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Jay Cutler subject of much speculation after benching

This week, there wasn’t a nearly empty news conference room for quarterback Jay Cutler to entertain. There wasn’t even an interview with the flagship radio station.

So Cutler donned his customary Vanderbilt hat, threw a backpack over his shoulders and left a busy locker room earlier than usual.

There’s just less to do when you’re the backup.

As injured receiver Brandon Marshall recently described it on Twitter: It was “weird” to see a healthy Cutler benched on Sunday.

At times, Cutler stood 25 yards away from coach Marc Trestman while Jimmy Clausen and the offense were on the field during the Lions’ 20-14 victory.

A sign of a rift?

Perhaps. These are tumultuous times at Halas Hall, and Cutler has seemingly (and unfairly) become scapegoat No. 1 for the Bears’ issues just a week after offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer anonymously criticized him to NFL Network.

Cutler, though, was there to congratulate Clausen after his two touchdown passes and to confer with him and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh between possessions.

“Jay was with Matt [and] with the quarterbacks,” Trestman said. “He was involved during the week in the meetings — actively and vocally involved. Today, he did what you would expect him to do. He was with Jimmy and Matt between series and was part of the dialogue.”

Rumors and speculation on Cutler’s future are rampant. There were even conflicting national reports. CBS Sports said Cutler wasn’t going to be traded. NFL Network, meanwhile, reported there was a good possibility he’ll be gone, and that there’s a developing trade market, starting with the Titans, who have started researching him.

Even Mike Shanahan, the former Broncos coach and two-time Super Bowl winner, curiously re-emerged on ESPN and offered his support for Cutler, whom he coached for three years in Denver. Shanahan, a Chicago-area native, said he was surprised by Cutler’s benching.

“I just know being with him in Denver . . . that he’s got all the intangibles,” Shanahan said. “Now, can you get that out of him? I really believe in Jay, but he has to make a commitment that he’s going to get better and better. It’s going to be a group decision to get him over the top to where he can be. But he is a franchise-type quarterback.”

Consider those words Shanahan’s notice to Bears chairman George McCaskey that he’s interested in coaching his team should he fire Trestman this week or next.

Trestman said he’ll decide later this week if Cutler starts at Minnesota in Week 17. If he turns to Clausen or even rookie David Fales, the rumor mill might churn out of control.

General manager Phil Emery’s support for Cutler’s benching was questioned from the beginning, especially when Trestman paused after being asked directly about it. But in his first public comments, Emery stood by Trestman with terse statements.

“Performance determines playing time,” Emery said on WBBM-AM (780), “not contracts.”

Emery also said that Cutler handled his benching in a “professional,” “poised” and “team-oriented” way.

“I was real proud with how he handled the situation,” Emery said.

To his credit, Clausen (23-for-39, 181 yards, two TDs, one late interception) had strong moments against the Lions’ top-rated defense despite being limited by a short week. He said the “whole quarterbacks room” was helpful.

“Jay was great,” Clausen said. “David Fales was great in helping me go through all the calls, watching film. Staying real late, they all helped me out a lot.”

Other than Clausen’s voice inflection, tight end Martellus Bennett didn’t notice a difference in the huddle between quarterbacks.

“Same verbiage, same plays,” Bennett said. “Jimmy has a little more [California] drawl in his voice than Jay has. But other than that, it’s pretty much the same.

“Guys rally around the quarterback and do what we can for him.”