A few minutes after the Bears confirmed Wednesday that Jay Cutler was indeed their starter for 2015, someone asked John Fox how he felt about his inherited quarterback.
“Obviously, good,” he said at Halas Hall. “We made the commitment.”
But it wasn’t obvious Wednesday. The Bears will let Cutler’s $10 million guarantee for 2016 kick in at the end of the day Thursday. But anyone looking for effusive praise coming from GM Ryan Pace or the new head coach might be waiting until the leaves change — or at least, as Fox likes to say, the Bears get on the grass.
“I think there’s a talent level there,” Fox said, “that, obviously, we feel good enough to explore.”
That was the point. Because rather than try to sell Cutler as something Bears fans know he’s not, the two tepidly endorsed their starting quarterback.
And that’s OK.
For a fan base that waited two seasons to hear Marc Trestman be remotely critical of Cutler — they still are, by the way — Wednesday’s sober answers were refreshing. Cutler has to prove himself.
Last month at the NFL Scouting Combine, Fox and Pace endorsed neither Marshall nor Cutler, saying they were still weighing their options.
Wednesday, when they answered to their first major decisions with the Bears, it was clear they were in charge. Just because they were polite, doesn’t mean they weren’t serious.
Pace said the return price for Marshall — they had to add a seventh-round pick to get the Jets’ fifth back — was “fair,” and then offered, demurely, that parting was the best for both parties. Asked how Marshall’s departure might affect the locker room, Pace took the high road, simply saying the team still had players yet to add to the chemistry mix.
Pace and Fox said they felt more comfortable with Cutler after getting to know him, and didn’t think the delayed decision would change their relationship.
“I don’t feel like there was any fence-mending,” Pace said. “He understood the process that we were going through. We’re excited together going forward.”
Fox praised Cutler’s physical skillset and football IQ — but others have, too, and how did that work out?.
“I think the biggest thing for me is, ‘Is a guy willing to work?’ Fox said. “And if a guy will work at it, he can get better. If he’s not willing to work at it he’s not getting better. In this league you don’t stay the same – you’re either getting better or getting worse.
“And so what I saw and learned of him is intelligence, he’s wiling to work at it, so I think he’s capable of improving.”
Pace said the Bears didn’t shop Cutler in recent days, and that no team called about him. Admitting otherwise would be foolish, and Pace likely wouldn’t have said so even if they did.
But rather than give an impassioned defense of Cutler, Pace and Fox pointed to the process kept him here. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains — who are intrigued by Cutler — weighed in, along with the coach, GM and scouting department.
“It was a lot of tape evaluation going forward, in the different systems that he’s been in,” Pace said. “We’ve watched, not just this past year—we’ve gone way back evaluating Jay until the moment he came in the league.”
The graveyard is littered with staffs that have tried to change Cutler. The new one knows that.
“It’s usually not one guy,” Fox said. “This is the ultimate of team games. …
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re on offense or defense, your supporting cast, the way you approach it — and we’re in a production-based business.
“So we’ll see how that works going forward.”
If it doesn’t, expect another press conference next offseason, after a different quarterback decision altogether.