We've known for weeks -- even months -- that Jay Cutler's time in Chicago is over. The only mystery is the manner in which the Chicago Bears will rid themselves of Cutler. Can they trade him? Or will Chicago's front office have to release the 33-year-old quarterback?
That leads us to the question we focus on today.
@DickersonESPN IF Bears traded Cutler early enough, would the new team have to pay his roster or restructure bonus or just salary?— BearsBlitz (@BearsBlitznet) February 22, 2017
Jeff Dickerson: Just so everyone is clear: The Bears cannot trade Cutler until the new league year begins March 9.
Remember, Chicago attempted to deal Cutler in the spring of 2015 when Ryan Pace and John Fox replaced Phil Emery and Marc Trestman. Back then, Cutler's contract made a trade impossible. No one wanted to touch his guaranteed money ($31.5 million).
Fast-forward two years -- Cutler's contract is no longer a killer. He has no guaranteed money left on the deal. The terms of Cutler's contract call for him to earn a $12.5 million base salary in 2017. He also can make an extra $2.5 million in per-game roster bonuses. Each week Cutler is on the active 46-man roster on game day, he collects $156,250. If he's inactive, he does not earn that amount.
The most a team trading for Cutler would be on the hook for is $15 million in 2017 -- and that's if he starts all 16 games. Cutler hasn't played a full schedule since 2009, and he appeared in just five games last year because of thumb and shoulder injuries. The Bears are on the hook for $2 million in cap space -- the remaining balance of Cutler's converted signing bonus -- if they trade or release him. That is a sunk cost. But Chicago opens up $13 million in cap space with Cutler gone.
So the contract itself in terms of what teams pay NFL starting quarterbacks isn't terrible. The $15 million figure puts Cutler in the bottom half of what starting quarterbacks will earn in 2017. And for all practical matters, Cutler isn't owed a dime unless he is on someone's Week 1 roster (then he can collect termination pay if he's released). But it stands to reason that if a team is willing to give the Bears a draft pick for Cutler, he'll be with them beyond the preseason barring an unforeseen injury.
Since Cutler is out of guaranteed money, the rest of the deal is pay as you go:
2018: $13.5 million base salary / $2.5 million in potential per-game roster bonuses
2019: $17.5 million base salary / $2.5 million in potential per-game roster bonuses
2020: $19.2 million base salary / $2.5 million in potential per-game roster bonuses
The problem is everyone knows the Bears are done with Cutler. Why not wait until Chicago releases him to make a move? The odds of Cutler signing for $15 million as a free agent in 2017 seem remote. The New York Jets gave Ryan Fitzpatrick $12 million last year, and the results were disastrous.
Cutler's history of injuries and uneven play makes a $15 million commitment sound risky. After all, no matter where he ends up, Cutler is nothing more than a bridge quarterback at this stage of his career. Brian Hoyer is also a bridge quarterback, and the Bears can probably sign him back for $5 million (with incentives). The days of Cutler commanding big money are over.
Chicago is doing the right thing by shopping Cutler. Why not? Maybe teams like the San Francisco 49ers or Jets are so desperate that they'll surrender a late pick for one more shot at Cutler. Just don't be surprised if eventually the Bears have to let him go. Mentally, the team moved past Cutler a long time ago. All that's left is the official cutting of the cord.