Has Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a bad season? Sure. Does it still make him a lot better than plenty of starting quarterbacks elsewhere in the league? Absolutely.
By benching Cutler for the last two games, the Bears are essentially ensconcing him in bubble wrap for the balance of the year. The obvious goal is to trade him to another team that would inherit the obligation to pay Cutler a fully-guaranteed base salary of $15.5 million in 2015.
So who would trade for Cutler? Glad you asked. (Even if you didn’t.)
Before considering the teams, keep in mind that each NFL coach tends to believe that he can get more out of a player than any other NFL coach ever did. Many of the current NFL coaches don’t have quality quarterbacks; those who don’t have a franchise quarterback are always looking for one. Cutler has shown that he has the ability to be one. Otherwise, the Bears wouldn’t have paid him $22.5 million for 2014.
Also, keep in mind that, as usual, the free-agent quarterback class will have no obvious star options. The draft class doesn’t have many/any sure things.
The Bills, who don’t have a first-round draft pick to use on a quarterback, have Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel. Is Cutler better than either of them? Yes.
The Jets need a quarterback, and they may not be in position to take Marcus Mariota. Given his history, Jameis Winston may not be the ideal major-market face of the franchise, except for the folks who own the tabloids. Cutler and the New York media would also be a potentially combustible mix for different reason, but Cutler may be a better option than anything the Jets can find.
The Browns may decide they need a quarterback. Is Cutler an upgrade over Johnny Manziel? Based on what we say last Sunday, yes.
The Texans, who turned up their noses at Peyton Manning nearly three years ago, desperately need to improve at the position. Cutler is clearly better than any option the Texans have.
The Titans perhaps make the most sense, given that Cutler played college football at Vanderbilt. And given that the Titans currently are irrelevant. And that their current quarterbacks are not good.
Cutler’s history with the Broncos and his rebel-without-a-care attitude could make him an ideal Raiders quarterback, but for the promise shown by Derek Carr. Still, maybe the next coach/G.M. would be interested in rolling the dice in the short term on a guy who could become another Jim Plunkett for the franchise.
In the NFC, fewer obvious options emerge. Washington seems to be committed to giving Robert Griffin III one more try. The Bucs likely wouldn’t be interested, given coach Lovie Smith’s Chicago experiences with Cutler.
The sticking point could be compensation. Any team interested in Cutler will know that the Bears want to unload his contract, and that they can only do it by trading him. It means that the Bears should be willing to essentially give him away, if need be.
The fairest outcome could be to tie 2016 draft picks to Cutler’s performance in 2015. If he plays at a high level, the new team gives up more. If he performs like he did in 2014, maybe the new team gives up nothing.
Or maybe the Bears tie a draft pick to Cutler in order to get someone else to take on the contract. It sounds ridiculous on the surface, but the Bears can do a lot more with that $15.5 million in cash and cap space than they could do with a low-round draft pick.