When the Bears formally begin training camp on Wednesday with a Phil Emery, Marc Trestman press conference in Bourbonnais, the off- and on-field bosses will undoubtedly field their share of Jay Cutler questions. They’ll almost undoubtedly have glowing replies about the quarterback they signed to the richest contract in franchise history, four days after a disappointing end to the 2013 season.
That contract may have a Pro Bowl clause in it, and if it does, that might factor in the team’s favor, financially. Cutler has made just one trip to Hawaii in his eight-year career, but a more realistic outcome may simply be for him to have a Pro Bowl-caliber season that would just put him in the discussion. If he happens to gain the honor and play Jan. 25 in Glendale, it means he won’t be playing in the Super Bowl the following week in that same stadium, and likely wasn’t playing in the NFC Championship game the preceding Sunday. But making it there is the first step in confirming the organization's faith in that investment from his body of work in season two of their regime. It would also mean he’s played most – if not all – of the season and put up numbers many expect of him in Year 2, with the weapons at his disposal. And finally, within the voting process itself, it would mean the perception of him around the league — fans and players — will have changed in tandem with his performance.
But even with significant steps he made last season, he finished 10th in the NFL in yards-per-attempt. Five of the seven NFC quarterbacks — not named Josh McCown — ahead of him in that category were on playoff teams. He was 12th in completion percentage. And his career-best 89.2 passer rating landed him 13th, behind nine other NFC signal-callers, including McCown (and ahead of playoff quarterbacks Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck). There’s an expectation those numbers and rankings will experience another uptick this fall, but who in the NFC can he climb over?
In the end, being a Pro Bowler player is a resume-builder that might involve some extra cash. But can he put up more impressive numbers than Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Colin Kaepernick? Or Nick Foles, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford? Or even Newton, Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, Eli Manning or Robert Griffin III – the latter two within new offenses, with new weapons?
So don’t hold your breath on Cutler being a “Pro Bowl Quarterback,” for whatever that’s worth. Emery, Trestman and company would be satisfied with getting him into that argument with a healthy, winning season. And even if, by chance, his season is so good to have earned a spot on that roster, the absolute best-case scenario would be being forced by the playoff schedule to skip that Sunday’s game in Arizona.
**You can watch Wednesday’s scheduled 2 p.m. Emery-Trestman press conference from Bourbonnais live on Comcast SportsNet. I’ll be in studio before and after, and Jen Lada and Kip Lewis will be on-hand to file reports for “SportsNet Central”, and Bears Insider John “Moon” Mullin here on CSNChicago.com. **