If Cutler isn't elite, no reason for Bears to pay him elite money

The consensus seems to be that Bears general manager Phil Emery wants to re-sign Jay Cutler.

The Bears' quarterback also seems inclined to remain here, so they'll likely agree on a deal sooner or later.

In the meantime, perhaps Emery should ponder something hockey genius Scotty Bowman said a couple of years ago when the Blackhawks didn't appear to have a champion goaltender.

The public clamored for the Hawks to make a trade but senior adviser Bowman said that unless a team has a Top 3 goalie its focus should be on defense and puck possession.

OK, so this is football instead of hockey and quarterbacks instead of goalies. But the sports just might intersect when it comes to Bowman's principle: If an NFL team doesn't have a Top 3 quarterback — or a Top 4 or Top 5 — it should devote salary-cap space to defense, special teams and running the ball.

Accepting that premise, the question is whether Jay Cutler is one of the NFL's three, four or five best quarterbacks.

The answer is no, he isn't. Not now. Not yet. Not after three seasons with the Broncos. Not after five more with the Bears. Not ever maybe.

The league's premier quarterbacks are Tom Brady (who has won three Super Bowls), Drew Brees (one), Peyton Manning (one) and Aaron Rodgers (one).

Not coincidentally, each is back in the playoffs this season. They are quarterbacks that a team can win a Super Bowl “because of” rather than winning one merely “with.”

Other QBs that a team has won a championship with this century include Baltimore's Trent Dilfer and Joe Flacco and Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson.

A case could be made that the Ravens won because of Flacco, but it's premature to mention him in the same context as Brady, Brees, Manning and Rodgers. The same goes for Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, who have won two Super Bowls apiece by complementing some combination of a championship defense, running game and special teams.

Jay Cutler is somewhere in the clump with lesser quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford, who have combined for zero championships.

Complicating matters for Emery is some of these quarterbacks who are just guys have received contracts in the $100-million range based on speculation instead of achievement. The NFL's salary system is skewed to the point that teams overpay QBs before they prove they're worth the money.

When a quarterback like Cutler becomes a free agent, a team like Houston, Tennessee or Minnesota will offer him obscene money and the Bears will wind up having to pay him more than he has earned.

Consider what Marshall Faulk said on the NFL Network: “When we talk $100 million franchise quarterbacks, (Rodgers is) what we're talking about. He's the guy … carrying a team on his back.”

Has Cutler ever carried the Bears on his back?

The Bears surrounded Cutler with potent weapons and a respected quarterback mentor, yet Rodgers still wouldn't let the Bears beat the Packers with the NFC North title at stake. So Emery has to decide whether to give elite money to a currently less-than-elite quarterback.

Would the Bears be able to structure a Cutler contract so they still have money left over to fill other needs? Would he accept less money to accommodate rebuilding the defense? Or is a more sensible solution for Emery to trust head coach Marc Trestman's ability to develop someone less expensive that the Bears can win with?

Then Emery could use the spare change — multimillions of it — on defense, special teams and the running game.

Maybe he should talk to Scotty Bowman before finalizing a decision.

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