The moment Sam Shields intercepted Jay Cutler's desperation Hail Mary at the end of the NFC North title game, the offseason for the Bears started. A plethora of items on the to-do list need attention but none more than the task at hand of re-signing the Bears signal-caller.
Yes, the Bears should re-sign the 30-year-old quarterback.
If the Bears want to remain competitive in the North against the Packers and, if they ever decide to stop shooting themselves in the foot, the Lions, Chicago will need to retain Cutler who posted the most efficient season in his career with an 89.2 rating in the 11 games he started (His average was decimated by an 8.3 rating after getting hurt early in the Oct. 20 Redskins game).
Sure, you can bring up the 1-8 career record against the Packers which I personally despise, but the loss last night was not on his shoulders. Cutler had a 103.8 rating, 126.4 if you don't count the last-second desperation lob, which almost doubled his career-average rating against Green Bay.
Don't forget that Cutler helped lead the Bears to a 4-2 start this season with a quality win over the Bengals. He had a two-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 97.2 passer rating average during this span, including four games where he completed more than two-thirds of his passes.
The Bears do have the option of letting him walk and becoming an unrestricted free agent, but the legendary backup performances by Josh McCown may not be available next year. The 34-year-old quarterback told Sports Illustrated that he was considering retirement at the end of the season although he may return if a team offers him a starter-worthy contract.
The free-agent pool is too slim this offseason; names like Michael Vick, Chad Henne and Josh Freeman fog the free-agent air. These players would likely not keep the Bears competitive and/or are too injury-prone themselves.
Even rumors of pursuing Matt Schaub have surfaced following the loss, but it seems farfetched given the would-be-former Texans quarterback's recent poor play.
There's always the option of slapping the franchise tag on Cutler, but it is estimated to be more than $16 million, something the Bears would like to avoid this busy offseason.
"You can't predict the future," Cutler said, via Tony Andracki of CSN Chicago. "It always works out how it's supposed to."
The safe bet would be to sign Cutler to a three-year deal and draft a quarterback in the later rounds to be molded under the guidance of the offensive-specialist head coach Marc Trestman. If there's a late-round gem like Tom Brady or Russell Wilson out there it would be in this class. The 2014 NFL draft is full of quarterback talent, but the Bears desperately need long-term help on defense.
Also, Cutler is appreciated in the locker room:
“Jay will be back,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. “So all the stories for the offseason, you guys can just put that at the bottom. Write everything you have to say and then say, ‘Brandon said Jay will be back.’ Just like I said Jay would be back from the groin injury. Jay’s going be back [after] the contract year.”
Marshall even pulled the old Terrell Owens-Tony Romo line: "That's my quarterback."
"He’s a heckuva player,” Marshall said. “That’s my QB.”
Cutler wants to stay in Chicago. He told the ESPN 1000 radio show that he would be disappointed if he and the organization were unable to reach an agreement.
Go ahead, Chicago. Re-sign Cutler. It's the least we could do after throwing him on the field behind a poor offensive line for years like a slice of meat in the middle of a pack of wolves. Let him learn under Trestman for another year or two.
With a few free-agent acquisitions and attention in the draft toward rebuilding the defense, I think we would have a good thing developing in the Windy City.