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].”

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.

Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.

He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.

Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.

Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.

That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.

These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.