Jay Cutler faces uncertain future with Bears

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Will Chicago extend their starting quarterback or attempt to find a new option for next season?

Jay Cutler is back this week for the Bears after a long injury, but Chicago finds themselves in a difficult situation, uncertain about their future at the quarterback position.

The next few weeks will be key for Cutler's future, as general manager Phil Emery has recently spoken out against the idea of franchise tagging his starting quarterback due to the high price involved in such a decision (likely more than $16 million). There seems to be two options for the Bears and Cutler: a long-term deal or cutting ties.

A first-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2006, Cutler has spent most of his career in Chicago. After three seasons with with Broncos, he was traded to the Bears for Kyle Orton and three draft picks. In five years with the Bears, he's thrown 95 touchdowns against 71 interceptions and is the only player under 30 in the top-ten active leaderboard for interceptions thrown.

The Bears have found some success with Cutler, with two double-digit win seasons and a berth in the NFC Championship Game in 2010, but his repeated tendency towards big turnovers and the recent heady play of Josh McCown have complicated things.

Yes, that Josh McCown. The 35-year-old hasn't been a starter since 2004, but has thrown 13 touchdowns against one interception (leading the league in interception percentage) while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. The Bears have gone 3-2 this season with McCown as a starter, and while he's certainly not a long-term option it changes the way the team looks at Cutler.

Chicago could attempt to sign a short-term free agent next season and draft a quarterback, settling for a three-way competition between McCown and the two newcomers for the starting spot. The upcoming draft is quarterback-heavy, although our own Mocking the Draft has the Bears selecting defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, even with Johnny Manziel still on the board. If Chicago decides to go that way, however, they risk ending up like division rivals Minnesota, who haven't really had a consistent starting quarterback since Daunte Culpepper.

The franchise tag seems to be off the table, so the other option would appear to be a long-term deal for the 30-year-old Cutler. Cutler's performance could be the determining factor for how the Bears decide to proceed Joe Flacco netted a huge deal with the Ravens after a strong end-of-the-year run last season.

Windy City Gridiron finds it hard to point to a clear-cut right call in this case, but trust seems to be vested in head coach Marc Trestman, who has a reputation as a quarterback guru:

The fans and media alike are divided on this issue and there are plenty of sound arguments for both sides. On one hand the team needs to see what it has in Jay Cutler in this offense, who before his injury was playing the best football of his Bears career, because his contract is expiring. The team needs to know what it has in Cutler if it's going to tag him to be "the player" for the next four or five years.

If Cutler can lead the 7-6 Bears to the playoffs, he may just lock up that extension. Chicago is unlikely to get a Wild Card berth, but if they can win more games than the Lions and the Packers in the final stretch of the season, they will win the NFC North. The Lions hold the tiebreaker between the two teams, and the Bears have a season-ending matchup against the Packers, so Cutler would have to do some serious work to put Chicago in the postseason for the first time since 2010 and possibly save his job.

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