Once more, quarterback decision is offseason priority for Bears

Once more, quarterback decision is offseason priority for Bears

An offseason without a Bears quarterback issue/controversy/move would be news. And the 2017 offseason is already not without a quarterback…situation.

The central figure in the situation is, as it has been for most of the past eight offseasons, Jay Cutler. But this time, as was the case when Josh McCown was the alternative after 2013, Cutler is far from the Bears’ only option, and it was made abundantly clear that the quarterback position is in perhaps its greatest state of flux since the Brian Griese-Rex Grossman-Kyle Orton maelstrom in the Time Before Cutler.

It was also abundantly clear that, unlike last year and the year before, there has been no “Jay is our quarterback” decision.

“In my mind, there is no more important position than the quarterback,” GM Ryan Pace said on Wednesday. “It is a critical, critical position. And I know and I recognize, that the decision that we make on that quarterback is going to be significant for all of us for the direction that this organization is going to head.”

Pace said he had met with more than two dozen players since Sunday, including Cutler, who is around Halas Hall rehabbing an injured shoulder. Their conversation involved letting Cutler know that when a decision is made on his future, he and his agent would be informed.

Which did not sound like something normally said to a player where the decision is to keep them.

“Once we make a decision as an organization whatever it is, you know he'll be the first to know and his agent, Bus Cook, will be the first to know and I made him that promise,” Pace said. “Those decisions haven't been completely finalized yet, but when they are you know he'll know immediately.”

But if the question is, do the Bears move forward with Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, a drafted rookie, a different free agent or a trade acquisition, the answer is…yes.

“There's a lot of things we value in that position,” Pace said. “You know this year it was about consistency and availability. You know we played with so many different quarterbacks it was hard to find continuity. But I think we're looking for consistency and productivity from that position and I think we'll find it this offseason.

“I think everything's on the table right now. It's free agency, it's trade, it's draft, it's current players on our team. Everything's on the table, and we've got to analyze all that and the next two months are going to be huge for that. It's critical that we get that right.”

If the decision is between Cutler and Hoyer, money is likely, and rightly, to be a consideration.

Using passer rating for apples-to-apples purposes, Cutler is a career 85.7-rating passer with a 3.3 interception percentage. Hoyer is an 84.8 passer but with a 2.2 interception percentage, a career pick rate equal to Cutler’s best single-season rate. Both are roughly .500 as starters over their careers.

But Cutler is due potentially $15 million this season; Hoyer is unrestricted after playing under a one-year deal for $2 million. Getting the same production for a fraction of the cost makes simple sense.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Whatever the decision, whether Cutler, Hoyer or an outside option or two, management is leaving the call to the football people.

“I’ve always been a fan of Jay Cutler,” said Chairman George McCaskey, who had to have been one to agree to the $126-million contract given to Cutler by former GM Phil Emery. “I love him as a player. I love him off the field. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for what he does off the field.

“As far as the football evaluation, that’s up to Ryan and John [Fox].”

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.