By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) They’ve upgraded their offensive line, beefed up their receiving corps and even hired a new head coach whose affinity is actually for scoring points, rather than preventing them.
Yes, as the Chicago Bears begin preparations for the summer, there’s little doubt that they’ve gone all in on quarterback Jay Cutler for the 2013 season.
But, I can’t help but wonder, is Cutler all in on the Bears?
And if he’s not – or if he struggles – where will the team go from there?
On Monday, the Chicago Tribune’s Dan Pompei wrote that, “Bears fans may be more panicked about Josh McCown being the team’s backup quarterback than they were about the Chicago-area water levels being higher than sled hills last month.”
He then added about the iffy McCown, “Understandable.”
But, as Pompei pointed out in his column, most other NFL teams are in a similar boat, as quality backup QBs are in short supply throughout the league. And what I’m actually most curious about is what the Bears’ backup plan is in a potential post-Cutler world, something that could arrive as soon as next season.
As the team heads into the 2013 campaign, Cutler will be in the final year of his contract that the Bears extended during the 2009 season. Cutler has said that he’ll never do that again, preferring to negotiate during the offseason. He’s prepared to play the season without a new deal.
The Bears, meanwhile, appear to be comfortable with that situation as well. And on one level, that’s highly understandable, considering that Cutler has been erratic and injury-prone and is yet to prove that his leadership skills are deserving of a long-term, mega-deal from the McCaskey family.
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that the franchise has now made the Bears Cutler’s team, designed for him. And what’s less understandable is, if the Bears aren’t fully convinced that Cutler is the guy – despite adapting the team to suit him – then what exactly is their plan in case things don’t work out?
I thought that the Bears would select a QB at some point during this year’s NFL Draft, and was surprised when they did not. Now, that quarterback, whomever he might have been, would not have been any threat to Cutler this season – or even probably to veteran McCown as the No. 1 backup – but a rookie QB would have at least given the Bears a potential option for the future, if Cutler isn’t around in 2014.
And, as it stands right now, there’s no guarantee at all that Cutler will be here for any seasons beyond this one.
Now, for his part, Cutler has said that he wants to stay with the Bears, although he has also issued multiple caveats when making such statements. In March, when asked if he’ll feel more pressure playing in the last year of deal, the QB pointed out to WMVP-AM that “there are a lot of teams out there if it doesn’t work out.” In April, during another interview about a potential long-term deal, Cutler said, “You’ve got to win games to earn those contracts. I’m in the last year, obviously. We’ll play it out and see how it goes.”
I don’t doubt Cutler’s sincerity about Chicago being his preferred destination. But, as he stated, he has to win games to make that happen. If he does not, the Bears may not want to keep him. And on the flip side, if the Bears’ revamped offensive line doesn’t work out, Cutler may decide he doesn’t want to keep the Bears. After all, a guy can only be sacked into oblivion for so long.
Another factor to consider regarding Cutler’s future in Chicago is his family situation. His wife, reality star Kristin Cavallari, has said that she’s currently putting her acting career on hold to concentrate on her husband and baby boy. In April, she told People, “I’ve passed on a couple of things that would have kept me here in L.A. because my fiancé Jay has to be in Chicago, so if I was here, we would never see each other … It’s easy to get wrapped up in your career and have that be your only focus, and I want my marriage to work and last – and family comes first.”
It’s entirely possible, however, that Cavallari may want to resume that acting career sooner rather than later, such as whenever Cutler’s next long-term contract expires. With the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals both likely to be in the market for a QB next offseason, Cutler could decide that moving closer to L.A. may be his best fit for both him and his family.
Or maybe he’ll lead the Bears to a Super Bowl and settle down in Chicago for good. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The only thing that is certain for Bears this season is that one eye will be on Jay – and the other on the future – throughout 2013.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.