The immediate issue with Jay Cutler is whether he will be able to return as the starting Bears quarterback next Monday. That’s not a given, as Cutler and coach Marc Trestman established on Monday.
The longer and larger question is whether he is the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2014, and signs are again positive in that direction.
General manager Phil Emery continues to keep contract issues in-house, including prospects of using the franchise tag to retain Cutler for one year. But once again, unless Emery says one thing in public and the opposite in private — and there are no signs yet that Emery does that — complimentary comments suggest that the Bears have seen what they needed to from Cutler to form a decision, even with Cutler playing just three or four more games in 2013 (depending on availability for Dallas).
“All contract issues will be worked on post-season,” Emery posted during a Tuesday fan chat on Chicagobears.com. “That includes Jay and a number of other Bears players. Before Jay's injury, he was playing at a very high level and we were very pleased with his progress.”
Emery has used the Bears’ franchise tag each of the last two offseasons, on running back Matt Forte and defensive tackle Henry Melton. When Emery was hired, he explained that he considered the tag something negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement and therefore more than fair to use.
But the tag amount for Cutler would be roughly equal to the amounts of Forte and Melton combined. Meaning: Tagging a quarterback is something with roster-wide implications.
“The franchise tag for the quarterback position has unique challenges,” Emery said in his chat, “because the average [of the top five salaries at the position league-wide] comes out to be such a large portion of your [salary] cap and your total amount of money available to spend on other players to acquire to help your team.”
The tag amount, guaranteed once the player signs the tender, cannot be prorated over the life of any contract, since it’s a one-year deal. Emery’s note that the tag hurts the organization’s ability to make improvements elsewhere suggests that it is a distant second in his choices for keeping Cutler in 2014.
Cutler “better” but…
Cutler did not sound as pleased with his own progress back from the high-ankle sprain. Not discouraged, just not as certain he was coming back as he was from the groin injury.
He hasn’t practiced since the injury and until he does that, he’s not back.
“Getting better,” Cutler said Monday during “The Jay Cutler Show” on WMVP-AM 1000. “Still got to talk to the doctors, got to go through some stuff this week. I don’t know. I think if we’re going to have any shot at playing, I’m going to have to practice [this week]. I still feel like I’m going to get back here really soon. I want to play. It’s just the trainers and doctors and going through the scenario we’ve got to go through.”
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Cutler went down with a torn groin muscle in the Oct. 20 game at Washington, recovered ahead of most prognoses and started against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10.
But Cutler’s season took a turn for the worse when he suffered that high-ankle sprain during that Lions game and Josh McCown has been the Bears’ quarterback ever since.
“I want to play as soon as I can play, I’ve been out long enough,” Cutler said. “Just want to be able to help the guys be able to win football games, no matter what the situation is.”
If his coach’s evaluation is any indication, Cutler still has some distance to cover. Marc Trestman continued to describe Cutler as “week-to-week” on Monday, meaning Cutler has not progressed yet to “day-to-day,” which would be more promising.
“He’s progressing,” Trestman said. “We’ll see how he is Thursday…. I’m not sure where we are right now. He visited the doctor [Monday] and we’ll know more Thursday or Friday. But it’ll start with some limited work and see how he moves around, and we’ll take it from there. Still week-to-week.”