By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) As hard as it may be to swallow, the jury is still out on Jay Cutler.
At least as far as offering him a big-money, long-term contract for the future is concerned.
Cutler’s groin problems and sprained ankle are likely to keep him from being 100 percent until the final four weeks of the season, and the Bears are going to lean on competent backup Josh McCown in the immediate future.
They have shown they will rush Cutler back into the lineup, and if they follow that route again, it would be another mistake.
But with the season past its halfway point, the Chicago Bears and every other NFL team are doing some long-range planning. Phil Emery must think about the future and what the Bears are going to do at the quarterback position.
With Cutler’s contract up at the end of the 2013 season, the Bears could (A.) franchise him, (B.) offer him a short-term bridge deal or (C.) come through with a deal that will provide Cutler with the same kind of long-term security that all quarterbacks want.
The likelihood is that they will give him the short-term deal. Head coach Marc Trestman knows that Cutler has one of the strongest arms in the league and that he can put the ball right on the money. But he also knows that Cutler is capable of game-altering mistakes that elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers rarely make.
Cutler is a finished product at this point in his development. He is what he is, and while he may get a tad better or have an occasional superior game, he is not as effective as the elite quarterbacks.
He’s also 30 years old and he’s had a lot of wear and tear. That’s where the long-range planning part comes in for the Bears.
McCown is a nice fill-in when Cutler can’t play, but he’s a backup and not a starter. However, there are as many as five quarterbacks who could be drafted in the first round next May and another three quarterbacks who should have decent NFL futures.
The time has come to look hard at one of these quarterbacks and give strong consideration to using their first-round pick on a quarterback.
That would take guts because the Bears would not be following the model of most teams that are finding a way to get their first-round quarterbacks into the lineup as rookies. The Bears would not be forced to do that.
The Bears also have to rebuild the defense, and that puts pressure on Emery to use his first-round pick on a pass rusher or a defensive back.
But Emery also knows the modern game is about the quarterback position. In order to give the Bears the best chance to be competitive for the short-term future, they need to bring in a quarterback.
The five first-round quarterbacks are likely to be Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Derek Carr of Fresno State and Zach Mettenberger of Louisiana State.
The choice here is Carr, and here’s why:
Bridgewater is the group’s headliner and he will likely be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The Bears are not going to move up and the top pick has to move into the starting lineup. Bridgewater also has a fairly low release point and passes can be batted back in his face.
Mariota is similar in that he appears to be a sure-fire rookie starter as well. He also has a lot to learn about reading defenses and pocket passing. He is brilliant athletically and has some Colin Kaepernick tendencies. That type of quarterback seems to be a short-term NFL solution.
Manziel looks like a finished product on the field, but he brings his own sideshow and he appears to be interested in his own development and promotion as much or more than winning. Since Trestman has his own ideas how the QB position should be played, there could be conflict from the beginning.
Carr has prototype size and strength at 6-3 and 215 pounds. He can make the deep throws and he can throw the short passes accurately and quickly. He is athletic enough to get away from the rush. He would also wait for his turn and understand what Trestman teaches him.
Mettenberger has a strong arm and throws the medium-range pass as well as any of these prospects. However, his deep ball hangs up too long and he is simply a pocket passer and not athletic enough.
There may be some outside heat associated with giving Cutler a short-term deal and drafting a quarterback of the future. However, Emery doesn’t have to be popular. He just has to be right.
It would make the Bears secure at the quarterback position, something that has almost never been the case in the last 50 years.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.