Visiting on Tuesday morning with NBC cousin Mike Florio on his “ProFootballTalk Live!,” Mike posed an interesting possibility about the longer-term future of Jay Cutler and the Bears.
Those options have been ID’d as a franchise tag or a long-term deal. But Mike threw out another.
First, a spot of background:
The obvious question hanging over the Cutler injury situation is what all of this does to the quarterback’s status. I’ve said and written in the past that Cutler will be the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2014, and that still holds. The terms that Phil Emery and Marc Trestman use when talking about Cutler — “leadership,” “our starting quarterback,” “a very valuable part of our team” — speak to the organization’s take on No. 6.
The ankle sprain hadn’t happened yet, but right after the groin tear, Emery clearly did not see Cutler as injury prone.
“I will say that I don’t know too many players in this league that don’t get some type of injury,” Emery said post-Washington. “This is a very physical and tough sport. There have been a number of quarterbacks that have been hurt over time, including players like Tom Brady.”
Mike wondered if there was a way Josh McCown takes Cutler’s job. That won’t happen, and best guess is that McCown would be the first to state that. McCown is an ideal fit technically, emotionally and every other way for the Trestman/Aaron Kromer/Matt Cavanaugh program, but he has never had a full season with a passer rating above 75.
Another best guess: McCown will have the best stretch of his career in this offense. But Cutler’s upside, which was finally unfolding this year, his age and his skill set are still in the Bears’ plans.
Which brings up Mike’s possibility:
Remember the transition tag? The designation that guarantees a player the average of the top-10 salaries at his position and, more important, gives his team the right to match any offer?
Like the franchise tag (Matt Forte, Henry Melton), the Bears have used the transition tag in the past: Mark Carrier, Bryan Robinson, Donnell Woolford.
It can save some money and still protect the team with a match option.
But here’s the rub, two actually:
The transition tag number for 2013 was only $1.8 million below the franchise tag for quarterbacks. Not insignificant, but not worth the second “rub.”
The risk is that of a player getting an offer with a “poison pill” in the form of a contract so front-loaded or structured that the tagging team can’t realistically match it. Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson was the case study for that, when the Minnesota Vikings tendered a contract that Hutchinson signed but the Seahawks couldn’t match. The Bears could be confronted with a contract that would cost them more than the franchise amount in the first year.
Teams don’t like letting other teams setting the price for their own players. Mike’s thought was a good one, but it is still difficult to see Jay Cutler in a uniform other than a Bears’ in 2014, at this point more likely via the franchise tag.