After two straight road shellackings, the Chicago Bears return home Sunday seeking their first win at Soldier Field. As they prep for the Minnesota Vikings, our panel weighs in on four issues facing the team:
Fact or Fiction: Jay Cutler deserves to be benched.
Jeff Dickerson, ESPNChicago.com Bears reporter: Fiction. This is a reluctant stance for me to take. Is Cutler a major problem? Yes. Does Cutler have the mettle to quarterback a championship-caliber team? No. But do the Bears desperately need to win Sunday to restore a tiny bit of credibility and integrity? Yes. Cutler gives the Bears their best shot to beat Minnesota, plain and simple. Cutler has a gift for beating bottom-feeders. That is not a shot at Minnesota. The Vikings (4-5) are on the rise under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer. Expect Minnesota to give maximum effort. Hey, the Vikings believe they can win the game, and rightfully so. But Minnesota is not in the same class as Green Bay or New England. Cutler might have a decent game, especially since the season is basically over. Money is another issue. Cutler makes far too much of it. He has never been held accountable. Why start now? This is the sad reality of the 2014 Chicago Bears.
Jon Greenberg, ESPNChicago.com columnist: Fiction. What’s the point? The team is tied to him for the next two seasons, unless Phil Emery, or whomever’s the general manager if the Bears brass chooses to fire him in the next two years, trades him to the Raiders or something. I guess if you want him to demand a trade, yeah, bench him. And I wouldn’t be against sitting him in a blowout. But I can see why this question is being raised. Of the Bears’ 18 turnovers, Cutler has played a part in 15, and teams have scored 65 points off those plays. Those points represent 23.4 percent of the total points scored against the Bears this season. As bad as the defense is, it’s not getting much help from Cutler, who can’t move the ball with any consistency and constantly gives it up.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears need to select a quarterback in the early rounds of the 2015 draft.
Dickerson: Fact. Time to start prepping for the post-Cutler era. It will be here before you know it -- hopefully sooner than later. Quarterback is the most important position in football. Enough with using late-round picks to groom future backups. The Bears need a future starter. Those guys are found in Rounds 1-3. Teams without true franchise/above average quarterbacks struggle annually to reach the postseason. Barring a miracle, the Bears will miss the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Connect the dots. Invest in the future. Six years is enough time. The experiment failed. What's Plan B?
Greenberg: Fact. Let the record show, I was against drafting a quarterback the past two seasons, because the Bears had other needs and I thought Cutler was the smart alternative. Though it’s still possible he has a Super Bowl season in him before he’s out of here, it’s time to start planning for the future. The greatest likelihood is that Cutler has two seasons left after this one. So it would behoove the team to draft an understudy in 2015. Of course, this will make for an uncomfortable situation should Cutler struggle again in the next two seasons, because there will be a strong reason to bench him. But it’s time to face reality that the Cutler experiment will likely go down as a very expensive disappointment. Not a failure, mind you, just a disappointment.
Fact or Fiction: Jon Bostic is a bigger disappointment than Shea McClellin.
Dickerson: Fact. I don't blame Emery for sticking with McClellin. First-round picks are the lifeblood of NFL rosters. But I think we all know what McClellin is after 2.5 years and one position change. To be diplomatic, few people outside of Halas Hall thought McClellin would light the world on fire at strongside linebacker. My disappointment over the McClellin pick has long faded away. The Bears have larger problems at linebacker, and it begins with Bostic. I had high expectations for Bostic. Where is the guy who ran the second fastest 40-yard dash time at the 2013 NFL Combine? Where is the violent hitter who blew up a San Diego Charger in the preseason last year? What are the Bears going to do at linebacker if Bostic doesn't reach his potential? Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams are near the end. Khaseem Greene (2013 fourth-round pick) was a healthy inactive in Week 10. McClellin is ... well ... McClellin. The future is Bostic. But I have no idea if he can handle the responsibility. Bostic did miss three games with a back problem, that needs to be noted. That being said, Bostic needs to play much better to be considered a long-term solution at the position.
Greenberg: Fiction. Speaking of disappointments, let’s talk about some of Emery’s recent defensive draft picks. Yikes. McClellin was a complete reach at defensive end and Bostic is a dud at linebacker. I’d go with McClellin as a slightly bigger disappointment because he was a first-round pick and had no business being a regular defensive end. While he has pass-rushing ability, he just didn’t fit as a three-down player. Maybe he would have had more success starting out as a 3-4 outside linebacker, where some very good organizations wanted him to play. As linebacker, it seems like he is only starting because of his draft position, though he had a decent game against Green Bay last week. I don’t know what to make of Bostic, because the defense is such a mess. But good players can rise above their situations, and he’s certainly not very good. His early reputation as a cerebral player seems mislabeled, at best. Let’s just say both players are black marks in Emery’s draft history, especially compared to rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, who has shown promise this season.
Fact or Fiction: Bears fans need to boycott Sunday's game.
Dickerson: Fiction. I respectfully disagree that boycotting games is the only way to reach the McCaskey family. If you don't want to sit outside in the cold, fine. If you're hesitant to spend additional money on parking, concessions, transportation, etc., fine. But if you plan to stay home just to spite the family, don't. NFL teams make the bulk of their money from television contracts. You are not hurting the bottom line all that much. A part of me also feels ownership actually wants to win. Believe me, chairman George McCaskey takes the losses hard. He looks like pure hell after brutal defeats. I think the passion is genuine. He doesn't strike me as the actor type. My concern is the finances. Is ownership ready to spend the necessary money to turn it around? NFL teams are forced to spend millions and millions on players because of the collective bargaining agreement. Remember, no rules exist to govern salaries of head coaches, assistant coaches, front office people, etc. Wholesale changes are expensive. So that's where I stand with ownership. I think they care about wins and losses, but like many of us, they also care about money.
Greenberg: Fiction. I’m usually up for a good boycott, but this seems a little too soon for such a show of disapproval. Also, those things never work. You would get a few hundred people, at best, and it’s not like it’s costing the McCaskey family anything. Also, what are you really protesting? The McCaskeys spend money and they care about the fans, they just hired the wrong people to steward their franchise. They want to win, too. And I’m sure they’re embarrassed. That being said, I think a fan boycott is more fitting later in the season when it’s really time to put pressure on ownership. That Monday night game against the Saints on Dec. 15 would be ideal, because it would really get attention. But again, it would accomplish nothing but making a few hundred people feel better about themselves.