When quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a torn groin muscle in last Sunday's 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins, it led many to jump to the conclusion that his days as the Chicago Bears starting quarterback may be coming to an end. If the Bears are smart, they'll keep Cutler for the immediate future.
Michael Silver of NFL.com got the ball rolling with this story, using quotes from someone "close to the [Bears'] situation." Their thinking was that Marc Trestman wouldn't want to pay a large sum of money for a quarterback with great physical tools, but a tendency to make careless mistakes.
The obvious and largest flaw in Silver's source is he's talking about Cutler making $20 million per season in his next contract, a large sum for any quarterback and one that he's not likely going to get. There are currently only two quarterbacks with averages at or above $20 million, and Cutler has already spoken of giving the Bears a discount.
That's not the only flaw in the source's thinking, however.
Prior to his game against the Redskins, Cutler was on pace to throw for over 4,300 yards and 32 touchdowns, but also 16 interceptions, which is what cause some to think Trestman may not be a fan. Cutler has also had trouble with fumbles this season as he's had two returned for touchdowns and another put the opponent in field-goal range.
It's an issue. Cutler isn't perfect, but it's something Trestman and the Bears would be better off living with, at least for now.
It isn't as if Cutler is the only quarterback prone to turning the ball over. His career interception percentage of 3.4 percent is the exact same as Eli Manning's. Before injuring his groin, he was at 3.1 percent this year, which is lower than Ben Roethlisberger's was in each of his Super Bowl-winning seasons. Those two players have combined to win four Super Bowls.
If you think the 16 interceptions he was on pace to throw this season is too high, consider how many Drew Brees has averaged since he came to New Orleans. Maybe you think Cutler's four-turnover performance against the Lions was unacceptable, but then how do you define Brees' five-interception game against Atlanta less than a year ago?
The three fumbles he has this year are the same number Aaron Rodgers has. The fact that Rodgers' weren't returned for touchdowns has a lot more to do with luck—or lack thereof—than talent.
Although they have yet to find consistency, the Bears offense is finally running at a high level. You don't try to fix what isn't broken.
The Bears are currently second in the league, scoring 30.7 points per game. Even if you take away the defensive touchdowns and Devin Hester's punt return for a touchdown, they're averaging 25.4 points per game, which would be 10th in the league. They're ninth in points per drive and 11th in yards per drive, according to Football Outsiders.
Now, consider what Cutler has been working with.
The Bears rank 23rd in Yards After the Catch, according to STATS LLC. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Cutler ranked third-to-last in YAC percentage. A lot goes into YAC, from the system a quarterback plays in to his ability to lead to more yards for receivers with throws. Still, it's a stat in which seven of the bottom 10 players have passer ratings below 80.
Cutler has been helped by the fact that he has bigger receivers who can make plays on jump balls, but there's no definite way to determine the impact of that. Teams like Atlanta, Green Bay and Denver have receivers who do both.
While the Bears' pass-blocking has seemed to improve, it still isn't good. They're ranked 29th in Pass Blocking Efficiency on Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The average passer rating of the three teams below the Bears is just 74.7.
Essentially, quarterbacks who aren't getting a lot of yards after the catch or efficient blocking are struggling, except Cutler.
Chicago's rushing offense is ranked near the middle of the pack with 112.9 yards per game, although they're tied for first with three runs of over 40 yards and are tied for fourth with an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
That said, it's hard to argue an explosive—but inconsistent—running game would be why an offense is ranked in or near the top 10 in every meaningful statistical category. The reason the Bears offense has been so good this season is because they've been getting exceptional play from the quarterback position.
In the below chart, I've determined a way to rank quarterbacks using their passer rating, the rankings of their YAC percentage—via Advanced NFL Stats—and Pass Blocking Efficiency from PFF (subscription required) and where they rank in terms of rushing yards per game from NFL.com. I have a spreadsheet with the top 15 players in terms of passer rating here.
|Passing leaders with supporting cast|
|Player||Rating||* PBE + YAC %||RYPG||Total|
|* PBE via Pro Football Focus; YAC % via Advanced NFL Stats|
According to this system, Cutler is the second best quarterback in the league, behind only Tennessee's Jake Locker. It should be noted that Locker has thrown just over 150 passes, so it's hard to know what to make of his small sample size.
This system has its flaws, of course, but so does every other quarterback rating system.
Are there better quarterbacks than Cutler? Sure. However, there are also quite a few teams who would kill for a player like the Bears have.
Look at teams like Cleveland and Buffalo who haven't been able to find an answer at that position for years. Even teams like Houston or Cincinnati with guys who simply might not have the physical or mental makeups to win with. Consider what the Bears went through before they traded for Cutler.
There are two schools of thought regarding the quarterback position. You either start building your team with one and add the parts as you go, or you add one to an already complete team. The Bears—under then-general manager Jerry Angelo—chose to be the former and they're still far from complete.
The bigger concern going forward with Cutler is injuries, although those have seemed to be more of a fluke than anything else.
Neither the knee injury he suffered in the 2011 NFC Championship game or the thumb injury suffered during the 2011-12 season have proven to be chronic. The groin injury he recently suffered was also a fluke.
The concussions he has had while playing for the Bears are a little bit more worrisome. As we all know by now, a player's next concussion could always be his last. It's also possible that he'll never suffer another concussion. That is why the Bears should draft a developmental quarterback at some point, but drafting one to be a starter would likely be a step backwards.
The 2014 NFL draft is supposed to be a rich quarterback draft, but it's hard to see how getting a new quarterback—either through the draft or free agency—would make the Bears a better team next year. Their offense is ready to compete for a Super Bowl and their quarterback play is the main reason why.
Their defense, however, needs a lot of work. It doesn't matter who their quarterback is; if they don't pressure the opponent's passer and continue to give up over 29 points per game as they have this season, they can't win a Super Bowl.
The Bears should strongly consider doing what they did in 2004 by selecting defensive linemen with their first two picks. It's obvious that they need to rebuild their defense, and the best way to do that is by starting up front.
Unless he completely falls apart on the field when he comes back, Chicago should sign Cutler to a cap-friendly front-loaded deal. That would give the Bears time to continue to build their offense and rebuild their defense without having to worry about the quarterback position. If he's not able to get the job done in two or three years, it would be much easier for them to move on and add another quarterback to a more complete team.
Theoretically, general manager Phil Emery should be able to build an adequate defense, while the offensive line and weapons around Cutler develop. If they determine Cutler isn't the answer, it would be much easier to add someone else who may be.
Cutler should be the Bears' quarterback for the foreseeable future. With what they've put him through in the past and what he's shown so far this season, he's earned it. He's a good quarterback and those can be very hard to find, and the Bears have much bigger issues that they should look to solve first.