acumen to succeed with Cutler at Gase's level. One false step and Cutler could regress, as we've seen him do on a number of occasions the past seven years.
If Cutler costs the team two crucial wins next year because he reverted to an 18-INT quarterback - which he's done three times in the seven seasons he's started 15 or more games - then there's a real chance he will have played his final year in Chicago.
A good GM cannot rule out that possibility considering the track records of both Loggains and Cutler. Pace should have a Plan B in place if things go south next year, otherwise he'll be entering what would be a hot-seat season in 2017 with three options at quarterback: David Fales, a castoff veteran or a rookie.
Even if he plays poorly, Cutler will only cost a fairly reasonable $16 million in 2017. If he struggles next year, the Bears could retain him for one more season and address quarterback in next year's draft. But again, that would be a season in which Pace's job would be on the line. Pace knows this, and he also knows that Cutler has already gone through two GMs and two head coaches since coming to Chicago. Historically, hitching your wagon to Cutler has led to pink slips.
Pace is too smart to leave himself without an out.
Also, there's the possibility that an early round draft pick might light a fire under Cutler. He's never before been legitimately challenged for his starting position. If Pace drops a second-round pick on Connor Cook, who is meeting with the Bears this week, it might give Cutler the incentive he needs to raise his level of play.
The Bears are a 6-10 with needs on both sides of the football. Building a championship defense should be the goal but that can still happen even if one of the club's top three picks is spent on a QB.
The Bears have met with nine quarterbacks during this pre-draft process, so Pace is heavily vetting the position. If the right passer falls to the Bears on the first two days of the draft, Pace will likely pull the trigger on "his" quarterback, instead of putting his fate entirely in Cutler's hands.null