Here is this week's mailbag:
1. JD, why are you so convinced Jay Cutler will get a new deal? The writing seems to be on the wall. There have been numerous national reports that suggest Cutler is as good as gone. Looks to me that you local guys are all getting scooped. Wear it! McCown for Bears quarterback in 2014! -- Dr. Steve, Woodstock, Ill.
Dickerson: Maybe we are getting "scooped," Dr. Steve. Or maybe the two parties are intent on negotiating this deal through the media. Whatever you may think of Cutler, the Bears are starting him on Sunday instead of a quarterback (McCown) who has the third-highest passer-rating (109.8) in the league and is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Why would the Bears go back to Cutler, at such a defining moment of the season, if they believed McCown is the best quarterback on the roster? The Bears have never wavered in their stance that, when healthy, Cutler is their starting quarterback.
Now, there are certain variables that I do believe are true. I think the Bears will try to get Cutler to sign a shorter deal for less annual money than Cutler probably wants to play for. I've written that maybe a three-year deal for $17 million per season gets it done, but I wonder if the Bears will offer less than that per year based on recent events. Also, the idea of the Tennessee Titans being Cutler's No. 2 choice makes sense because of his ties to Nashville. Finally, I do think McCown's performance has lowered Cutler's asking price, and that GM Phil Emery will try to re-sign McCown in the offseason.
But none of that means the Bears and Cutler won't be able to ultimately strike a deal.
It could turn out that the Bears re-sign both Cutler and McCown. If that happens, Emery can still look to draft a quarterback, but won't be in a position where he has to add a young QB this offseason if the right one isn't available.
And ask yourself this question: Where else will Cutler have it this good? He's in a great system, with excellent coaches, a multitude of weapons and a rebuilt and improving offensive line. For years he got his brains beat in behind an inferior offensive line, and now that the protection is finally above average, he's just going to leave? If Cutler wants to win a championship before he retires, Chicago is the place for him. That is strictly my opinion.
It's also my opinion that when push comes to shove in the offseason, the two sides will hammer out a new contract.
2. Alshon Jeffery is a perfect reminder that people in your business know very little about the art of college scouting. I seem to recall draft "experts" dogging Jeffery about everything from his attitude to his weight when he was coming out of South Carolina. WRONG. Jeffery is a flat out beast. When is he going to get paid? It has to happen soon. Jeffery is going to make the Pro Bowl at this rate. -- Daron, North Carolina
Dickerson: Expect Jeffery to receive a new contract after the 2014 season. That's the earliest he can receive an extension due to a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that prohibits players on four-year rookie contracts from extending their deals until after they've completed the third year. Under his original rookie deal, Jeffery is scheduled to earn a maximum $803,438 in 2014 and $1,010,157 in 2015.
My prediction is that Jeffery pockets a substantial amount more in 2015, so long as he continues to produce at his current level: 75 catches, 1,193 yards and six touchdowns. NFL general managers love to reward their own, and Jeffery falls into that category: selected by Emery in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Emery called Jeffery "a shining star" the day the Bears drafted him. Eventually, the Bears will have to pay Jeffery like a star, even with Brandon Marshall's contract set to expire after the 2014 season.
3. Jeff, I'm surprised at the amount of Bears fans contemplating dropping Marshall after his contract runs out at the end of next season. The Bears have the best receiving tandem in the NFL this season and Marshall hasn't shown signs of dipping in production. Why wouldn't we do what it takes to re-sign Marshall and keep a good thing going? -- Luke, Chicago
Dickerson: Outside of the Cutler contract negotiations, I believe the next order of business for the Bears is to decide what the organization is going to do about Marshall. Marshall is projected to earn and count for $9.3 million against the Bears' salary cap in 2014, an extremely reasonable figure for a player of his magnitude. He has been an amazing player since he arrived in Chicago, catching 202 passes for 2,598 yards and 20 touchdowns in 29 games. But there is always that element of risk with him. Like most of the great NFL wide receivers, Marshall has a tendency to be high-maintenance and selfish, especially when he thinks he isn't getting the ball enough.
To be fair, Marshall has kept it together for the most part since the Bears acquired him from the Miami Dolphins. But keep this in mind: Marshall went to the Bears last offseason to discuss an extension, and was told to wait. I have to imagine he will again approach the Bears this offseason, but this time he might not be as patient. How much are the Bears willing to pay Marshall? Can they afford to pay both him and Jeffery, who, again, is a prime candidate to receive a new deal in early 2015? These are questions that have to be asked. I assume the Bears will try to keep Marshall and Jeffery together for as long as possible, but sometimes the business of football gets in the way.
Put it this way: If Cutler signs a new long-term deal, I can envision Marshall sticking around for the long haul. If Cutler isn't back or has to play under the uncertainty of the franchise tag in 2014, well, I guess anything is possible. Marshall would net the Bears a decent number of draft picks in a trade.
4. Hey Jeff, I've been watching the Bears for as long as I can remember, and as a Bears fan I always heard that defense wins championships. Do you think that with the return of Lance Briggs the defense will improve? When will Lance return? – Jordan L, Los Angeles
Dickerson: Briggs returned to practice this week on a limited basis, but coach Marc Trestman is still not optimistic that Briggs will play Sunday in Cleveland. A more likely scenario calls for the linebacker to return to face either the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 22 or the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 29. Briggs has been out of commission for the past eight weeks, so he needs to get himself back in football shape. That takes time.
As for the impact Briggs would have on the defense, it would be huge. He is a seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker on the weak side and one of the best run-stoppers on the team. The Bears rank No. 32 in run defense and No. 27 in total defense. Briggs' veteran leadership and knowledge of the system would significantly upgrade the defense and improve the Bears' chances of qualifying for the postseason.
5. How much longer do the Bears think Patrick Mannelly can play? My friends and I say all the time that Mannelly has the best job in the NFL, and one of the best mullets! I hope you can find time to answer our silly question, but if Mannelly had a fan club, I'd be president! -- Madeline, Joliet, Ill.
Dickerson: Madeline, this mailbag loves both the serious and the silly questions. Mannelly is worth every penny of the $945,250 he will collect from the Bears in 2013. The club ought to keep signing him to one-year veteran-minimum deals until he proves he can no longer snap. Mannelly has dealt with a couple of unfortunate injuries the past few years, but he shows no signs of slowing down. Find me a Bears employee who has done his/her job better than Mannelly over the last 16 years. That person does not exist.