Let’s get real. Jay Cutler is the Bears quarterback. Yes, Josh McCown has played admirably in his six appearances this season, but if we are to be completely honest with ourselves, this season is all but finished. At 6-6, with the Lions riding a two game cushion over the Bears, and Wild Card spots looking to come from the NFC South and NFC West, the odds of the Bears making the playoffs are slim. In fact, sportclubstats.com lists the current odds of the Bears making the playoffs at worse than 12 to 1.
In order to rationally think about the best course of action, one needs to concede that this decision has little to do with this season, and focus on the future. After all, even with McCown playing the best football of his life, it’s amazing how quickly the fact that up until hitting the sidelines with a string of injuries, Cutler was on pace for a career season of his own.
Even if the goal is simply to win as many games as possible this season, it should be noted that performance by the two signal callers has been near identical. Completion percentage only differs by 2.2% (65.2% for McCown, compared to Cutler’s 63.0%), yards per attempt favors McCown by only 0.7 yards (7.9 ypa vs. 7.2 ypa), and attempts per touchdown stands even at just over 20. Who’s to say that McCown would lead the 2013 Bears to more victories than Cutler would?
This quarterback controversy seems as pointless as 1994’s back and forth between Erik Kramer and Steve Walsh, both mediocre players in their own right; less like the 2007-2008 controversy between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. The difference between those two scenarios boiled down to the fact that it didn’t matter whether or not Kramer or Walsh was QB, the Bears would have still been awful (though they did surprise everyone, finishing with a 9-7 record and taking out the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs before getting blown out by eventual Super Bowl champions the San Francisco 49ers). The Grossman/Orton battle meant something because the defense was in their prime, coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2006. There was as sense of urgency in 2007 and 2008, not so much in the rebuilding year of 1994.
Yes, the Bears could stay with McCown, even after Cutler is ready to return from injury, but why would they? With Cutler’s contract up at the end of the season, the Bears have a tough decision to make: re-sign Cutler or fish for a new QB in the draft. McCown, who will be 35 by the time next season kicks off, isn’t a long term solution.
The rest of the season needs to be spent as though it were an early jump on the 2014 preseason. Let the next four games (provided that he is healthy and ready to return) serve as Cutler’s interview for a 2014 contract. If he plays well, sign him to an extension. If he falters, cut bait on the 30-year old QB.
Fresno State’s Derek Carr is essentially a younger, more mobile version of Cutler. He’s 6’3”, 215 pounds with an absolute cannon for an arm. Likely to pick somewhere in the mid-to-late teens, the Bears might be wise to select him with their first round pick in the 2014 draft should he slip down that far, even if they re-sign Cutler to a short-term deal.
The quarterback position for the future of the Bears is in the hands of Jay Cutler. Let him earn it.