Cutler precision warrants watching through camp, preseason

Cutler precision warrants watching through camp, preseason
July 9, 2013, 8:15 am
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In the wake of the 2013 free agency, draft and offseason work at minicamps and OTAs, examines where the Bears have gone and where they will be going when training camp convenes in late July. One of a series.

The recap: The Bears did not draft a quarterback in either 2012 or 2013, nor did they pursue one with any realistic chance of supplanting Jay Cutler. Support and hopes for Jason Campbell may have run high in some quarters but that was largely moot by halftime of the San Francisco game.

Significantly, the Bears did not add to the depth chart even after Campbell opted for competition with Brandon Weeden in Cleveland. Instead, the decision was made to go to with three quarterbacks rather than four even into training camp, reasoning that there were not enough reps to go around as it was for a new system.

The result was a calculated gamble: re-signing of veteran Josh McCown, a fit with both the system and with Cutler, and staking Matt Blanchard to the No. 3 job.

[MORE: Buy-in on Trestman system key to Bears camp and beyond]

The true gamble, however, is on Cutler.

The 2012 season ended without a contract extension for Cutler, who threw seven TD passes and six interceptions over his final seven games, four of them losses. With the hiring of Marc Trestman, an offseason of in-depth evaluation commenced, extending through the various team practices and continuing through training camp and presumably into the early regular season.

If Cutler works, he will get either a contract extension in the range of $16 million per season, or a franchise tag. If he doesn’t… .

The organization signed two starting offensive linemen and a tight end in addition to using its No. 1 pick to draft another lineman. All of that was predicated on surrounding Cutler with more talent than he arguably has ever enjoyed since entering the NFL in 2006.

Issue No. 1: Cutler accuracy

Cutler has seen his completion percentage effectively decline every season in Chicago, actually every year since his first season as an NFL starter: from 63.6 in 2007 to 58.8 last year.

The 2012 number was up .8 percent from the year before. But given the addition of favorite-target Brandon Marshall, it is difficult to view that as an improvement, given that his completion rate was better with Devin Hester and Johnny Knox as his starting wideouts.

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Myriad excuses for Cutler’s failures have been advanced, from the quality of his receivers to that of his offensive line to that of his coordinators.

The reasons don’t matter now, particularly since general manager Phil Emery is now out of areas to fix on offense, except for the big one. This is a must-fix for a quarterback with arm strength and now in an offense based in part on getting the ball out of his hands sooner rather than later, not waiting for Marshall to work open, which he does as well as any receiver in the NFL.

Cutler’s completion percentage was a pedestrian 47.1 percent last preseason. Preseasons don’t mean a whole lot, but they can be foreshadowings. The Bears need a high-percentage training camp and “practice season” from the player on whom they have gambled a great deal even without a new max-contract.

“With the amount of [practice] time we’re allowed [in the offseason], you can’t really get in as much as you want to get in,” Cutler said. “We’ll see where we’re at when we get to training camp.”