Jay Cutler reclaims Bears' starting QB job, may be playing for contract
The Chicago Bears, however, are not on board with the idea of a "hot hand" approach at quarterback. Although Josh McCown has played sensationally for an injured Jay Cutler, head coach Marc Trestman announced Thursday that a now-healthy Cutler will start behind center in this weekend's game against the Cleveland Browns.
If you have been reading my stuff over the past few days, you have probably seen this stat already - if McCown's five starts were extrapolated over a full season, the numbers would project to 4,938 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, and three interceptions. If McCown were able to keep up his current level of play for an entire year (granted, that's a pretty big "if"), he would be squarely in the MVP conversation. The Bears, however, will not let injury force Cutler into a backup role, and they will allow him to lead the team into three crucial games to end the regular season.
The decision comes at an interesting time, as recent reports have suggested that McCown's great play has the Bears leaning towards letting Cutler walk as a free agent this offseason. If that were the case, however, it would be strange for them to bench an on-fire McCown in favor of a player who may not be on the team in a few months.
What the Bears may be doing is giving Cutler one final test to find out whether or not they want to give him franchise quarterback money. The Bears are in must-win situations throughout the rest of the year, as they are tied with the Detroit Lions for the best record in the NFC North (7-6). The Lions, however, have beaten the Bears twice this year, giving them the tiebreaker - the Bears need to gain a game on the Lions some time over the next three weeks.
If Cutler excels under the heavy pressure, the Bears may put faith in him and hand him a juicy contract over the offseason. If Cutler fails, he could be out on the streets while the Bears roll with the McCown/draft pick combination that I mentioned yesterday. If Cutler tanks in his first game back as the starter, we could very well see the team turn back to McCown, possibly even inserting him midway through Week 15's contest.
I still believe that re-signing McCown and drafting a quarterback in one of the early-to-middle rounds is the best course of action for the Bears, and a Wednesday report from Jason Cole of the National Football Post suggests that it is the most likely scenario, as well. However, if Cutler plays well as the starter over the next three games and gets the Bears into the playoffs, it would not surprise me to see him back in Chicago on a long-term deal next year.