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Bears QB Jay Cutler is available on the trade market

Jay Cutler. (Getty Images)

When the Bears decided to part ways with mercurial receiver Brandon Marshall, and later mercurial tight end Martellus Bennett, general manager Ryan Pace was able to find a trade market for them.

Taking the approach that something is better than nothing, the Bears traded Marshall and a seventh-round draft pick to the New York Jets in March 2015 for a fifth-round pick. A year later, Pace got a fourth-round selection from the New England Patriots for Bennett and a sixth-round pick.

The question this offseason is whether Pace can do the same with quarterback Jay Cutler. Two league sources said Tuesday that the Bears are exploring trades for Cutler. An ESPN report described the Bears as “actively” trying to trade him.

Officially, the Bears can’t trade Cutler until the NFL’s new league year opens on March 9. But their attempts are not surprising. In league circles, the Bears are generally believed to be moving on from Cutler.

One league source said the Bears informed Cutler during their exit interviews in January that they would be looking at other quarterbacks, though they didn’t shut the door on his return at that point.

But now, public knowledge of Cutler’s availability can be a viewed as a precursor to his release — that’s if a trade can’t be made.

The Jets and San Francisco 49ers have been linked to Cutler, who turns 34 in April, because of coaching-staff connections, but in general, trading him could be difficult. It starts with teams believing Cutler will be released and consequently available in free agency. It’s also thought that Cutler will have some say in regard to which team he’s traded to, despite not having a no-trade clause.

Further complicating matters is Cutler’s health. He started only five games in 2016 because of a torn right labrum and sprained ligaments in his throwing hand.

Meanwhile, moving on from Cutler at this point has little financial consequence for the Bears. The guaranteed portions of his seven-year extension, which he signed under former general manager Phil Emery in 2014, have been paid.

Releasing Cutler only will result in a $2 million salary-cap hit on the Bears’ books for the 2017 season. That’s due to the remaining amount of a $5 million signing bonus — the result of a contract restructuring for more cap space.

From a football standpoint, replacing Cutler’s natural talents and abilities will be difficult. But Cutler was just 7-13 as the Bears’ starter under coach John Fox and Pace the last two seasons.

Pace said in January that “everything’s on the table” when it comes to addressing the team’s future at quarterback.

“In my mind, there is no more important position than the quarterback,” Pace said. “It is a critical position. And I know and I recognize that the decision that we make on that quarterback is going to be significant for all of us for the direction that this organization is going to head.”