In 2009, when the Bears shipped two first-round picks, a third-rounder, and a likely hungover Kyle Orton to Denver for Jay Cutler, it seemed like the franchise's eternal and long-ridiculed search for a franchise quarterback might finally be over.
Eight years later, Cutler is indeed the team's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, yet there are few who would describe his tenure in the Windy City as a resounding success. The Cutler era was marked by questions of his leadership and toughness, some more fair than others; the team only made the postseason once in that span and finished a perfectly mediocre 51-51 in games he started.
Cutler has all the trappings of a superstar quarterback—the big arm, the celebrity wife, the limitless store of cockiness. He just doesn't play like one. His best statistical season came in 2015 under the tutelage of Adam Gase, and even then he didn't finish in the top 15 in the league in passer rating.
Before the start of the 2016 season, the presumption was that it would be Cutler's final year with the Bears. What transpired didn't disabuse anyone of that—Cutler missed 11 games and didn't play particularly well in the five he did start, throwing for four touchdowns and five interceptions, along with two lost fumbles. Chicago lost four of his five starts.
And now the Bears are making it abundantly clear that they are ready to move on. The team put the word out to access journalists this week that it is "actively" pursuing a trade, which might as well count as the team conspicuously clearing its throat at the trade block.
ESPN's Jeff Darlington put a nice spin on it for the Bears.
Teams around the league are now aware of Cutler's availability while the Bears attempt to garner draft compensation for their eight-year starter, and conversations are expected to heat up during next week's NFL scouting combine.
I feel confident saying that teams were already plenty aware that Cutler could be had before this report published. As for trade talks heating up, well, let's just say that's a generous description.
Further complicating the possibility of a trade is the fact that Cutler can essentially put the kibosh on it if he doesn't like the destination. He doesn't have a no-trade clause, but since there's no signing bonus or guaranteed money left on his contract, he can just refuse to play and not have to return anything. The Bears, for their part, are totally hamstrung. Releasing Cutler comes with the relatively modest cap hit of $2 million, and wouldn't jeopardize their roster plans for this year. Chicago would obviously prefer to get some sort of draft compensation in exchange for him, though it's hard to imagine them netting anything better than a mid- to late-round pick.
Given the constant dearth of quality quarterbacks in the NFL, even a middle-of-the-road guy like Cutler could cash in during the average off-season. This year, however, the QB market is a little more robust than usual. While Tony Romo, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor are currently under contract, all three are expected to become available. There's also a chance that Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo could be had. It's not hard to make the argument that each of those quarterbacks represents a more appealing option than Cutler, and that's not even factoring in this year's incoming rookie class. All told, one could make the case that there are between six and eight more enticing quarterback options in 2017 than Jay Cutler.
Peter King got the ball rolling on speculation this week that Cutler could work in Arizona, even though starting quarterback Carson Palmer has already indicated that he plans to return next season. Pundits, who don't generally have much else to do this time of year, talked themselves into Cutler signing with Arizona, sitting on the bench for a year, then taking over when Palmer likely retires after the 2017 season. The Cardinals swiftly put that to rest.
Price is a factor, sure, but it's instructive that teams aren't even jazzed about the idea of Cutler as a backup. My, how the sulky have fallen.