There are debates that never end for Chicago. Cubs or Sox. Deep dish or thin crust in a war with New York City. And of course, the merits of the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.
Not one position in professional sports likely comes with as much scrutiny, water cooler talk, or playback on the radio as does the quarterback of the Bears. From the moment that player steps up to a podium- let alone the field- everyone either adores him at every juncture, or wants him replaced as soon as he dares make a mistake.
For almost eight years now, that man has been Jay Cutler, much to the chagrin or jubilation of an increasingly exasperated fan-base. After all, the baby-faced immature 25-year-old quarterback in 2009, was supposed to be the savior of a franchise pushing a previously two (now three) decade-plus long championship drought. Finally, the Bears had a legitimate passer, and Pro Bowler at that, to usher them into the modern age.
Finally, someone to match the Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s of the world. Cutler would be at the helm of a new dynasty of “Da Bears” in an era of little resistance.
The days of three yards and a cloud of dust- or 18 inches of daylight in Gale Sayers’ case- would go by the wayside with a 21st-century spin.
One playoff appearance cut short by a never-relenting lack of toughness fairy-tale- oh, and a knee injury- as well as 151 touchdowns thrown to go with 106 interceptions later, and we’ve come full circle.
Obviously, none of those dreams happened. No Super Bowls. No most valuable player awards. These Bears can’t even count on consistent appearances in the postseason. All of the offensive line and coaching issues throughout Cutler’s entire tenure are very relevant, but perhaps the events of what’s gone on with his last two head coaches stick out the most.
The first of which was Marc Trestman. The guy supposed to unlock Cutler’s talent. An overmatched football mind set to manage a locker room of personalities like Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, and Jeremiah Ratliff, who did, unsuccessfully. An offensive coordinator in Aaron Kromer, and Trestman himself, scheming together to undermine the quarterback they hitched their wagon to.
Once they lost their team, no one looked like a rational adult, except, shockingly (depends on who you spoke to), Cutler in press conferences.
Cutler eventually decisively won that battle with the recently re-fired Trestman ousted out of Baltimore. Surely, the successor John Fox wouldn’t try similar games. Maybe Chicago wouldn’t be fooled again with Cutler, but maybe Fox wouldn’t play around with his clear starter either. The veteran and tested coach in Fox would be the straight shooter that always put this team in the best possible position to win.
Petty and misguided sentiments would not cloud his judgment. Fox would have this team running soundly like a modern machine in no time, playing to win, while never conservative.
Cutler was just miscast as the primary and only catalyst for all of the Bears’ problems, and that didn’t work out for Fox’s predecessor. There’s no way Fox would try something similar like that following after. And yet, someone who doesn’t know their history, is doomed to repeat it.
Now it's a magical return for Cutler to action this week following a thumb injury, against the vaunted Minnesota Vikings on ‘Monday Night Football’. Given this Bears team having no identity at 1-6, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who could trust Fox any less. Remember that, initially, Cutler’s injury was described as “day-to-day” by Fox.
Way back in Week 5, Fox was asked about juggling his quarterbacks in back-up Brian Hoyer and an eventual healthy Cutler, and he responded with a vague quip, “Right now, we don’t have a plan.”
Before that, following a solid Hoyer-led victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 4, Fox didn’t choose to back down from a quarterback controversy, noting, “It’s performance based. Anybody that’s been performing well, I don’t think we’ll be likely to change.”
It’s only when Cutler is coincidentally medically cleared right after Hoyer breaks his arm to land on injured reserve that things evolve.
Amidst reports from the Chicago Tribune that Fox is ‘done’ with Cutler, this is convenient timing. It’s only now, when Cutler is absolutely needed, does Fox bother letting anyone willing to listen, know what he actually thought of his quarterbacks, with him ‘believing’ in Cutler again.
If the ideal was to play a game manager like Hoyer, with limited arm strength who somehow led the Bears to the bottom of the barrel in points scored, but had the offense pad yardage, then mission accomplished. If that plan was to put the game in the hands of a skeleton of a defense at times, then quality work was done here. If Fox really believed that Cutler couldn’t have more success i.e. putting the ball into the end zone- the actual number one offensive goal- against the shoddy Cowboy’s, Lion’s, and Colt’s defense’s, then kudos.
But he’s either outright lying, or deluded. Cutler has always given the 2016 Bears the best chance to win, despite whatever Fox has had in mind.
The offense seen against the Texans and Eagles under Cutler, was an incredibly raw and unfinished product. Quite frankly, as the last ranked scoring team, it still is. But eight sacks allowed in two games with largely no running game is impressively ignoring inherent chemistry and play calling issues that have halfway stabilized since. Chicago quarterbacks since Cutler’s injury, have been sacked a combined five times in the last five games. In that regard, somehow the plan, then, is still to blame all of the failure on Cutler.
One’s mistaken to say Cutler isn’t used to being the scapegoat. Pundits have said for years that his pouting or surly attitude on display in body language have meant he lacks attributes as a leader- which Trestman manipulated in the media- yet somehow he comes across as ever more likable. This is also a guy who knows his future at Halas Hall is likely limited to these next two months.
And whose to say he’s earned a longer tenure? Both parties probably benefit from a fresh start. With Cutler on the last year of guaranteed money on a contract extension signed two and a half years ago, a career of lost promise will probably move on in hopeful search of greener pastures- whether by choice or not.
The man knows the deal. Composed as ever at this stage, it’s difficult to see anything rattling Cutler now. Somehow, he managed to look like a shining light publicly in processing Trestman’s dissent way back when, and he’ll do the same here. He’s not bothered by what anyone thinks of him now, not that he ever did before.
Ultimately, when asked if he still thinks he has Fox’s support, Cutler noted, “He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point.”
Cutler knows Fox’s plan, indeed. He’s played this game of musical chairs with a coach quickly losing favor down to his level in the past, and he came out on top. If there’s one level of consistency Cutler has regrettably mastered, it’s outlasting catastrophe piling around him. Cutler held all the cards in the deck with Trestman and he holds them all with Fox. These two are tied at the hip, and let’s just say Fox didn’t expect to be folding his hand so soon, while Cutler has more practice with his poker face.
After pushing Cutler away and placing him in timeout, the Bears and Fox now look to him to keep this season from twirling out of control even more. They’re out of options as the second-year Fox playoff jump hasn’t happened.
Two years following Trestman, people’s jobs- including Cutler’s- are on the line yet again. Cutler’s fighting for his NFL career while simultaneously holding Fox’s in the balance. Someone will give Cutler another shot as a starter, regardless. It’s hard to see Fox receiving the same opportunity as a coach should the Bears bottom out. What Trestman learned and what Fox will soon see, is that you can’t repair that damaged bridge of loyalty. You lose leeway once the player holds all of the leverage.
Yes, the Bears are now doing it Cutler’s way, and he has the power to either salvage something of this season or finish sinking the ship. Whatever happens, Cutler will still be cracking jokes and shrugging his shoulders like only he could.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.