I know it may seem blasphemous, after waiting so long for anything resembling a “franchise” QB to come to Chicago, to start talking about who might take over after Jay Cutler. The reality is that Cutler, entering in the final year of his deal and who will be 30 years old at the start of the season, is entering a critical time in his playing career and in his career with the Bears.
We’re all familiar by now with the myriad of reasons why Cutler hasn’t delivered us yet to the promised land that is a ticker-tape parade down Michigan Ave. Freak injuries, constant changes to the Offensive Coordinator position and the playbook, an ineptitude in drafting, and an unwillingness to accept that NFL teams win these days through the air. It is our hope that the talent issues were fixed when Emery got the job as GM, and that the scheme and play-calling issues will now be fixed with the addition of Marc Trestman as Head Coach & Offensive play-caller. The weight of success now falls onto the shoulders of Jay, and for at least 2013 the team is on his back. 2014, however, could be a completely new look.
Trestman is a noted “QB Guru,” with the likes of Steve Young and Rich Gannon vouching for his ability to get the best out of a QB and putting them in the best position to win, and drafted QBs such as Brandon Weeden and Tim Tebow hiring Trestman to work with them prior to the NFL Combine. It would make a lot of sense, especially in today’s NFL where a Head Coach is often times tied to the success of his quarterbacks, that Trestman might have his eye on someone in the 2013 draft to begin to mold into the Bears QB of the future. I believe that Trestman will do all he can to make Cutler become the elite, franchise QB we all hoped he could be when we acquired him, but nothing is ever guaranteed in the NFL. Smart teams often make anticipatory moves that benefit them in the long run instead of looking only at their needs today. Emery, coming from his background in scouting, most likely fits that school of thought.
In much the way the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers (Favre), the 49ers did with Colin Kaepernick (Smith), the Chargers did with Philip Rivers (Brees), and the Bengals with Carson Palmer (Kitna), it would make sense for the Bears – if they believed the right talent to be available – to draft a player who would sit behind Cutler this year and learn the playbook, get coached up by Trestman, and develop a relationship with the team. Then, if Cutler falters or fails to live up to expectations, they have a plan in place for 2014 and beyond instead of having to offer him a new contract just for continuity and not get stuck in a place Bears fans are all too familiar with – QB limbo.
I doubt the Bears will draft a QB with the #20 pick in 2013. In fact, I doubt the Bears will draft anyone with the #20 pick unless a true talent is still left on the board, and Emery has made comments recently about the team’s willingness to trade down. That’s the smart move, as the Bears only have 5 picks this year and easily more than 5 needs left to address. It’s possible they might try for one of the 2nd round QB talents, but realistically I could see us picking up one of the more developmental prospects, such as Oklahoma’s Lance Jones, or Arizona’s Matt Scott, both projected to go around the 4th round. With Trestman’s QB coaching ability, and at least one year where they are guaranteed to carry a clipboard and learn, it would be interesting to see if Emery and Trestman can find a rough talent they can help elevate to a starter.
The other advantage to a young QB on his rookie deal is the cost savings it would give the team to continue to add other talent in 2014 and 2015, at least. At the end of 2013 Cuter is going to want to be paid veteran starter QB money, in success or failure, and the Bears could desperately use some low cost talent to balance the books and get them off the edge of the cap. Look at the 49ers with Kaepernick in 2013 – his salary is around $740k, and in 2014, just shy of $1 million (though realistically his 2014 number will probably be rolled into a new, long-term extension). Having a starting QB who has a smaller cap hit than your highest priced special teams talent is a nice bonus when you might be looking at contending before the aging D completely falls apart (we’re looking at you, Peppers, Briggs, & Tillman).
I would be remiss to not point out the one major flaw in this plan, however, and that is the potential for injury to Cutler in 2013. Without an experienced backup the Bears could find themselves in the same situation as 2011, when Chad Hanie played them out of contention. However, did Jason Campbell really look that much better when he had to spell Cutler in 2012? There is always the option of signing another veteran this year and hoping that perhaps undrafted Matt Blanchard can be the development prospect Trestman can mold, though no indications have been given for the team’s future plans for Blanchard other than a shot at being a cheap QB 3 for 2013.