The Chicago Bears have a quarterback problem.
This isn’t to say it’s a new problem, but one that has returned to the forefront because of the team’s current landscape, and the end of the 2016 season.
Jay Cutler finished his eighth season in Chicago on injured reserve. Cutler will be 34 next season and the Bears have already paid the guaranteed portion (three years, $54 million) of his deal, meaning he can be cut at any time moving forward without salary cap implications getting in the way. Free agent back-up Brian Hoyer could make a case for returning in 2017 with how he played in a starter’s role in place of Cutler. The same can be said for free agent Matt Barkley, who rose to the top of the depth chart after injuries to Cutler and Hoyer.
The Bears are in a place where they need a quarterback who can fit in both the short and long-term views of the franchise.
It is quite possible that quarterback isn’t currently on the roster.
It appears the Bears know that, too.
Yet, there is a need to dig in and take a look at what we have in front of us as a starting point before we move on in considering the Bears’ search for their next starting signal caller.
Cutler’s time as The Man appears to be running out. We can go down the rabbit hole of Cutler’s career later, but here is a brief summation of his time with the Bears:
- A 51-51 record as a starter that can be broken into two parts: The Competitive Era (39-28 in starts from 2009-13) and the Post-Competitive Era (12-23 record since the start of 2014).
- One playoff appearance in eight years with one win that came against a team that finished the regular season with a 7-9 record.
- No Pro Bowl seasons or 30-touchdown seasons.
- A 2-11 record against the Packers.
There is something to say about Cutler’s talent, knowing that he spanned two distinct eras of Bears football. But it will take something unforeseen for him to be under center when the Bears are competitive again.
Although Cutler played well enough in his first season under head coach John Fox, it’s fair to ask how much credit should go to Adam Gase. Before taking the Miami Dolphins to the postseason in his first season as head coach, Gase aided Cutler in reaching his highest quarterack rating (92.3) and second best interception rate (2.3%) of his career as Bears offensive coordinator. A year later, Cutler took a step back in Dowell Loggains’ offense, posting a 78.1 rating and 3.6 percent interception rate.
There is a scenario where Cutler is just the bridge year quarterback despite his contract running through the 2020 season. But it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see it’s more than likely we have seen the last of Cutler in a Bears uniform.
If Cutler isn’t the veteran quarterback to guide the Bears through a bridge year, maybe Hoyer can be. After all, Fox and Pace referenced availability, continuity, and consistency throughout their season-ending press conference.
While the availability angle leaves something to be desired after leaving with a season-ending injury (broken left arm), Hoyer can bring continuity as a reserve and perhaps some consistency as a starter. In his first four starts, Hoyer posted a 101.4 rating, averaged 330 yards per game, threw six touchdowns – and most importantly, no interceptions.
Hoyer isn’t the type of quarterback who will win games because of arm talent and moxie, but he isn’t the type to lose games because of poor decision making due to false bravado.
Because of this, Hoyer is an ideal fit as a steady hand to lead the Bears through the murky waters of a rebuild while simultaneously not blocking the Bears’ long-term solution at quarterback.
For a moment, it looked like Barkley was making a push for the back-up job in 2017, with a puncher’s chance for the starting gig as a bridge quarterback. Barkley had a four-game stretch as a starter where he performed admirably, like you would expect a fill-in quarterback to perform. He posted an 82.6 quarterback rating, threw for 1,082 yards, tossed more touchdowns (6) than interceptions (5), and was sacked only three times.
However, Barkley’s performance against the Packers seemed to be a tipping point where his good and bad traits were on display. He threw for 362 yards and tossed a pair of touchdowns against the Packers defense. He also threw three interceptions that helped Green Bay build a 17-point lead after three quarters in a game the Packers eventually won on a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired.
Even though it was disappointing to see the Bears abandon the run at times down the stretch (Jordan Howard averaged only 16 carries per game from Weeks 14-16), it allowed the Bears to give Barkley an extended look, as he averaged 38.3 pass attempts in those weeks. The result of that could be Barkley fighting for a spot as a reserve, but he likely whiffed in his shot at making a case to be the next starter.
Shaw went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft after throwing for 2,447 yards and 24 touchdowns (against only one interception) as a senior at South Carolina. He signed with the Browns, but was released by the team in June 2016. The Bears added Shaw as a depth piece by claiming him off waivers on July 1. Shaw looked to have the inside track on the No. 3 quarterback position before a gruesome leg injury sustained in the preseason put him out for the season.
It seems as if Shaw made a positive impression on head coach John Fox back in August and could potentially be in the mix as a third quarterback option if he comes back healthy. The race for this particular roster spot could conceivably come down to Barkley and Shaw.