Finding a franchise quarterback has always been a calculated risk, especially when an NFL team is also moving on from a quarterback who is currently playing under the largest contract in franchise history.
This is exactly where the Chicago Bears will find themselves when the calendar flips to the 2017 league year.
When 39-year-old Ryan Pace took his first GM job with the Bears, he knew the risk involved, especially with Jay Cutler, who had been through four offensive coordinators, two head coaches and two general managers in Chicago before Pace took over in 2015.
Both Pace and head coach John Fox were not married to the idea of Cutler being the team’s quarterback of the future, even from the start. Proof of that included non-committal statements from both Pace and Fox during their introductory press conferences, along with Pace’s rumored attempts to deal the embattled signal caller on draft day for the No. 2 overall pick, and ultimately the rights to Marcus Mariota.
The Bears ended up moving forward with Cutler under center in 2015, resulting in a 6-10 campaign. Cutler had one of his better seasons as a professional, finishing with a career-high passer rating of 92.3 under one-and-done offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who left for Miami shortly after the conclusion of the season.
For most of the 2016 off-season, the message from new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was all about continuity within the offense. Most assumed that would bode well for Cutler, who threw just 11 interceptions in 15 starts the previous season.
That never materialized. In fact, thing went south quickly for Cutler this year. He's started five games this year, throwing 4 TDs and 5 INTs, while also fumbling six times. He's also sustained two major injuries, one to his right thumb, which held him out five weeks, and another to his throwing shoulder, which could potentially keep him out the rest of the year. If he doesn't return he'll miss 12 games this year, with a total of 26 games missed over the last six seasons combined (4.3 per year).
The Bears started 22 different quarterbacks between 1990-2008, the year before Cutler arrived in Chicago.
Since 1990, the Bears have drafted 11 quarterbacks and only two of those were first-round picks. Within that same time frame, they have traded for just two signal callers: Rick Mirer and Cutler, which cost the team a combined three first-round picks. The rest of 22 starters during that time frame were all free-agent additions.
Yes, Cutler has been the most successful quarterback in the team’s long history but it also goes to show that throughout a 97-year existence, the Bears have never found a successful method to adding and developing the most important player on the field.
Why Should Fans Trust This Regime?
There’s really no simple answer for this question. Adding any player to a roster, especially at an extremely important position, will always carry a calculated risk.
Pace will have four options going into the 2017 offseason, if they do indeed decide to move on from Cutler.
- Sign a Free Agent
- Wait Until 2018
While history has shown there is no sure-fire method, the upcoming crop of quarterbacks could make Pace's choice for him.
Since the 2012 draft that featured Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, it seems like each year the narrative surrounding each incoming quarterback class is the same: "weak."
This year has started no different with the top prospects not yet catching much first-round attention.
What is worth mentioning is that each year around this time, Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine heroes have not emerged, therefore, there hasn’t been a clear evaluation of the class’s true top-tier crop.
First Round Quarterbacks:
-Deshon Kizer, Notre Dame
-Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
-Deshaun Watson, Clemson
-Brad Kaaya, Miami
-Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
-Luke Faulk, Washington State
-Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
-Davis Webb, California
-Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
While there doesn’t appear to be much top-end talent, that isn’t exactly an uncommon theme in November/December. In this scenario, the Bears are likely to either re-sign Brian Hoyer or add a veteran option that could start Week 1 if their rookie selection is not ready to play right away.
Jimmy Garoppolo (New England Patriots)
The Patriots are rumored to be looking for multiple first round picks in exchange for the unproven Garoppolo, who has started just four games in three NFL seasons. Even a second round pick would be a steep price to pay for an unproven commodity, who will likely demand $20 million or more per year if he plays well in his contract year.
Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys)
Romo looks like another unfavorable scenario for a team like the Bears. The oft-injured 36-year-old will be coming off a season in which he lost his starting job to rookie fourth rounder Dak Prescott.
The issue with Romo, outside of age and injury, is that he is owed $19.6 million in 2017, with negative cap penalties. He is also owed close to $25 million in 2018, with close to $10 million in dead money penalties.
Romo's monetary value is steep and that does not include the mid-round draft compensation that will be necessary to acquire him.
Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins)
Cousins is the ideal candidate, especially for a team that will be looking for a quick turnaround. The problem is that the former Michigan State Spartan isn’t likely to leave Washington.
The Redskins will most likely bite the bullet and give in to Cousin's long-term asking price but, if desperate, they'll use the franchise tag on him for the second straight year.
And If Cousins somehow does reach free agency, his market will be sizable.
Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Glennon is one of those Tyrod-Taylor-type free agents. He has some un-tapped upside but there’s no guarantee he will be anything worth keeping as a starter, which makes his market value hard to gauge.
He’s likely to get a short-term deal at around $5 million per year and put in a situation where he can compete for a starting job -- which could be in play for a team like the Bears, especially if they don’t select a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Wait Until 2018
In this situation, the Bears would likely either hold onto Cutler for another season or take their chances with Connor Shaw or Matt Barkley, and a veteran like Brian Hoyer, while focusing on other areas of need in the upcoming off-season.
Both of these situations are highly unlikely, especially for a GM who will soon feel the temperature of his seat heating up, as well as a head coach that, if he's retained for a third year, will undoubtedly be on thin ice.
If Pace does choose to hold off on QB next year, he'll be counting on a what looks to be a stacked draft class in 2018 that would feature high-end passers Lamar Jackson, Jared Rosen, Jake Browning and possibly a rising star in Wyoming’s Josh Allen, who is currently a redshirt sophomore and draft eligible for the 2017 draft.
Most Likely Scenario
The most likely scenario is that the Bears will release Cutler and save $14 million of his upcoming salary, then will look to draft high on a quarterback with a Top 5 pick, either in the first or second round.
Within this scenario, they are also likely to keep Shaw, Barkley or both, and either re-sign Brian Hoyer (offensive coordinator pending) or find a one- or two-year veteran quarterback that could fill a starting role if needed.
With the team's forgettable quarterback history, Pace has the unenviable task of correcting a long string of bad decisions at the position. If he can break the franchise's QB curse, Pace can truly take the Bears into an era of consistent success.