The price of mediocrity

Bears ink Cutler

By Eric Wilkins, Sports Editor

In their final game of the regular season, the Chicago Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers 33-28. Due to the loss, the Bears missed out on the postseason for the sixth time in seven years. Logically, the first offseason move the team made was to sign the man they’ve had behind centre for the last five years. The man who has led them to the playoffs once. The man who has never made a Pro Bowl as a Bear. The much maligned, easily hated, Jay Cutler.

It’s not that Cutler’s a bad quarterback per se; it’s just that he’s not that good. His new contract is a seven-year $126-million deal, though “just” $54-million is guaranteed. $18-million a year for an average pivot seems a bit steep and comes across as a bit of a panic move.

That’s not to say Cutler hasn’t improved drastically this year, but with Marc Trestman as your coach, it’s hard not to. The renowned quarterback whisperer could probably make Mark Sanchez look like a QB if given the chance. Just look at what he did with Josh McCown: in eight games (five starts), McCown threw for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and only one interception while posting a 3-2 record—a record which could have easily been 4-1 were it not for a curious call by Trestman to go for a field goal on second down against the Vikings in an overtime game. McCown’s never been anything special, but he sure had that offence rolling.

On that note, if McCown had remained the starter after Cutler returned from injury, the Bears might still be playing. Cutler’s three games back weren’t pretty. He was rusty in a tight win over the lowly Browns, dismal in a demolition by the Eagles, and middling in the finale to the Packers. In short, exactly what everyone’s come to expect from the Vanderbilt product. If he had stayed healthy the whole year it might have been a different story, seeing as Trestman had him clicking early on, but he didn’t, which brings up another issue: health. In the last three years, Cutler has missed 12 games. He’s set to turn 31 before next season and one has to think that—with his recent injury struggles and always questioned toughness—his time off the field will be a regular occurrence.

Looking at the big picture though, the Bears’ move to sign a man who is clearly not, nor ever will be, elite, to a top-dollar contract may be part of a growing trend. Last year it was Joe Flacco who cashed in. Is he great? No. Is he average? Yes. Do you know what you’re getting? Yes. Cutler is the same. The Bears would have done well to re-sign McCown as the starter for a year or two, let Cutler walk, and draft a QB in the mid-rounds to develop. Instead, they overpaid for the known commodity. Just like Cutler, the move was anything but gutsy.