It's great that so much of the conversation this offseason relates to the defense and hope in its improvement from the circus on display last season, and not another year of discussion on Cutler's poutiness or lack of tWtW or how everybody hates him because he looked at a janitor funny.
But in order for the team to go anywhere in 2014-15, even if the defensive improvement is there (and at minimum, the defense stays where it is, not that anybody would want to see that...), the team will still need their offense to carry them most of the way, and that falls on their own 100-million-dollar man, Jay Cutler.
I rehash this not for the sake of doing so, but rather, with an eye on how everything's changed since he got here and what's in store for his future under his new contract as a Bear. For some of the bigger differences, I'll refer you to the table below (Not an all-inclusive list, but a sampling of the picture of the team at the time):
|Wide Receivers||Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett||Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett||Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery|
Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis, J'Marcus Webb
|Offensive Coordinator||Ron Turner, Mike Martz||Mike Tice||Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer|
Wow, how far the Bears have come since then. Remember when we were counting on Lance Louis as our most staunch lineman? Remember when Martz would take the Bears' smallish receivers and turn the Bears into the Greatest Show on Thrice-Uprooted Sod? Remember when Tice promised no more seven-step drops?
In two short years, the Bears added their top two receivers, and quite possibly the best receiving duo in the NFL; completely remade their offensive line into a very serviceable, if not good, unit; and brought in a head coach and offensive coordinator tandem that just might know a thing or two about the quarterback position.
When Cutler first came to the Bears, none of this was in place. Orlando Pace had forgotten how to block, or had at least lost all quickness in doing so. His receivers were a converted returner, an admittedly decent speedster for the time he was healthy to play but had a problem with tips, and Earl Bennett. His coaches were the oftentimes predictable and conservative Ron Turner and the inflexible Mike Martz.
And yet, in that situation, Cutler has come in and put up some of the best numbers in the history of Bears quarterbacks.
|Name||Games||Yards||Completion %||TD%||INT%||AY/A||QB Rating|
Yes, the passing game is different now, which is why I wrote in 2012 that being the best the Bears have seen isn't a high-enough bar. So why show his stats among the statistically-top-4 quarterbacks in Bears' history?
To show he's surpassed that bar. There's a new bar, but at the same time it's the bar that's been there since his arrival.
Jay Cutler's time in Chicago has been one of unrecognized potential. There have been many teases of just what that potential can offer - his taking-over of games in the latter half of the Mike Martz era, the possible Pro-Bowl start of his season last year before injuries and Josh McCown's apparent finding of some glass
slipper cleat - but it hasn't materialized in full in the form of stabilizing an offense.
Jerry Angelo gave a pretty decent interview on 87.7 The Game, you should think about giving it a listen.
Let's summarize what the Bears have invested in getting the most out of their quarterback spot over the last five years...
- Two first-round draft picks, a third round draft pick, and a serviceable starting quarterback (2008)
- Acquiring two Pro-Bowl receivers (Trade 2012; second-round draft pick 2012); solid all-around tight end (2013 offseason)
- Offensive minded head coached expected to be around for a pretty long while (2013 offseason)
- Four new offensive linemen in one off-season (2013 offseason)
- Seven-year, $126.7 contract (2014 offseason)
Any pressure Cutler felt heading into last year regarding his contract situation should be gone. In its place should be renewed pressure, that now that everything has been handled, now that the offense is being built, everything is in place for the player the Bears traded for in 2008 to rise to what they thought he was capable of.
Maybe now, in the second year of the Trestman offense; in the third year of his reunion with Brandon Marshall, and the third year with up-and-comer Alshon Jeffery; in the second year behind an overhauled offensive line; and with his contract uncertainty off his shoulders; maybe now, it is time for Cutler to realize that potential for a full season.