If Jay Cutler ends up starting Sunday in Cleveland, the Bears will open a door that will create a gigantic dilemma for Cutler, Marc Trestman and Phil Emery.
Let's start with Cutler. Getting the starting nod puts pressure on him to pull out three straight wins and at least give the team a chance at the playoffs after missing substantial playing time.
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He will follow McCown, who is coming off three consecutive 300-yard passing games. Cutler has two in eight starts. McCown has made five starts, but has better numbers all across the board. Most importantly, he's turned the ball over less, just one interception to eight for Cutler.
Jay playing puts his future earnings at risk not just from the Bears, but other teams that may have him on their radar. If he doesn't play as well or better than McCown, it will be hard to command the $80-100 million contract he certainly wants. You can't ask for top dollar if a backup making less than $1 million outplays you. At this point, he would be wise to sit out the remainder of the season and essentially protect his value, which to this juncture hasn't gone down.
Trestman has made it clear that Jay is his guy, but what does he do if Cutler throws a couple interceptions and the offense isn't as productive as it was with McCown at the helm? Trestman has been backed into a corner. Would he leave Cutler in and perhaps risk the Bears playoff hopes to save face with Cutler? I don't see Trestman pulling Cutler for anything less than an injury if he comes back.
Phil Emery may be the one that really wants to see Cutler return. If he performs well, meaning much better than McCown, then he can feel easier about handing out a big deal to Cutler in the off season. However, if Cutler under performs then Emery will also have a tough decision to make. It will be hard for him to rationalize a long-term deal for a quarterback who has always had the potential, but still hasn't reached it as a veteran with plenty of opportunities. Not to mention his newfound injury-prone label.
So, if Cutler doesn't excel to the level of McCown, Emery may choose to start looking for another long-term answer to be the signal caller in Trestman's system.
The final decision won't be all about the numbers. The eye test can be equally important.