The Chicago Bears made Jay Cutler the highest paid player in the NFL prior to the 2014 season and have now decided to bench their franchise quarterback in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen.
The Bears had high expectations coming into the season with many believing Cutler could have a MVP season after showing promise in second-year head coach Marc Trestman’s offense. After years of identifying as a defensive powerhouse, Chicago finally had a potent offense including one of the best running backs in the league in Matt Forte, a formidable receiving duo in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and a big, pass-catching tight end in Martellus Bennett.
Despite the high hopes and being the heavy favorite to win their division, the Bears haven’t been able to deliver on either side of the ball and have posted a 5-9 record heading into Week 17 of the NFL season, good for last place in the NFC North.
The move to bench Cutler and play career backup and former draft bust Jimmy Clausen at this point in the season is peculiar with motives somewhat unclear. With rumors that Trestman will be fired after the conclusion of the season, it could be a final effort by Trestman to prove that the system works if the quarterback properly runs the scheme.
Last year, Josh McCown, another career backup quarterback, posted pro-bowl numbers in Trestman’s offense while Cutler was injured, bringing the Bears to the brink of the playoffs before Cutler returned to the lineup and laid an egg against the division rival Packers in the final game of the season, ending their playoff chances.
The Bears front office may also prefer to keep Cutler out of harms way in hopes of trading the quarterback in the offseason. Cutler is only one year into a seven year, $126 million contract that would cost his next team $19 million in 2015. If Chicago chooses to cut Cutler outright after the season, they will essentially flush $38 million down the drain and be left without a competent replacement.
Big changes are likely at Halas Hall in Chicago in the offseason with GM Phil Emery’s job on the line along with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker likely to lose his job after another disastrous year on the defensive side of the ball. What happens to Trestman and Cutler remains to be seen, but for now, Cutler is likely done for the 2014 season.