By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — As faith from another regime dwindles and his end in Chicago seems near, Jay Cutler has continued riding the high road.READ MORE: Jussie Smollett Trial: Defense Attorney Calls For Mistrial And Accuses Judge Of Lunging At Her; Judge Denies Claims And Motion
Circumstances at the Bears’ quarterback position were murky because of coach John Fox’s previous refusal to proclaim Cutler as their starter for this season, but it’s clear beyond 2016 that change is coming. Even Cutler seemed resigned to his fate Tuesday, speaking for the first time since his thumb sprain five weeks ago.
“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen and will go accordingly,” Cutler said. “But right now, it’s not something that I worry about. It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”
Comments from Fox underscored the Bears’ potential departure from Cutler at season’s end, when he’s paid up in $54 million guaranteed from a seven-year, $126 million deal inked in 2014.
Backup Brian Hoyer came in for Cutler after he suffered a thumb sprain during the Bears’ loss to the Eagles in Week 2. Hoyer threw for 300 yards and zero interceptions in the four games that followed, a franchise-best mark. However, the Bears went 1-3 in that stretch, and the offense consistently stalled short of the end zone with Hoyer in charge.
Following the Bears’ lone victory of the season, Fox suggested Hoyer would remain as the starter.
“It’s performance-based,” Fox said after Week 4. “So anybody that’s performing well, I don’t think we’re going to be likely to change.”
Hoyer took the field for his third start in Indianapolis and didn’t see an open Alshon Jeffery in the end zone on fourth-and-8 late in the fourth quarter because he assumed double coverage. It was displayed Hoyer’s greatest flaw of being conservative to a fault.
One day later, Fox was again pressed on why he hasn’t unveiled a starter for the remainder of the season.
“Because we don’t have a plan,” Fox said then.
Tuesday saw Fox speak in different context when proclaiming Cutler as the starter — finally. Of course, this came days after Hoyer suffered a broken left arm and was forced to injury reserved.
“Jay kind of knew all along what our plan was, and that’s the important thing,” Fox said.
Oh, so there was a plan? Does Cutler still believe he has Fox’s support?
“He doesn’t a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said. “Brian (Hoyer) is out, so I’ve got to go.”
Fox felt that his words that created a quarterback controversy were misunderstood. If he wanted to make the situation clear, there were five weeks of opportunities to do so.
Remember Lovie Smith’s proclamations that Rex was their quarterback? All Fox had to do was make it known that Cutler would return to his role. The medical clearance coming weeks after the initial timetable of two to three weeks lead to added suspicion.READ MORE: Pedestrian Struck And Killed On I-57 In Will County; Southbound Lanes Closed
One can only presume how Cutler truly feels about Fox, because he refused to sling mud.
“I didn’t really get into it,” Cutler said. “I didn’t want to. It didn’t concern me. I wasn’t ready to play. My thumb wasn’t healed. The doctors weren’t going to let me go. The training staff wasn’t going to let me go. It didn’t really bother me at that point.”
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick faced a similar scenario recently. He was benched by coach Todd Bowles last week, but Geno Smith suffered a torn ACL, and Fitzpatrick led them to victory.
“The biggest thing in this game in order to last is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick said after Sunday’s win. “When the owner stops believing in you, the GM stops believing in you and coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself.”
Cutler wouldn’t go that far. It’s not quite in his nature.
This is far from the first time Cutler has been in such a situation. His tenure in Denver ended abruptly in 2009 when then-coach Josh McDaniels pulled a power play that led to Cutler’s departure to Chicago.
In December 2014, former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer spoke to a national reporter privately and stated the Bears had “buyer’s remorse” for the Cutler contract. Kromer then offered a tearful apology to the team when word spread he was the source speaking. He was fired at the end of the season.
Days later, then-coach Marc Trestman benched Cutler for Jimmy Clausen in a move to elevate his name before a firing that seemed inevitable. Clausen suffered a concussion in that Week 16 game, and Cutler was forced into action with Trestman and Kromer for the season finale.
When the divorce with Trestman and Kromer took place — as messy as it was — Cutler didn’t speak down upon his coaches and even accepted his benching. Though the belief from Fox may not be clear, Cutler won’t back away from his head coach.
“There’s never been any strain in our relationship,” Cutler said.
Cutler has seen three head coaches, three general managers and five offensive coordinators during his time as Bears quarterback yet has remained in place. Second-year general manager Ryan Pace inherited the Cutler contract and hasn’t been in position to bring in a new quarterback, even while he overhauled most of the roster.
The Bears are 1-6 and preparing for the first-place Vikings. They currently sit in line for the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which would present the opportunity to select a new franchise quarterback. Pace and his team have been on the road scouting quarterbacks like Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
Speaking for the first time since his reality changed, Cutler seemed aware of his uncertain future in Chicago. The Bears are likely moving on, and Fox’s words only made that seem more clear. He was ready to move on so soon.
Credit Cutler for again taking the high road, even with his future in doubt. He’s still united with Fox while change seems inevitable.
“We’re on the same page,” Cutler said. “We just want to win football games.”MORE NEWS: Notre Dame Promotes Freeman To Replace Kelly As Head Coach