Four Downs: Bad idea to tag Jay Cutler?

Quarterback Jay Cutler could be a candidate for the Bears' franchise tag. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With Jay Cutler's deal coming to an end this season, are the Bears ready to sign him to a long-term contract, or is it a good idea to place the franchise tag on him and give themselves another year to commit to the quarterback?

Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Using the franchise tag on Jay Cutler would be a mistake because it ties up too much cap space on one player.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Now, let me preface this by saying I think the Bears and Cutler will hammer out a new contract in the offseason, which makes the whole franchise tag argument a moot point. But let’s pretend the Bears and Cutler do not agree on the framework of a new deal; while $16 million is a huge salary cap hit for one player, quarterback is the most important position on the field. If there’s ever a reason to eat up an inordinate amount of cap space on one player, it needs to be the player most vital to the team’s success. So I could certainly justify the Bears tagging Cutler if; (A) he simply wants too much guaranteed money, or (B) the Bears aren’t entirely sure he’s the guy for the long haul. But I have a feeling the Bears already have decided that Cutler is their guy, so the question now becomes: Can they find common ground on a new contract in the offseason.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. The tag is supposed to be used as a placeholder so the two sides, player and team, can hammer out a long-term deal. The tag value, rising north of $15 million, would handicap the Bears next season, especially as they try to restock the aging, flagging defense. As most everyone knows by now, the franchise tag insures that all the money is paid in one season, whereas a long-term contract allows a team to creatively structure the payouts for salary cap purposes. With that in mind, I don’t quite understand the point of tagging Cutler for the purpose of a one-year “tryout” deal. What don’t they know about him? Sure, health is a concern but that’s true of any NFL player. The one question the Bears must have had about Cutler before the season was: How would he relate to Marc Trestman? The answer seems to be: Quite well, actually. Since taking over as general manager, Phil Emery has made it a mission to give Cutler the tools to succeed, from receivers to linemen to coaches. Now it’s time to negotiate a long-term deal.

Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The emergence of Alshon Jeffery might actually make Brandon Marshall expendable when his deal is up.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Jeffery’s presence will give the Bears leverage when they negotiate a new deal for Marshall, if that occurs. Currently, the Bears have Marshall under contract in 2014 for a modest $9.1 million base salary and $9.3 million projected hit on their salary cap. Both are extremely acceptable numbers. But Marshall wanted an extension last offseason after he re-wrote the franchise’s record book with 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns, and didn’t get it. I can only assume he will once again push for an extension this upcoming offseason. And he is certainly justified in looking for one. But Jeffery’s breakout season and pair of 200-plus yard receiving games should help the Bears at the bargaining table. It’s not as if the cupboard would be bare at the position if Marshall left. Also, Jeffery will eventually want to get paid as he continues to outperform his original rookie contract. How much money can the Bears allocate to one position? If you can pay only one; do you choose the younger, homegrown talent, or Marshall? In a perfect world the Bears keep them both for the next five to seven years, but the NFL is a business, and there are several variables that have to be taken into consideration.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. While Marshall has been, arguably, the most productive receiver not named Calvin Johnson since coming to the Bears, Emery has to consider his salary cap situation when Marshall’s deal comes up. Marshall still has another year on his contract, but he turns 30 in March. He’s in great shape, it seems, but that’s the “magic number” for skill position players. So don’t be surprised if the Bears make Jeffery the No. 1 while looking for a complementary receiver. Still, I think it’s likely that they extend Marshall in a cap-friendly way this offseason. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to move on early. That’s just life in the NFL.

Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Jeremiah Ratliff is in for a big game against his former team on Monday.

Jeff Dickerson:Fact. Never underestimate the desire of a player to prove people wrong. Ratliff and the Cowboys had a bad breakup, according to various reports, and he would probably love to stick it his former team. Ratliff did a decent job in limited snaps versus the Vikings, and is expected to see increased playing time Monday night against Dallas. If Ratliff wants to show the rest of the NFL that he is healthy and fully recovered from a groin injury that caused him to miss an entire year, what better showcase is there than squaring off against the team that let him go on "Monday Night Football"?

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Not sure this is a real storyline anyone cares about outside of the Chicago and Dallas media, and probably not even then. Sure, some guys play better using slights as fuel, but Ratliff just played his first game in a year last week in Minneapolis. He’s probably more concerned about just existing out there in the trenches than making a statement. But hey, there’s not much time left in the season, so a big game would be nice.

Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: DeMarco Murray will post just his second 100-yard rushing game of the season on Monday.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are dead last in the NFL stopping the run (153.6 yards per game). Murray isn’t on the level of Adrian Peterson, but he is a solid all-purpose back who is more than capable of reaching 100 yards against this Bears defense. Even though Peterson ran for 211 yards in Week 13, I believe the Bears had a much better effort on defense in the Metrodome. However, the Bears will not get the benefit of the doubt until they stop somebody in the run game.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears rushing defense stinks, and their pass defense isn’t much better lately. Since linebacker Lance Briggs got injured in the Washington game, the Bears are giving up more than 200 rushing yards a game, and they’ve given up at least 100 yards rushing in every game since Oct. 10. So, yeah, start Murray in your fantasy league. I know I am.