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Counting down 2014’s biggest Chicago sports stories: No. 5

The Sun-Times is counting down the 10 biggest Chicago sports stories of the 2014 calendar year one day at a time.

No. 5: Jay Cutler gets benched

How did the Chicago Bears ever get to this point?

General manager Phil Emery and the Bears had all the confidence in the world in Jay Cutler in January. They must have, because they signed him to a seven-year contract worth more than $120 million.

The Bears paid Cutler like an elite quarterback, but his performance this season has been so far from elite that coach Marc Trestman benched him for Sunday’s Week 16 game against the Lions.

How bad was Cutler in his first season with a new contract? Well, Jimmy Clausen and his career 1-15 record as an NFL quarterback were deemed a more favorable alternative.

Cutler, despite not playing in Sunday’s game, still leads the NFL with 18 interceptions and 24 giveaways.

Cutler will start again Sunday for the Bears due to a concussion suffered by Clausen on Sunday.

Now it’s anyone’s guess what the future holds for Cutler and the $54 million his contract guarantees.

Here’s more from Sun-Times Bears writer Patrick Finley:

The benching increases the possibility the Bears could seek takers for Cutler’s big arm and bigger contract — he’s guaranteed $15.5 million next season — once the team’s nightmare season ends.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer tearfully apologized to the offense last week for criticizing Cutler to an NFL Network reporter in an off-the-record conversation. The story stated the Bears were having buyer’s remorse about Cutler’s contract, which guaranteed him $54 million, though Kromer claimed he didn’t say that.

Even rival quarterback Aaron Rodgers sided with Cutler, saying Kromer deserved no credit for owning up to the mistake.

Despite the Bears’ season-long struggles, though, it seemed unfathomable they would open the door for anyone to try to take Cutler’s place.

Their marriage, contractually, kept he and the team bound at the hip.

But the Bears seem destined for offseason changes. The calculus has changed.

Not everybody was on board with the decision to bench Cutler. Robbie Gould said Monday that Cutler should be starting and openly questioned Trestman’s “message.”

It’s not a totally unreasonable stance, considering Cutler has the highest quarterback rating of his career (89.5) and was on the verge of a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season.

But the Bears are now 5-10, and Trestman wasn’t going to bench himself.

So what four stories trumped Cutler’s benching on our list? The countdown continues Friday.

The list so far:

1. Revealed Dec. 31

2. Revealed Dec. 30

3. Revealed Dec. 29

4. Revealed Dec. 26

5. Jay Cutler gets benched

6. Derrick Rose’s comeback, sluggish start and return to form

7. Jon Lester signs with Cubs

8. Jose Abreu takes Major League Baseball by storm, wins AL Rookie of the Year

9. Blackhawks’ playoff run reaches Western Conference Finals; Kane, Toews sign 8-year extensions

10. National Labor Relations Board says Northwestern football players are employees, orders union election