Bears Preparing For ‘Critical, Critical’ Decision At Quarterback

By Chris Emma–

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — While the Bears cleared their lockers at Halas Hall on Monday and looked ahead to the offseason, there was a notable absence in the room.

Jay Cutler, the franchise’s longest-tenured player, was nowhere to be found. It appears likely that Chicago has seen the last of its controversial quarterback.

Everything is on the table for the Bears as they move forward at the quarterback position after a 3-13 season. That was the message from general manager Ryan Pace, who spoke Wednesday for the first time since September.

“There’s a lot of real candid conversations that take place, a lot of transparency and honesty,” Pace said of his talk with Cutler. “Some of those things, I’d like to keep between us. But I think once we make a decision as an organization, whenever, he’ll be the first to know. His agent, Bus Cook, will be the first to know. I gave him that promise. Again, those decisions haven’t been completely finalized. But when they are, he’ll know immediately.”

Cutler has been rehabbing from his right shoulder surgery at Halas Hall and he’ll continue to do so as long as he’s part of the Bears organization, Pace said.

With Cutler paid in full the $54 million guaranteed of a seven-year, $126.7-million deal signed in 2014, he’s eligible to be released without consequences. It seems likely that Cutler will be parting ways with the Bears this offseason.

“It’s something we’re going to be looking at this offseason,” Pace said of the quarterback position.

“It’s a position we’re looking at, a position we’ll evaluate. Those meetings next week will be huge for that.”

Given that the Bears are slated to pick No. 3 overall, it’s possible they could be looking to the early rounds of the draft to find their next franchise quarterback.

Alternatives loom, too, with names like the Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo among those potentially available on the trade market.

“Everything’s on the table right now,” Pace said. “There’s the free agency, there’s trades, there’s the draft, there are current players on our team. Everything’s on the table. We got to analyze all that.”

The Bears are moving forward with options in Cutler, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Connor Shaw and David Fales, each of whom were part of this 2016 season at some point. The veteran Hoyer seems likely to return as a backup or potential bridge option for the Bears, who appreciated his consistency in becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to complete four consecutive starts with at least 300 yards passing and zero interceptions.

In solidifying depth, the Bears could also look to retaining Barkley, Shaw or Fales. However, it seems as if Cutler — who will be owed $12.5 million in 2017 — will be let loose.

Where the Bears turn in finding their future at quarterback remains to be seen, but Pace is confident in the avenues available.

“Trust me,” he said. “I understand the magnitude of that decision going forward. That’s a critical, critical decision for me moving forward.”

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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