Emma: Bears’ Present, Cutler’s Future Come Into Question With Injury

By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Jay Cutler detractors will soon get a look at life without the Bears’ starting quarterback. It’s not going to be pretty.

After Cutler suffered a right thumb injury Monday that will keep him out indefinitely, the Bears will have to tweak many elements of the playbook and find a way to get their offense moving — something new coordinator Dowell Loggains hasn’t been able to do with Cutler.

Still, there’s a reason why Cutler is the longest-tenured current Bears player, despite inconsistencies throughout that time. Quality starting quarterbacks are hard to come by in the NFL. Chicago hasn’t been in position to pick an alternative.

Look at Monday’s foe, the Eagles, as an example. They had to sell the farm to take a chance on the promising Carson Wentz, then got a farm and a few prized pigs back from the Vikings in exchange for Sam Bradford. The only solution for the Bears to replace Cutler would be picking high enough in the draft or striking gold late, and neither scenario has come to fruition.

Following an abysmal primetime performance at Soldier Field on Sunday, a 29-14 loss to the Eagles, it seems as if the Bears (0-2) will hold a high draft slot in 2017 and be in a position to take a quarterback. That timing would coincide with the offseason in which Cutler’s guaranteed money from the seven-year deal is off the books.

Fans looking for hope after a brutal opening two weeks can begin scouting out film of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson or Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. Maybe general manager Ryan Pace has even started thinking that way, too, but coach John Fox is only looking ahead to Week 3 of the season, with Brian Hoyer likely under center.

Cutler could miss an extended period of time due to a sprained thumb suffered in Monday’s loss. Fox stated that surgery isn’t necessary at this time and that it will be a rehabilitation that determines when Cutler returns.

“It’s hard for me to give timelines,” Fox said, adding once again that he’s not a doctor. “We’ll evaluate tomorrow. We’ve got practice tomorrow, we’re on a short week already. If Jay’s ready to do it, fine. If not, we’ll go with Brian Hoyer.”

Welcome back to life without Cutler — a deep, dark place the Bears have been before.

There was Todd Collins during that dreadful 2010 game in Carolina in which he threw four picks. Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown stepped in when Cutler last injured his thumb in 2011. Jason Campbell and the Bears were thrashed in a Monday night game back in 2012, in his lone start. McCown came to the rescue in 2013, nearly leading the Bears to the playoffs and earning himself a big contract that next offseason. Then, Jimmy Clausen started a game apiece in 2014 and 2015.

Now, it’s Hoyer’s time to lead the Bears. Like each of the Cutler backups before him, Hoyer is seeking redemption after his time as a Texans starter crumbled down, capped by a 30-0 loss to the Chiefs in the AFC wild-card round in which he threw four interceptions.

“I do like the idea of having a more experienced backup there,” Pace said in April after signing Hoyer. “It’s important for that position and it just gives us security going forward.”

Pace backed Hoyer’s experiences and abilities after passing on the quarterback position for his second straight draft as Bears general manager. One of the quarterbacks he passed on was a player he scouted extensively, Dak Prescott, whom the Bears will face Sunday in Dallas.

Experience was one factor for Pace, but there was also the fact that he simply didn’t believe in the developmental prospects of any mid- to late-round quarterback, Prescott included. Now, Pace and the Bears hope they weren’t wrong with the Cowboys’ replacement for Tony Romo, a player who hasn’t let their offense miss a beat through two weeks.

The Bears’ future at the quarterback position remains to be seen. Cutler turned 33 the day after Pace passed on Prescott and many more to instead sign Hoyer. He’s not getting any younger and shouldn’t be expected to make a major leap at this stage in his career.

Despite the narratives that constantly surround Cutler — stop questioning the man’s toughness, by the way — he’s the kind of starting quarterback who can at the least put his team in position to win. Cutler can make the big throws and earn victories with his own talents. That alone is worth the mega-deal Jerry Angelo made in 2009, especially when considering the alternatives to Cutler over the years.

Should the Bears continue their slide without Cutler, they’ll be in prime position to find their future at quarterback. Pace, Josh Lucas, Champ Kelly and the Bears’ team of bright young scouts should get to work in finding options.

For now, the focus is on Hoyer, a serviceable backup who’s been tasked with starting before. Hoyer boasts a 15-11 record and 82.3 quarterback rating in a career that’s now seen six stops. The winning record is, of course, no indication to Hoyer’s abilities as much as credit to the game plans that allowed success and the defenses that kept the game in reach.

With Hoyer at the helm, the Bears’ best chance is to find some sort of rhythm on offense and hope the defense can carry the load. Perhaps they can play old-school Bears football and change some games with turnovers. It worked during the one-game Todd Collins era.

Life without Cutler won’t be pretty for the Bears, but they’ll have to make it work for now. Let’s see what Hoyer can do for a desperate team.

Then come the bigger questions down the road. Cutler will be back this season, but if the Bears struggle badly enough without their starter, they may have a new quarterback come next fall.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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