Cutler out, Clausen to start for first time in 4 years
Bears not talking about decision to not start Cutler Sunday against Lions
In the latest spin on the Halas Hall merry-go-round, the NFL's highest-paid player has been benched.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Jay Cutler and his $22.5 million salary will sit Sunday against Detroit in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who hasn't started a game in nearly four years.
Cutler posted his worst passer rating of the season (55.8) in Monday night's 31-15 loss to New Orleans while being intercepted three times and sacked seven times, both season worsts.
The Bears, who may be desperate to get out from the albatross of Cutler's contract, could be making this move to keep him healthy and increase their chances of trading him in the off-season.
Or maybe they, especially coach Marc Trestman, just decided they've seen enough of Cutler, who leads the NFL with 18 interceptions and 24 turnovers.
Cutler's deal pays him a fully guaranteed $15.5 million for the 2015 season, plus $10 million for the 2016 season if he's still on the Bears' roster this coming March. A trade, if the Bears can find a partner, would allow them to cut their losses substantially, as they would incur a cap hit of roughly $4 million.
The Bears would leap at any chance to trade Cutler for anything or anyone to avoid paying any more money toward the $126.7 million, seven-year deal he signed in January, courtesy of general manager Phil Emery, who could very well follow Cutler out the door.
It was Emery who decided to make the commitment to Cutler, and it was Emery who hired Trestman and pushed for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis to be hired.
Clausen, a second-round draft choice of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, was forced into the starting lineup as a rookie on a bad team. He started 10 games, played in 13 and threw 3 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions while completing 52.5 percent of his passes for a 58.4 passer rating.
The 26-year-old Notre Dame product has completed 3 of 9 passes for 42 yards (49.3 passer rating) in mop-up duty for the Bears this season in 3 blowout losses.
He will face a Lions defense at Soldier Field that is No. 1 in points, rushing yards and average gain per rush allowed, No. 2 in total yards allowed, No. 3 in third-down efficiency, No. 4 in interception percentage and No. 10 in sacks.
In a 34-17 Bears loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, Cutler was picked off twice and sacked three times. The Bears never tried to establish a ground game in that fiasco, calling 7 run plays and 51 passes.
Earlier Wednesday, the Bears had the opportunity to announce the news but chose not to.
But Trestman added himself to an dubious group that already includes former Bears offensive coordinators Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice along with ex-head coach Lovie Smith.
Trestman joined the club when asked if he has gotten the most out of Cutler.
"I think that's evident I haven't, up to this point," Trestman admitted. "Am I working at it? Yes. We've seen moments, but we haven't done it on a consistent basis. I can't hide from that. I haven't been able to, and we haven't been able to do the things that we want to get done. We're working towards that."
Apparently not, unless a benching is part of the plan to motivate Cutler, who is in his sixth season with the Bears, all of which have been filled with great expectations and mediocre production.
"We've seen moments of it, but it's not where we need to be," said Trestman, who could just as easily been speaking for all his predecessors on The Cutler Project. "But it's not all about Jay. It's about our entire offense, working together to get it done."
It's expected that Trestman, too, will soon join the ever-expanding list of former Bears coaches who tried but failed to get the production out of Cutler that his potential merits.
Cutler's 89.2 passer rating last season, his first under Trestman, was the highest of his career. Through six games this season, Cutler had a 97.4 passer rating and the Bears were a respectable 3-3. Since then the Bears are 2-6. Cutler's passer rating is 83.5, and it's only that high thanks to meaningless, garbage-time production in blowout losses.
But it's not just about the numbers.
On the national stage Monday night during the offense's cringe-worthy effort in an uninspiring loss, Cutler was criticized for everything from his body language to his perceived lack of leadership. ESPN's Jon Gruden called for Cutler's benching.
But any of those criticisms could be directed at any player in a Bears uniform that night.
"Our whole football team right now isn't where it needs to be," Trestman said, in regard to body language. "Nobody's happy about it; Jay's not happy about it. The quarterback's always going to be the guy to be looked at, no doubt about that."
Critics would say that, because he is the guy most scrutinized, it's essential for Cutler to put up a brave front. But that ship apparently has capsized.
"Certainly he has an obligation to do that," Trestman said. "We all have to work on that. We're all subject to that type of criticism. When you're 5-9, that's where this thing is.
"We all can do better, and to talk about one without talking about the group -- it is a team sport -- is very difficult to do. All of us have to be mindful of that as we work through the day and work through these games."
During the season's first three-game losing streak, Cutler got high marks for maintaining an even keel and a positive outlook. The team was able to regroup enough to win back-to-back home games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
But the outlook seems much more dismal in the throes of the current three-game skid.
That seems especially true when a national audience is reading Cutler's every reaction, from slumped shoulders to exasperated looks. But Trestman said Cutler shouldn't be blamed for the Bears' eighth loss in 11 games.
Now, it appears he has.
• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.