On Wednesday, reports surfaced that the Bears are benching Jay Cutler, the embattled starting quarterback who leads the NFL with 24 turnovers, in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen, which may be the final step in a downward slide that has taken the Bears from a favorite to make the playoffs to a team with a top-10 draft spot and a near-certainty to finish with double-digit losses.
It seems ironic that, back in 2009 when Josh McDaniels was looking to gut the Denver franchise by getting rid of Cutler and Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the Vikings were rumored to be in the hunt to make a trade for Cutler. That ended when Chicago stepped up with two first-round draft picks, which, in hindsight, may be have a blessing for the Vikings.
In January, the Bears were faced with a difficult decision. When Cutler was injured last year, backup quarterback Josh McCown stepped in his place and was productive in the Bears offense. The organization was at a crossroads since both Cutler and McCown were pending free agents. The Bears decided to sign Cutler to a lucrative seven-year contract.
Not only does the size of Cutler’s contract make him difficult to trade, but he is still owed $15.5 million in guaranteed money, which also makes cutting him a spendy proposition – both in the cash that would be needed to get paid to him and the cap hit the Bears would take if he was released.
It’s amazing how quickly the landscape can change in the NFL. Eleven months ago, Cutler was being hailed as the franchise quarterback for the remainder of the decade in Chicago. Eleven months later, the Bears are looking for an exit strategy that will make their regular-season finale against the Vikings at The Bank interesting for the future of Cutler, the coaching staff and a lot of players currently on the Bears roster. The Dec. 28 finale between the Vikings and Bears may not have much in the way of national significance, but for the Bears organization it may be a crossroads that witnesses the final chapter of many within the team.