Chicago Bears fans know firsthand about the dangers of turning over the offense to a backup quarterback.
Todd Collins, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen ... the list of underwhelming former reserve quarterbacks is seemingly endless.
That is why the Bears still need to strengthen their quarterback depth chart between now and the regular season.
We can all agree Jay Cutler is the guy in 2016 -- barring an unforeseen and unexpected development. His $16 million salary became fully guaranteed on the third day of the current league year. Cutler will eat up 24.85 percent of the Bears’ salary-cap space for 2016, which is around the average for NFL starting quarterbacks.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old posted a career-high 92.3 passer rating last season, winning over head coach John Fox, who understandably had doubts about Cutler.
"Jay is a guy that was a big decision for us, general manager Ryan Pace and our organization," Fox said last week on ESPN’s NFL Live. "I thought he stepped up big. He made great improvements as far as his individual performance. We played more complementary football for that to occur. He accepted responsibility of the football and for keeping it. I just think he is going to get better in Year 2 in our offensive system. The guy showed great toughness and great competitiveness, I thought, in Year 1 under our regime."
After Cutler, however, the Bears have zero experience on the roster.
Based on preseason results, former sixth-round pick David Fales possesses above-average intelligence. But unfortunately for the Bears, Fales has never played in a regular-season game. Neither has Matt Blanchard, the Lake Zurich High School graduate who previously spent time with the Bears, Panthers, Packers, Browns and Colts.
This isn’t exactly a unique situation based on the rest of the league.
The Vikings and Lions, however, believe in experience.
In Minneapolis, veteran Shaun Hill (1,190 career pass attempts and 49 touchdowns) is the No. 2 behind incumbent starter Teddy Bridgewater. In Detroit, the Lions have 32-year-old Dan Orlovsky (512 career pass attempts and 15 touchdowns) on the roster behind Matthew Stafford.
Cutler is tough, but he has missed 14 games due to injury since 2011.
The easiest way for Chicago to add depth at quarterback is via April’s draft, where the Bears currently have nine picks.
By all accounts, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz has been supremely impressive throughout the pre-draft process and should be gone by the time the Bears go on the clock at No. 11 overall. The next-best quarterback prospect, California’s Jared Goff, could be in play at No. 11. While the Bears still have pass-rush needs, Goff may be an option to consider. We already know Pace personally scouted a California game in September. Eventually, the Bears have to locate a future starter, and if they feel Goff has the traits to one day start, there is no reason to bypass him.
But let’s say quarterback is a no-go for the Bears at No. 11. The 2016 draft class is full of potential mid-round quarterbacks, such as Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
“It’s a good [quarterback] class,” Pace recently said at the NFL scouting combine. “I don’t want to get into the specifics, but there are a handful of guys [who] are up near the top. There are also a handful of quarterbacks in the middle part of the draft that I feel good about and that we’ve got to make sure we’ve accurately graded, and that’s where our scouts really earn their money.”
The list of available free-agent backup quarterbacks is, as expected, underwhelming, but Josh McCown is reportedly on his way out of Cleveland. Remember, the Bears had interest in McCown before he joined the Browns last offseason. McCown played for Fox in Carolina from 2008-09.
Because they are in great financial shape, the Bears could easily handle McCown’s salary. After a couple years of pocketing good money, McCown probably is looking at signing close to the veteran minimum if he wants to continue playing, which is unknown. The upside of the Bears pursuing McCown (if he is released) is obvious. McCown is experienced, well-liked, knows Cutler and can still play in a backup role.
Regardless of their methods, the Bears need help at quarterback. History has shown Chicago's No. 2 quarterback does more than just carry a clipboard.