It’s hard to blame Jay Cutler for his bravado this offseason concerning his expiring contract.
Cutler was allowed to talk to Marc Trestman when he was still just a candidate for Lovie Smith’s vacated head coaching job. Presumably Cutler had some input before the QB guru was eventually hired.
Joe Flacco—who boasts a career 84.8 passer rating to Cutler’s 84.4—got hot at the right time and wound up bagging the largest contract in NFL history.
The Bears added tight end Martellus Bennett, to the already potent duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver. Chicago also signed Pro-Bowl LT Jermon Bushrod to protect Cutler’s blind side, bringing down Cutler’s painful sack totals from a league-high 52 in ’10 to a mere 11 through eight games this season.
But just as Cutler was sinking into a productive groove in Trestman’s version of the West Coast offense—improving his passer rating to 88.4—he tweaked his groin in Week 7, then suffered the dreaded high ankle sprain in week 9, and hasn’t seen the field since.
All journeymen backup Josh McCown has done is post a scorching 109.8 passer rating in five replacement starts, distracting desires for Cutler’s return while solidifying Trestman’s status as a quarterback whisperer.
Cutler’s status as questionable to return this weekend at Cleveland equals the questionable likelihood he’ll fetch Flacco-type numbers on the open market this offseason.
The following five teams will be the top bidders, for richer or poorer…
5. Oakland Raiders
Oakland has been desperately seeking a serviceable quarterback since Rich Gannon retired after the ’04 season: Matt Flynn was cut and returned to Green Bay by way of Buffalo, Terrelle Pryor is getting punished the NFL punishes all run-first QBs, and there’s a reason you’ve never heard of Matt McGloin.
The Raiders are in the enviable position of leading the league in cap space next season with an estimated $70ish million available after a parade of regrettable contracts finally sunset.
Money can’t buy you everything, but with a solid corps of young talent and a celebrity wife who would probably love to return to the West Coast…anything can happen.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have a free agent dilemma of their own—Maurice Jones-Drew is set to hit the open market after the season—but signing Cutler could leverage MJD’s return, or vice versa.
Wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon—if he gets clean—have potential far beyond the inadequate abilities of Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert.
Jacksonville projects to have the third most cap space in the coming offseason—$40ish million—and is the most likely franchise to move to a more palatable destination: like Los Angeles…did I already mention Kristin Cavallari?
Plus, Cutler will get to sport one of those quirky “two-face” Jaguars helmets that should be rounded up, jettisoned towards the sun and never be spoken of again.
3. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota boasts an excellent offensive line and the ultimate play-action weapon in the league today: Adrian Peterson.
Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Kyle Rudolph are all serviceable receiving weapons, while rookie Cordarrelle Patterson—two returns for TDs, three receiving—is coming into his own as one of the premier speed threats in the league in spite of the three-headed disappointment of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman at QB.
The Vikings also have cap space to burn, sitting on roughly $30 million, which is fifth-best in the league.
Who better than the weather-tested Cutler—who played three seasons in snowy Denver before he was traded to blustery Chicago—to lead The Purple as they transition from that old, leaky airbag to the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium over the next two seasons?
2. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland really offers Cutler the whole package: a stout defense, one of the league’s best offensive lines, $30ish mil under the cap, two ’14 first round draft picks and Josh Gordon—who leads the league with 1,400 yards receiving despite missing two games due to suspension..
If the likes of Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden can light it up, just imagine what that frowny-faced kid from Santa Claus, IN, could do…
1. Chicago Bears
Chicago has plenty of cash—No. 2 in cap space with $45ish million—just like the rest of Cutler’s potential suitors, but the team is already taking the hard line in negotiations according to a story on National Football Post.
A team source claims Bears management believes in Trestman’s ability to develop quarterbacks—and why wouldn’t they—so if Cutler declines to accept a “team friendly” offer they are confident in riding McCown for the short term while drafting for the future.
From Chicago’s perspective, Cutler can’t stay healthy enough—eleven missed starts and counting the past three seasons—to warrant an elite contract.
From Cutler’s perspective, the Bears failed to provide sufficient protection and offensive weapons to keep him from getting hurt.
The odds are all of this is posturing, and Chicago will franchise Cutler in a worse-case scenario. If not, Cutler will be the hottest free-agent this offseason.
Salary Cap figures provided by Over the Cap.