Bears better have plan in place if they say goodbye to Jay Cutler

SHARE Bears better have plan in place if they say goodbye to Jay Cutler
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Matt Barkley, left, will start for Jay Cutler. (AP)

Quarterback Jay Cutler wanted to play again this season. He did everything he could to make that happen. It’s what he does.

But being tough — even by Cutler’s standards — isn’t enough.

The tear in the labrum of Cutler’s throwing shoulder didn’t respond well enough to the treatments he underwent over a two-week span. And now, he’s done for the year.

Coach John Fox announced Thursday that Cutler will go on injured reserve. Surgery is scheduled for Saturday.

In the short term, Matt Barkley — if he remains healthy — is the starter for the last five games. But it’s the long term that really matters.

What will the Bears do with Cutler?

“Obviously, this season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “It didn’t go the way either one of us anticipated. Obviously, I would love to change that part of it. I would love to keep him healthy, and I do think things would have been different for him if he had been healthy.”

But Cutler never was, which muddles the evaluation of his 2016 season.

Cutler injured his right thumb in the season opener against the Texans, and it got worse the next week against the Eagles. He missed five games, and the Bears went 1-4 without him.

Cutler returned in Week 8 and led the Bears to a surprising victory over the then-NFC North-leading Vikings. In the Bears’ next game two weeks later, Cutler turned the ball over three times in the first half of an ugly loss to the Buccaneers.

It was a game-to-game swing that has typified his career.

In his last game Nov. 20 against the Giants, Cutler injured his throwing shoulder at some point but still finished out the loss.

“I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to judge this year because of the things he battled through,” Loggains said.

To Loggains, that includes the moving pieces on offense. It starts with what happened before Week 1, when guard Josh Sitton was signed and rookie Cody Whitehair had less than a week to prepare to start at center.

Time will tell how much it all matters.

It has been widely speculated that the Bears are ready to move on from Cutler. He’s the final leftover from the Jerry Angelo era, and the Bears are in the middle of a rebuild.

The contract that Cutler signed under Phil Emery is no longer prohibitive. Releasing him results in an easy-to-stomach salary-cap hit of $2 million for the 2017 season.

Still, deciding to move on from a franchise cog such as Cutler has its complications. Saying goodbye just for the sake of it is bad business.

Cutler’s contract isn’t even a major hindrance. His $16 million salary-cap hit for 2017 ranks 19th among quarterbacks.

Trading Cutler also seems unlikely. He turns 34 in April and recoveries from labrum surgery can take months.

Cutler’s release might seem likely, but it would be prudent to have a plan in place for life without him. And that plan might not take shape until after free agency (March 9) and the draft (April 27-29).

For all his faults and turnovers, Cutler provided the Bears with stability at a position that had been a notorious black mark for the franchise.

Cutler might not have delivered on his high billing after he was acquired from the Broncos in 2009, but he provided more hope than Shane Matthews, Chris Chandler, Kordell Stewart, Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson and even Rex Grossman.

Re-signing Brian Hoyer, having Barkley or Connor Shaw as a backup and drafting a quarterback is a possible scenario.

It would be a setup that says a plan is in place — perhaps one that a discouraged fan base can get behind — even if the 2017 draft class for quarterbacks is lackluster.

“The offseason is the offseason,” Fox said. “We’re not there yet.”

But the Bears should be preparing for it.

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