Day 1 of Free Agency Shows Trades Just Take Will, Concessions
Despite the hard-learned lessons from last year’s disappointing performances, the Chicago Bears, under the leadership of new head coach John Fox, find themselves bound by quarterback Jay Cutler’s lucrative contract.
This situation offers little room for maneuver, which is far from ideal for any new coaching staff.
According to Cutler’s agreement, he is set to earn $15.5 million in 2015, with an additional $10 million guaranteed for injury in 2016 if he remains on the roster by Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.
Furthermore, if Cutler remains on the roster at the commencement of the league year next March, he will receive an additional $6 million in guaranteed money.
It’s worth noting, however, that no guaranteed money is owed to him beyond 2016.
Numerous media outlets have covered the Bears’ attempts to break free from the constraints left by former general manager Phil Emery and former head coach Marc Trestman.
They are doing so by exploring the possibility of trading their quarterback in search of what they deem a “reasonable return.”
With the recent trade of Brandon Marshall to the Jets for a 5th-round draft pick, the definition of “reasonable” has become somewhat ambiguous.
A report from ESPN, citing sources with direct knowledge of the situation, adamantly refuted the claims of the quarterback being shopped, asserting that there is “absolutely zero truth” to the rumors.
The actual truth of the matter remains elusive. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for the Bears to at least explore the option, especially given the flurry of unexpected trades witnessed on the first day of free agency.
The Eagles and Rams swapping starting quarterbacks underscored the notion that the Bears’ reluctance to conduct some due diligence might be seen as a bit perplexing.
While Cutler may be considered a serviceable quarterback, finding such players in the NFL can be challenging.
However, it appears that all potential suitors have opted not to pursue a trade at this juncture.
The primary deterrent is Cutler’s contract. Most franchisees are hesitant to invest in him given the $15.5 million guaranteed this year and the subsequent $10 million for the following year.
Thus, any team engaging in a conventional trade would be committed to paying Cutler’s substantial salary for two seasons.
In my opinion, this isn’t a wise use of resources for a player who tends to turn over, displays significant inconsistency, exhibits limited leadership qualities, and ends the previous season on the bench.
Fortunately for Cutler, his contract was negotiated before last year.
Quarterbacks are typically expected to be the team’s leader and serve as the face of the franchise, a role that Cutler has not quite fulfilled.
[A trade] would show John Fox and GM Ryan Pace are willing to reduce the team to its studs and rebuild without setbacks.
While a trade hasn’t materialized, I still believe there’s a way to make a Cutler swap more enticing.
It may not be possible to completely part ways with him, but there’s an opportunity to save face and embark on a new direction at the quarterback position.
For this to be viable, the Bears must absorb a substantial portion of Cutler’s salary for the next two seasons.
This would ensure that Cutler’s financial burden on his new team aligns with what a top-tier backup quarterback typically earns, similar to the compensation of players like Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, or Kyle Orton.
Cutler’s new team would then be responsible for an annual commitment ranging from $3.5 million to $5 million.
Admittedly, this would be a significant financial concession for Chicago. However, it’s a more palatable option than the alternative of doing nothing.
This proposition essentially offsets approximately one-third of Cutler’s existing financial obligations.
When Peyton Manning recently accepted a pay cut, resulting in a $4 million reduction in his salary, it afforded Denver a similar amount of additional cap space and cash to enhance the team.
While it may not constitute a monumental savings, it is substantial enough to provide more flexibility for player acquisitions and signings and, perhaps most importantly, a fresh start.
For the team acquiring Cutler, the risk associated with signing an inconsistent and underperforming quarterback would be mitigated by a more reasonable financial commitment.
If I were in Chicago’s shoes, I’d also consider negotiating a draft pick based on Cutler’s playing time and performance.
If Cutler takes the field for at least 50 percent of the snaps over the next two seasons with his new team, the Bears could reasonably request a sixth-round pick in the 2016 draft.
If Cutler experiences a resurgence in his new environment, leading his team to the playoffs, that potential pick could be elevated to something more akin to a third-rounder.
Conversely, if his performance falters or he sees limited playtime, the draft pick could be downgraded to a seventh-rounder or possibly nothing at all.
Such a move would signal to the players that the new leadership under coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace will strip down the team and rebuild without any reservations, including the potential decision to trade a player they would likely prefer to part ways with.
The truth is, if Cutler remains on the Bears’ roster for the next two seasons, it’s due to his contract, not necessarily his leadership or skills.
This could potentially have a detrimental effect on the franchise’s efforts to establish a new team culture.
Frequently, a fresh start proves beneficial for all parties involved. If the Bears are open to exploring creative solutions, there remains a glimmer of hope for both sides to break free and move forward.