This is the second in a series looking back at the Bears' 2013 season, by position. Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin is breaking down where each position group succeeded and failed this past season, where it needs to get better and how the personnel may look different next season after free agency.
Overview: The past couple of seasons, 2013 in particular, have made clear two things to the Bears regarding their long-troubled quarterback position:
(1) Jay Cutler, under the apparent first Chicago coaching staff entirely to his liking, was moving toward their idea of a franchise quarterback. The commitment in the form of a seven-year contract, even with its exit options and flexibility, made the statement that both sides had been hoping for.
(2) For all of his toughness, Cutler was not a durability sure-thing. He did not miss a game in his first four seasons, including the 2009 one in Chicago, but has not played a full season since then. That makes the backup spot exponentially more relevant that it might be in Denver with Peyton Manning, New Orleans with Drew Brees, New England with Tom Brady and some others. Whether the answer lies again with Josh McCown or other/others, having a qualified Cutler understudy projects to matter.
2013 review: The offense broke into rarified regions with Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh overseeing operations and personnel. Cutler (89.2) and McCown (109.0) posted the best single-season passer ratings of their careers despite being in and out of the lineup because of Cutler injuries.
Cutler had the second-lowest sack total (19) of his career as coaches placed a heavy emphasis on throwing on time. He had the second-highest completion percentage (63.1) of his career even with later-season debacles against Detroit and Philadelphia.
Both quarterbacks improved dramatically in crucial situations. Cutler was the sixth-best third-down passer in the NFL (102.6 rating) and both he and McCown were among the top eight in fourth-quarter passing, although Cutler’s interception rate (4.2 percent) in fourth quarters was a problem.
McCown started five games and played significant portions of two others. He finished the season as the No. 3 passer in the NFL (109.0) behind only Philadelphia’s Nick Foles and Denver’s Peyton Manning.
Looking ahead: Free agents: McCown
Re-signing McCown stands as a second-tier priority if only because the starter is in place and there are other hugely more important needs on defense. McCown wants to remain a Bear, although contract talks cannot officially commence until the March opening of free agency. McCown is a fit on multiple levels, including meshing with Cutler and the coaching staff and represents the rare commodity of a proven veteran backup comfortable with the role in which the team needs him.
The organization has not invested a draft choice in a young quarterback since the failed picks of Dan LeFevour (2010) and Nathan Enderle (2011). They brought in undrafted free agent Matt Blanchard during 2012 and had 12 weeks with him on the practice squad, plus most of last offseason before he fractured a knuckle on his left hand and left with an injury settlement. Blanchard signed with Carolina’s practice squad last October.
Strategies: The ideal of having a young quarterback in development could be accomplished with Blanchard, and the needs on defense in particular work against even a late-round pick for a project.
The Bears paid Jason Campbell $3.5 million for 2012 as first-alternate to Cutler. The Bears cannot afford that level of investment in a backup but McCown is worth more to the Bears (and vice versa) than anyone else and the expectation is that a deal can be struck to keep in place a bridge to survive Cutler injuries which have unfortunately been part of the last four seasons.
P.S. LeFevour went through Cincinnati and Indianapolis before backing up Henry Burris with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats; Enderle is now with the Portland Thunder in the Arena League.
2014 Position Outlook Series