BY ADAM L. JAHNS, PATRICK FINLEY
AND MARK POTASH
Firing general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman signaled the beginning of a new era at Halas Hall.
But it’s on chairman George McCaskey to make sure his new world order evolves into something consistently successful.
‘‘In the end, we didn’t win enough games,’’ McCaskey said of firing Emery after three seasons and Trestman after two. ‘‘All our decisions revolve around that goal.’’
That said, the Sun-Times looks back at 2014 and at what’s ahead for the Bears:
Keep or say goodbye to Jay Cutler?
Adam L. Jahns: Keep him for 2015. There isn’t a better quarterback out there, and it will be difficult to gain leverage in any trade scenario. Cutler might not be the answer beyond 2015, according to the next GM and coach, but he might be the best available bridge to the next quarterback.
Patrick Finley: If the Bears really think they can compete for a Super Bowl next season, Cutler is probably better than any of the available quarterbacks. But so much about Cutler’s future will be determined by the new regime. He’s a love-him-or-hate-him player.
Mark Potash: Somebody needs to reinvent Cutler into the quarterback he is and not the quarterback they think he should be. He’s not Aaron Rodgers. When the Bears had solid special teams and defense in 2010-12, Cutler was 27-13 as a starter. When they didn’t in 2013-14, he was 10-16.
What about Brandon Marshall?
Jahns: This is a tough one. But, like Cutler, Marshall’s contract extension will deter trades and all but rule out cutting him outright. So he’s likely staying. He’s still a top-tier receiver when he’s healthy, but the Bears’ new coach has to be mindful of his distracting ways.
Finley: Despite his histrionics, Marshall is still a remarkable receiver. Pro Football Focus rated him the best player at his position in 2013. His blocking was ranked tops in the league last season and second this season. Unless they’re rebuilding, the Bears are in no position to thumb their noses at that kind of talent.
Potash: The harder Marshall tries to make a difference, the worse he gets. He needs to stop trying to cure the world’s ills, stop trying to develop his brand, stop trying to work on his post-NFL career and just play football. If he’s not willing to do that, you have to get rid of him. When a player that talented has never been to the playoffs — missing by one game five times — at some point he has to acknowledge he might be the problem.
Where did Emery go wrong?
Jahns: The contract extensions for Cutler and Marshall are absolutely damning. Sure, they made sense at the time, but now they’ve become hindrances for the future. The deals were part of Emery’s ‘‘body of work,’’ as the Bears’ brass said, that helped lead to his end.
Finley: Emery wanted to avoid giving Cutler the franchise tag because he valued financial flexibility. But the Bears still paid more in his first season (a $22.5 million salary, with $5 million of that a signing bonus, and an $18.5 million cap hit) than they would have by handing him a one-year, $16.2 million tag. The extra money could have helped on defense. It was a bad bet all-around.
Potash: Hiring Trestman over Bruce Arians turned out to be a fireable offense. As meticulous and well-meaning as he was, Emery was a poor manager with an awkward personal style — and hired people who were poor managers with awkward personal styles.
When did Trestman’s demise start?
Jahns: Josh McCown’s success in 2013 — 13 touchdown passes, one interception, a 109.0 passer rating and a 3-2 record in five starts — led to overconfidence. High expectations were put on the more talented Cutler and the offense in Year 2 under Trestman. They welcomed them but couldn’t fulfill them.
Finley: Good teams don’t get blown out. And with a playoff spot up for grabs in Week 16 of 2013, the Bears lost to the Eagles 54-11 in Philadelphia. It was the first major fissure (short of a quarterback controversy) and a foreshadowing of the 2014 blowouts. In the last 13 weeks of this season, the Bears lost by 13 or more points seven times, including by 41, 28 and 21.
Potash: Trestman’s inability to recognize Cutler for what he was and what he wasn’t set the Bears on a wayward course in 2014 more than anything.
Do you have faith in McCaskey?
Jahns: He’s as passionate as fans are — just watch him during games — and is more in touch with them than his brother Michael was. Forget the money when it comes to George. He yearns to win and now has demonstrated he’s not afraid to make bold decisions. That fire might help him to make the right hires.
Finley: Who knows? But say this for him: His hawkishness six days ago was certainly out-of-character — in a good way. The hope here is that he focuses on hiring the best coach, regardless of any nod to Bears history.
Potash: Unless he’s willing to hire somebody for either job who is more like his grandfather than his father or brothers, no. George Halas knew football and knew people. The McCaskeys and Ted Phillips don’t.
What’s the biggest challenge for the next GM?
Jahns: Eliminating the team’s reliance on free agency by drafting better. The Bears were the third-oldest team in the league in 2014, despite having all of Emery’s draft picks from 2013 and 2014 on the roster.
Finley: Acquire better defensive players. The Bears had the worst defense in franchise history in 2013 and the second-worst in 2014. That’s not scheme; it’s a talent thing.
Potash: Hiring a coach who can rebuild the defense, manage Cutler and Marshall, re-establish the run and instill some much-needed leadership in the locker room — all the same time. The guy needs to hit a home run right off the bat.
What does the next coach need most?
Jahns: He needs to restore a sense of accountability and get behind the right leaders. Trestman had his strengths, but he was guilty of trusting his players too much and paid dearly for it. Some of the same voices will return to the locker room in 2015.
Finley: An elite quarterbacks coach. You can’t win a Super Bowl without a top-tier signal-caller. Even if the new coach is a defense-first guy, he needs to hire someone to mentor Cutler or whoever’s behind Door No. 2.
Potash: An effective coordinator on the other side of the ball. Dick Jauron (Gary Crowton), Lovie Smith (Terry Shea) and Trestman (Mel Tucker) all struggled in this department, and the Bears paid the price.
It’s still relatively early in the process, but here are our best guesses, for the time being:
Jahns: GM — Chris Ballard; coach — Rex Ryan.
Finley: GM — Chris Ballard; coach — Todd Bowles.
Potash: GM — Chris Ballard; coach — Dan Quinn.