Give Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman credit. He’s been a pillar of consistency when it comes to his starting quarterback situation.
And not one of those gaudy, ornate pillars on plantation-style homes that serve no true purpose, either. Through all backup quarterback Josh McCown’s success, for better or worse, Marc Trestman has made sure that his team knew that Jay Cutler was still this franchise’s foundation.
So when Cutler returned healthy from an ankle injury that had sidelined him for the previous four games, the Chicago Bears were prepared for what was to come. Agree or disagree, anybody who took Trestman at his word knew that Jay Cutler would be the Chicago Bears starting quarterback.
Two interceptions into a game that the Bears needed to have to keep pace in the NFC North, he could have easily reverted back to McCown to the delight of a legion of booing Chicago fans. But, true to his word, he stuck with his guy.
Cutler rebounded for a resilient 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns that, after the Lions lost the following night to Baltimore, gave the Chicago Bears a half-game lead in the division. And now, despite all the media scrutiny surrounding the situation at quarterback, the Chicago Bears control their own destiny en route to the postseason.
And Jay Cutler is the right QB to lead them there.
I’d be remiss not to mention how valiantly Josh McCown played. He was phenomenal, and that statement requires no caveat. There is no but.
Josh McCown played inspired football and did everything the Chicago Bears needed him to do, even when that included returning graciously to the sideline.
In all likelihood, Josh McCown has earned himself a chance to start somewhere or, at the very least, become a very well-compensated backup. But, in a league where quarterback play ultimately defines a team’s identity, the Chicago Bears have to find out what their identity is.
The career backup has put up staggering numbers in a system that he simply gets, but how much money is five starts worth? Especially in light of what we’ve seen from the likes of Matt Flynn and Kevin Kolb, other career backups awarded massive contracts based on small sample sizes of work.
And Josh McCown is 34 years old.
In theory, you could ride the hot hand into the playoffs, but then what? Are you placing the long-term success of your franchise in the hands of a soon-to-be 35-year old you’re hoping is in the midst of some sort of football epiphany?
For as amazing as McCown has been, the future of the Chicago Bears franchise likely rests in whatever Jay Cutler either is or is not. This playoff push may be your last chance to address the multi-million dollar elephant in the room.
Whether you sign Jay Cutler to a long-term deal, franchise tag him or let him go entirely, the decision shapes Chicago’s future.
However, the issue at hand is often the most pressing, and while long-term ramifications over who starts undoubtedly linger in general manager Phil Emery’s mind, what makes this decision so paramount is the playoff implication. And in comparing the two quarterbacks, the operative question is “Risk vs. Reward.”
Josh McCown’s success is based upon unabated trust in his teammates. He knows he’s got Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. With that kind of weaponry, moving the football and scoring points is often as simple as protecting the football.
However, so often in the NFL, games come down to quarterbacks making plays. And while Josh McCown has certainly made a few miraculous plays at the helm of this offense, I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that Jay Cutler is the guy best-suited to take over a football game.
You endure the first quarter interception under the guise that talent wins out eventually. The smartest guy with the strongest arm is supposed to make the play.
Whether or not Jay Cutler does that or not stands to answer a lot of questions:
Do the Bears make the playoffs?
Is Jay Cutler worth the long-term contract?
Will the Bears look elsewhere at quarterback?
I think Jay Cutler is the quarterback that gives you not only the best chance at making the playoffs, but the best chance of doing anything in the playoffs. Marc Trestman has been consistent in thinking exactly the same, as evidenced by starting Jay last week against Cleveland.
The rest of that stuff will eventually sort itself out.