Projected starter: Jay Cutler
The Monsters of the Midway shipped away two first-round picks to Denver in order to obtain Cutler, and then they rewarded him with a healthy contract extension just a few games into his Windy City career, so job security is not an issue for No. 6 any time soon. Ron Turner is out and Mike Martz is in, and because Martz is more creative and daring than Turner will ever be, it's natural to assume Cutler can only benefit from the high-profile switch at offensive coordinator. Both Cutler and Martz have said all the right things about each other to date, which is still worth watching since Martz was critical of Cutler on NFL Network last season, but it remains to be seen if this is a match made in heaven or a recipe for disaster.
Projected backups: Caleb Hanie, Dan LeFevour
Both Martz and general manager Jerry Angelo threw around the idea of adding a veteran passer during the offseason, going so far as to reach out to retired former Pro Bowler Trent Green, but it appears Hanie and LeFevour will now be the only other signal callers making a reservation for Bourbonnais. While Hanie compares favorably to Cutler in terms of physical tools, he did fire a bunch of interceptions during the offseason program and brings almost zero experience to the table. LeFevour won't see the field at all in 2010, even if both Cutler and Hanie go down, as the front office will undoubtedly sign another known commodity should the injury bug bite.
Cutler got the Bears off to a 3-1 start this past season and looked to be worth the hefty price paid to get him, but he struggled mightily after that and ended up leading the league with 26 interceptions. In December, the Midway Monsters had fallen to 5-9, which spawned speculation that both Angelo and coach Lovie Smith could be out of a job, but Cutler won his final two starts and assembled an 8-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio in the process. The 6-3, 233-pounder's passer rating of 76.8 was the lowest of his four-year career, plus he had never been sacked with such frequency (35 times), although his 27 touchdown passes were a personal best.
Much has been made about the weapons Cutler has at his disposal, particularly the lack of a true No. 1 receiver, but both Cutler and Martz seem to be happy with their collection of skill-position talent. True, Greg Olsen may not be featured as much since Martz prefers to feed the ball to his backs and wideouts as much as possible, but Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox enjoyed tremendous offseasons and could be on the verge of breakout campaigns. There will also be less pressure on Matt Forte to carry the rushing load by himself, as veteran second stringer Chester Taylor was added via free agency, and Cutler has proven repeatedly he can throw the ball just about anywhere if given enough protection up front.
QB Jay Cutler
I'd much rather have ...
... Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. While Rodgers wasn't protected any better in 2009 than Cutler was, getting sacked 50 times, he still managed to record 30 TD passes against only seven INTs. Sure, Rodgers has a pair of 1,000-yard pass catchers to throw to in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, plus Ryan Grant moves the chains in the running game, but the Packers have a potential MVP candidate lining up under center and can't believe their luck after transitioning away from Brett Favre.
But he's better than ...
Matthew Stafford in Detroit. There is no shame in Stafford being the fourth best quarterback in the NFC North, not with Cutler, Rodgers and most likely Favre back in Minnesota, but he is coming off a painful injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder, still looking for a complement to Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson and needs his offensive line to improve greatly. And if for one reason or another Favre decides to stay away for good, Cutler is light years better than what the Vikings have in Tarvaris Jackson.
Confidence-o-Meter: 7.3 *
Martz is on record saying he doesn't mind turning the football over every now and then, as it's tough to make big plays in the passing game without rolling the dice from time to time, but that seems to fly in the face of Smith's desire to win the turnover battle every Sunday. The emergence of Aromashodu and Knox can only help Cutler, as he was guilty of tunnel vision – sometimes on Olsen, other times on Devin Hester – last season, especially on Olsen in red-zone situations. While Cutler is more than capable of handling all the pressure Martz tends to put on his field general, he needs to do a better job of protecting possession and only going for the gusto when the odds are in his favor.
* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in quarterbacks. 10.0 is Joe Montana in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.