By Dan Wiederer, Tribune reporter
4:17 PM CST, January 4, 2014
Expiring contracts: Josh McCown, Roberto Garza, Eben Britton, Dante Rosario, Jordan Palmer, Taylor Boggs, Jonathan Scott.
Hot topic: Jay Cutler can't win.
That's what the pro-Cutler camp keeps shouting. Here, the Bears have a quarterback who's 39-28 as their starter over the last five seasons, an obvious talent who recently set the franchise record for passing yardage (14,913 and counting), a playmaker who soon should threaten the team record for touchdown passes and yet still half of the fan base wishes the front office would have bid him farewell.
The counter-argument: Jay Cutler can't win.
If he did so more consistently, critics say, the Bears would have more than one playoff victory in his five seasons here. And that triumph came in 2010 at home against a 7-9 Seahawks squad that backed into the playoffs out of a horrible division.
Yes, Cutler skeptics acknowledge, the guy has elite arm strength and an ability to put up impressive numbers. But he also has lacked leadership at times, has a habit of committing costly turnovers and seemingly comes with durability issues, having not started an entire regular-season schedule since his first year with the Bears in 2009.
You can see why there wasn't a parade in Grant Park after Cutler finalized his new seven-year contract with the Bears on Thursday.
The quarterback himself shrugs off the ceaseless debate.
"There are definitely people going to be saying this was the wrong move," Cutler said. "That's fine. That's their opinion. The guys in this building, the people in this building, we'll stick together and we'll keep going in the direction that we think is right."
The Bears certainly are gambling with their commitment. But they have pushed their chips in with a belief that Cutler still is growing, that he will benefit from continuity in an offensive system, that he will thrive with a top-notch supporting cast, that he can go to the next level thanks to his strong bonds with Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.
General manager Phil Emery thought an investment was needed with his unwavering belief Cutler can "be a reason you win." The GM said he sensed a calmness in Cutler in 2013, an observation the quarterback signed off on now that he feels so comfortable with all those around him.
To typecast Cutler based on his past, the Bears believe, would be unfair for a player who might have everything aligning now for a promising future.
Said Trestman: "Part of what has brought him to this point are the scars of the last five years and the adversity that he has gone through in getting to know himself better over the last five years."
Needs fixing: Jordan Mills' left foot. The rookie right tackle fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in the first half of the season finale against the Packers and had surgery Friday. That's a significant setback for Mills, who enjoyed an impressive rookie season but really could use an uninterrupted offseason to make a leap to the next level.
The timetable for Mills' recovery is unclear. And that should provide at least some leverage for Britton to convince the front office he's needed.
At this point, the offense has few major holes. Adding depth up front and to the receiving corps will be helpful. Making a push to re-sign McCown as Cutler's backup is also a priority.
Reasons for hope: No Bears offense in history has ever gained more than the 6,109 yards this season's team piled up. The Bears also topped the NFC in points scored with 445. At full strength, Trestman's offense sure seems to be on the ascent.
Running back Matt Forte enjoyed a career year, finishing second in the league in rushing yards (1,339) while setting career highs in catches (74) and yards from scrimmage (1,933). Alshon Jeffery (89 catches, 1,421 yards, seven touchdowns) may be on the verge of becoming one of the league's elite receivers. Brandon Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 touchdowns) was his usual productive self. And Martellus Bennett (65 catches, 759 yards, five touchdowns) energized a position that badly needed an accomplished blocker and a reliable target.
On top of all that, the offensive line used the same five starters for all 16 games and could be back intact if center Garza can reach an agreement to return to the team for a 10th season.
One last thought: The Bears allowed only 30 sacks and finished fifth in the NFL in passing yardage at 4,281 and sixth in passer rating at 96.9.
A big part of that, Emery believes, stemmed from the quarterbacks' ability to spread the ball around and, of more importance, Trestman's understanding of how to uncover safety valve targets over the middle.
Said Emery: "Our quarterback needed more targets in an immediate area he could count on, so when he did have pressure from the rush, he was able to place the ball in an area right in front of his eyes. We greatly improved in that area."
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC