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Jay Cutler’s Bears future will be tied to new GM, coach

There was a time not too long ago when Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had everything. He had his coach, his general manager and his seven-year, $126.7 million extension.

And now?

“I’m a fan of Jay’s personally and I’m a fan of Jay’s professionally,” chairman George McCaskey said Monday after coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were fired. “But all of the personnel decisions are going to be up to the new general manager and the new head coach.”

With the Bears’ hierarchy remaining the same, the team’s preference, as stated by president and CEO Ted Phillips, is to hire a general manager, who will have final say over all personnel decisions, before a new head coach.

The Bears, though, aren’t ruling anything out. If there is a coach that irrefutably becomes the team’s best option, McCaskey and Phillips are prepared to move quickly, even if that means without a general manager in place.

McCaskey and Phillips repeatedly said they aren’t bound by any prerequisites for either position — not experience level, personal demeanor or side of the ball. The Bears have been contacted by prospective candidates, but McCaskey said that the Bears did not contact former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

The starting point is that McCaskey and Phillips have hired former NFL executive Ernie Accorsi as a consultant and that he possesses a list to go over when he arrives at Halas Hall.

Former Bears director of pro scouting Chris Ballard, who is currently the Kansas City Chiefs’ director of player personnel, is expected to be one of the leading candidates in the GM search.

“There is no timeline,” Phillips said. “But we do have a sense of urgency and we will be prepared to act when we get the right candidates in place.”

Cutler’s lack of involvement is a distinguishable difference between this year’s search and the one two years ago that resulted in Trestman beating out current Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.

“I don’t see any players playing a role in that decision,” Phillips said. “Ultimately, as the process winds down, if a candidate wants to meet with whoever on the club, we’ll obviously consider that at that point.”

Cutler’s contract has its intricacies, but it definitely didn’t sound like an obstacle to McCaskey after he fired Trestman, Emery and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer.

“The balance swung overwhelmingly in favor of doing the right thing,” McCaskey said. “The money wasn’t a factor. We decided to do was what was best for the Bears regardless of the money situation.”

Cutler finished with career bests in touchdown passes (28) and completion percentage (66.0 percent) this season, but he still went 5-10 as a starter this year. Trestman also made his feelings abundantly clear about Cutler’s play by benching in him in Week 16.

NFL executives, scouts and coaches have always been enamored by Cutler’s natural talents, but a complete clean sweep of the Emery/Trestman era may mean getting rid of its highest-paid player. Having Cutler, at 31 and in his 10th season, learn yet another offensive system also isn’t ideal.

McCaskey, though, said he doesn’t regret signing Cutler to his extension. Cutler already is guaranteed $15.5 million for 2015, and on March 12, it will be $10 million more for the 2016 season if he’s still on the roster.

There is offset language included in Cutler’s deal that helps the Bears should they cut him and another team signs him.

“[Signing Cutler] was a decision that Phil made with our approval,” McCaskey said. “It was considered at the time to be the best decision — at that time — and we’re going to go forward from there.”

There are potential candidates, such as former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who would be willing to work with Cutler.

But again, the Bears aren’t going to limit their search to that.

“The standards of the Bears have been high since 1920,” McCaskey said. “We expect excellence.”