Bears' biggest decision will focus around Cutler

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Bears' biggest decision will focus around Cutler

Screams to fire Lovie Smith have been bouncing off downtown Chicago buildings for the last couple weeks, and as the rest of the regular season winds down, that decision will work itself out based on the team's final number of wins and losses.

But a much more difficult decision the Bears brass will face is what to do with Jay Cutler. The Bears quarterback, like his head coach, has one more year left on his contract.

Comcast SportsNet Bears analyst Jim Miller recently said he thought the team should not extend Cutler based on his injuries alone, and while I agree with that, I would take it one step further and question whether Cutler has earned a new contract and even bigger money based on his play.

Quarterbacks are defined by the numbers they post and the amount of wins they bring to their team. It's an evaluation that can be much more difficult than judging a head coach.

Here's a look at Cutler's four season with the Bears:

In his first season, he threw for 3,666 yards with 27 touchdowns. The negative was the 26 interceptions, a whopping number that killed many drives. The Bears finished 7-9 that year.

In 2010, Cutler threw for 3,274 yards with 23 touchdowns and another 16 picks. The big difference from the season prior was the fact the Bears reached the NFC title game, which was lost to Green Bay.

The 2011 season was cut short due to Cutler's thumb injury, but he did have the team on pace for a playoff run.

But there are a couple of factors that have to be considered as well:

Cutler has played with three different offensive coordinators since arriving in Chicago, which is typically a disaster for any quarterback in the league. He's played with an offensive line that most people would agree has been sub-par. On the flip side, Aaron Rodgers has played behind an equally poor front but has continued to produce and win games, including a Super Bowl.

Has Cutler made the team better? Bears general manager Phil Emery will have to decide if Cutler is truly a franchise quarterback. This season, he's near the bottom in completion percentage at 59.7 percent and has throw 14 more interceptions and only 17 touchdowns.

Young QBs providing a threat

Something that may hurt Cutler is the number of young quarterbacks that are thriving in the league, including rookies Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. All three of their teams are in the playoff mix.

Seeing Kirk Cousins' production on the field has been an eye-opener too -- another rookie who fills in for the Redskins and in one game pulls out a victory, followed up by throwing for over 300 yards and leading Washington to another win. You see a player like Colin Kaepernick, a second-year quarterback who has started a handful of games, but has led San Francisco to a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Emery may decide there is a better direction to go rather that re-signing Cutler. It's been proven by teams like the Colts that blowing things up and starting over isn't always a bad decision.

Remember the Broncos let Cutler go in the prime of his career. NFL teams don't do that if they feel they have a franchise quarterback.

Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning (injury factored in) were all let go by the teams they led to Super Bowls. Cutler is not in the same league, so it shouldn't be an open-and-shut case that he remains the Bears' signal caller into the future.

He has to prove he deserves it.

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead, fall in OT at Lightning

Blackhawks blow three-goal lead, fall in OT at Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Yanni Gourde had a breakaway goal 4:25 into overtime and the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 on Monday night.

Victor Hedman set up the winner with his third assist of the game.

Tampa Bay, which trails Boston by a point for the second Eastern Conference wild card, also got two goals from Jonathan Drouin. Ondrej Palat and Anton Stralman also scored, and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who got pulled 14 minutes into the first after allowing three goals on eight shots, returned to the start the second and finished with 25 saves.

Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Tomas Jurco and Richard Panik scored for the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks, who were coming off a 7-0 loss Saturday night at Florida. Scott Darling stopped 25 shots.

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

MESA, Ariz. – After an impressive camp where he looked like the next homegrown Cubs hitter to roll off the assembly line, Ian Happ will go to Triple-A Iowa and get ready to make his big-league debut, or perhaps build his value for a trade-deadline deal.

Along with Happ, the Cubs assigned outfielder John Andreoli and catcher Taylor Davis to minor-league camp on Monday while optioning pitchers Eddie Butler and Rob Zastryzny to Iowa, cutting their roster to 31 as the Opening Night picture comes into focus.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – batted .417 with five homers, four doubles and 17 RBI in 24 Cactus League games.

"Offensively, what was there not to like?" general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I feel like he hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. It's always fun to see a young guy like that come in and open a lot of eyes."

Happ, 22, is a switch-hitter who can play second base and the outfield, skills that could help him escape from Des Moines once the need arises on the major-league level.

[MORE CUBS: How Cubs came to fully believe in the legend of Kyle Schwarber]

Though there are questions about Happ's defense, Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff clearly value versatility and trust young talent, moving Addison Russell to shortstop in 2015 and elevating rookie catcher Willson Contreras last season.

Stay tuned to see when/if the Cubs will have a spot at Wrigley Field, but Happ looks like he will be on a fast track.

"Whenever you're in Triple-A, you're always a call away," Hoyer said. "Sometimes it happens quicker than you think. We never expected Addie would be up in April of that year, and he was. I feel like with Willson last year, if you had asked me in spring training – would he be up in June? – I probably would have thought it would be more like a September call-up or something like that.

"You never know. Things happen. When you have good players in the minor leagues, sometimes it speeds up on you a little bit."