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The Bears probably had to commit to another year of Jay Cutler to land John Fox. But once Fox has a chance to really take a look at the quarterback he inherited, as well as Cutler's potential impact on the 2016 salary cap (in addition to 2015), hopefully he will reconsider.
Once Fox is officially on board today, we all know what the next order of business will be. I am on record as saying keeping Cutler is a mistake. Another season with Cutler at the helm is another season further away from winning a championship. But there is a very good chance Fox is thinking he'll be the guy to at least convince Cutler to stop single-handedly losing games.
We know better and we dream of Fox stepping to the podium today at his introductory news conference and saying something like:
"We will strongly consider a change at quarterback. The most successful franchise in football right now is Seattle, and we are going to be shameless copycats.
"We will seek to re-create their model from 2011-12, when they knew they had to shake things up and brought in several back-up free agents who had shown flashes of potential, drafted a young quarterback in the third round, and then held a preseason audition."
Everyone forgets now that going into that process (this is me talking again by the way), no one thought Russell Wilson, the draftee, would win the starting job, at least in that first season. Free agent Matt Flynn was the big favorite. But the Seahawks had lucked out like so few pro football teams luck out these days. They had found the rookie who not only had the potential to be a great quarterback but was smart enough to already know his limitations: i.e., when he then started from Day 1, he first and foremost avoided losing games and as the season went on, the Seahawk running game featuring Marshawn Lynch and the defense featuring, well, everyone, asserted itself on its way to a playoff berth.
And they had a coach, Pete Carroll, who was confident enough to anoint Wilson the starter when many, many people were saying that was obviously a mistake. Interestingly enough, Wilson's early success seems to have kicked off an NFL trend in which virtually every rookie quarterback who shows even a glimmer of potential is thrown into the fire in his first year in the NFL even when it is clear he would be better off taking a season or two to work on his fundamentals, learn NFL schemes and study opposing defenses - also a mistake.
Teams that can't stop screwing up quarterbacks no matter what they do are one reason a fan can be at least cautiously optimistic the Bears can turn things around quickly despite a roster with massive talent gaps.
The lesson about not losing games is the one that Cutler still, still!, hasn't figured out. Another way of putting it is that if he could just stop committing moronic turnover after moronic turnover, the rest of the team might just step up and win a few games. Of course the play-caller has to give those players the chance, like, say, truly committing to Matt Forte getting 25 carries (unless the defense puts nine guys in the box play after play) per game. And then there is the fact that last year, the Bears' brutal defense and special teams were incapable of winning even a single game, let alone sparking a series of wins.
But Fox will not indicate he thinks Cutler has to go. He won't say it in part because I don't think he believes it, but also because teams have to be disingenuous about the Bears' sixth-year signal-caller. Even if they can't stand him, they have to pretend to like him so maybe just maybe some sucker will step up and trade for him. Others have said the Bears might even get a draft pick for Cutler. If only. My guess is the Bears will have to give another team a late-round draft pick in addition to Cutler just for the salary cap relief - which means of course that a trade won't happen.
Cutler may have more talent, as Chicago football touchstone Hub Arkush put it recently, than half the quarterbacks in the NFL. But plenty of those bottom-half signal-callers are younger than Cutler and still have the capability of progressing in the position. Cutler has now been in the league nine long years. He is who is he is. He will not improve in any truly meaningful way from here on out.
And then there is the fact that the Bears can't really keep Cutler for just one more year. At least they can't do so without messing up their cap for 2016 as well because if he is still on the roster on March 12 he counts another $10 million against the cap in the second year. If they dump him before then they take a huge hit this year but then are mostly done with it (I think there would still be some pro-rated signing or roster bonus charges against the cap in the next several seasons but those are happening no matter what and they are minor compared to the 10 mil.).
Welcome to the Bears, coach Fox, and good luck with all this stuff. You'll need it.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.