Last year around this time the uncertainty surrounding the NFL labor talks was hanging over free agency. The fact that nothing was agreed upon altered the status of a few Bears free agents. This time the uncertainty surrounding the labor negotiations threaten to wipe out the 2011 season. I can't fathom that actually happening, so it'll be business as usual around here as we get you tuned up for next season.
In this ongoing series I'll take a position by position look at the Chicago Bears roster and give my take on who stays and who goes. I'll also be utilizing some premium content (a must for the stat-driven football fan) from our friends over at Pro Football Focus to help look at the players. Check out Dane's interview with their founder Neil Hornsby. First up the quarterback position.
Jay Cutler - Signed through 2013 - Can you believe some journalists actually speculated that the Bears should part ways with Cutler? Seriously? Dump the best QB Chicago has seen in a long time? Dumb. Cutler will be back for year 2 of the Mike Martz offense and his growing familiarity with it should lead to him having his best year as a pro.
Pro Football Focus had Cutler as their 17th overall rated QB. For perspective Matt Ryan was their #1 QB. Cutler was graded just below #15 Shaun Hill and #16 Tony Romo and just above #18 Chad Henne and #19 Matt Cassel. As strictly a passer he was 19th tied with Michael Vick, and as a runner he was rated 5th. Even though Cutler was sacked a league high 51 times, I find it interesting that PFF only has him being hit 4 times as he threw the ball. This tells me his elusiveness prevented him from taking shots as he maneuvered his way around the pocket.
I was a bit surprised that his worst graded game on 2010 was the Conference Championship game. He even received a negative grade for his historical performance against the Seahawks in the playoff opener. According to PFF he improved from 2009, but in 2008 he was their 3rd highest QB overall. The talent is there.
Todd Collins - free agent - And he's gone. Good luck in all your future endeavors.
With as bad as Collins did in 2010, he wasn't even the worst rated QB according to PFF. Arizona QBs Derek Anderson and Max Hall edged him out for the bottom of the barrel.
Caleb Hanie - restricted free agent - I think Hanie showed enough in the playoff loss that he deserves to be considered for the #2 role. If he had more opportunities than just the playoff game and a handful of snaps in the Carolina game then I could see another team having genuine interest in him, but with such limited film to evaluate I don't see him leaving.
Hanie ended up with a positive overall grade by PFF for his work in 2010. In ranking all QBs that took a snap he was 44th.
Matt Gutierrez - signed a reserve/future contract on 1/18/11 - Gutierrez has 1 thing going for him in my opinion. He spent time in the Patriots organization. I think Bill Belichick has a great eye for talent and the fact he was a Pat tells me he has a shot to stick. It's a long shot, but if he can buckle down and digest the Martz playbook before OTA's he might surprise.
2011 OUTLOOK - The battle for the backup QB job could come down to Hanie and a yet unknown veteran. It all depends on if his quarter of football in 2010 was enough for Martz to feel comfortable. Marc Bulger will again be a free agent, but rumors have him going to Arizona. This isn't a very noteworthy FA class. A few are Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington, or Rex Grossman? No, no, and no.
I'd expect the Bears to bring in at least 1 more young player for some camp reps regardless if a veteran is signed. I'd be comfortable with Cutler, Hanie, then whoever. As long as the money saved by passing on a veteran QB will be allocated to the offensive line.
And even though I expect a young QB to be brought in, it sure as hell better not be a draft pick.