By Chris Emma–

(CBS) The end is near for Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago, with the Bears preparing to part ways with their starting quarterback of eight seasons.

That much is clear after Tuesday’s report from ESPN that stated that the Bears are actively seeking a trade partner for a Cutler deal. That comes after Bears general manager Ryan Pace spoke in early January about the big decision he faced at the quarterback position.

Consider Cutler already gone.

There’s no turning back from this direction, with the Bears shopping Cutler around the league and even informing Cutler of their plans to find a trade suitor. If there was any chance of Cutler returning for a ninth season as the Bears’ starter, it’s now long gone.

News of the Bears shopping Cutler comes as no surprise. After all, he turns 34 on April 29 — Day 3 of the NFL Draft — and Chicago has seen this movie over and over again. Cutler is a talented but flawed player, the rocket-armed quarterback who often couldn’t get out of his own way.

Despite the Bears’ best wishes for a return on Cutler, a trade seems to be tricky.

Teams like the Jets, Dolphins, 49ers, Texans and more could have interest in Cutler’s services, though they’re all aware of the Bears’ willingness release him. They know he could be available to sign on the open market. Cutler is due $12.5 million next season and comes as a year-by-year option, having been paid $54 million of a seven-year, $126.7-million deal inked in 2014.

Cutler could pick from a handful of offers, choosing not only based on price but also the location. His willingness to join a less-than-desirable market may make trading Cutler more difficult for the Bears. Even retirement isn’t out of a question for a father of three whose body has taken a beating in the NFL.

The Bears would likely only get a late-round pick in return for Cutler, but something (a trade) is better than nothing (a clean release), so it’s no surprise that Pace is working the trade market.

Cutler’s legacy in Chicago is complicated. He arrived in 2009 as the Pro Bowl quarterback with the big arm who seemed poised to bring the Bears success. Jerry Angelo sent a huge haul to Denver, one that included two first-round picks, because he believed in what Cutler could become.

In Chicago, Cutler was never given stability in coaching, at receiver or on the offensive line. Injuries riddled Cutler’s eight years in a Bears uniform, which included just one full season of 16 games. He played just five contests in 2016.

Perhaps fittingly, it’s likely Cutler’s final pass in a Bears uniform was an interception late in the fourth quarter as he played through a torn labrum. That 22-17 loss to the Giants in late November brought Cutler’s record as the Bears’ starter to 51-51.

Cutler never became what the Bears had hoped. He won just one playoff game — a four-touchdown performance against the Seahawks in the NFC Divisional round in January 2011 — then was injured in the NFC Championship, which saw the rival Packers beat Caleb Hanie and the Bears to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

Perhaps Cutler could benefit from a change of scenery, though his talents and flaws are well known as he nears the age of 34. He should land as a starter somewhere else, whether that comes through a trade or release.

Meanwhile, the Bears are moving on. They’re looking at a potential move for Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo or toward drafting Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer or Patrick Mahomes. Everything’s on the table, as Pace volunteered in early January.

Pace is doing his best to identify a potential trade fit for a Cutler deal, and it may not be there. What’s clear is by the start of the league new year on March 9, Cutler will be gone.

Indeed, the end of an era is near.

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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