The Chicago Bears' move to bench quarterback Jay Cutler sure looks like a prelude to releasing or trading the NFL's 2014 leader in turnovers. It would be an amazing, perhaps even unprecedented move one year after the Bears signed Cutler to a seven-year contract averaging $18.1 million per season. The Cutler deal would go down with Washington's ill-fated contract with Albert Haynesworth as one of the worst in league history, although Haynesworth made it to a second season, at least.
The Cutler contract carries $15.5 million in fully guaranteed salary for 2015. As I wrote Tuesday, that commitment means the Bears are pretty much stuck with Cutler next season unless they're willing to eat that $15.5 million, or unless they can find a trading partner. Benching is not the same as releasing or trading, but it's the strongest indication yet that Cutler could be finished in Chicago after six seasons and a 52.2 total QBR score that ranks 17th out of 29 qualifying players over the past six years. The team has a 44-37 record (plus 1-1 in postseason) with Cutler starting.
The Bears' moving on from Cutler seems unlikely on the surface because of the cost involved -- as I wrote Tuesday -- but if the team decides that's what it has to do, what options are at Chicago's disposal?
Over the past couple of days, three front-office executives from other teams shared their thoughts on potential exit strategies for the Bears, should the team decide to go that route. Two of them suggested the same trade partner -- one that would add another high-profile name to the already long list of coaches who have bet on Cutler. The third executive explained why a trade could be tricky. Another thought benching Cutler could diminish his value, but the move also could shield the team from considerable liability if Cutler is indeed finished with the Bears.
There is much to consider as Cutler heads into Week 16 as the backup to Jimmy Clausen just 350 days after the Bears marked his new contract by saying they were "very excited to have Jay for the long term."