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Cutler’s future in Chicago depends on 2013 performance

Make-or-break season

Jay Cutler is entering the final year of his contract with the Bears. A successful season could mean that Cutler could demand a premium salary that the team might not be willing to match.
MCT Jay Cutler is entering the final year of his contract with the Bears. A successful season could mean that Cutler could demand a premium salary that the team might not be willing to match.

Late last season Jay Cutler was asked about his contract situation and whether he would consider a hometown discount.

He didn't write off the idea, but there is an issue that is much more pertinent when it comes to the 30-year-old quarterback.

Before you can assess what kind of discount there might be for the Bears, the club has to establish a marketplace for Cutler.

That's the real challenge. What is his value to the Bears? It's also one of the key storylines to this season.

If Cutler can do what the Bears brought him here to do more than 4 years ago – take the team to the Super Bowl and win it – he could find himself in a position not unlike the Ravens' Joe Flacco after this past season.

He'd have an enormous amount of leverage, and the Bears would hold only the franchise tag in negotiations. Imagine what a wonderful problem that would be for general manager Phil Emery to have.

"I'm not going to try to break the bank," Cutler said in December. "I want to be on a successful team, and I know that paying one or two or three players premium [salaries] hurts your chances of being able to bring in extra talent. So when we get there, we'll figure it out.

"You get to a point in your career I think it's not even about money. You're secure. You want to win Super Bowls."

Now imagine a season in which the Bears miss the postseason again, and Cutler has a passer rating in the low 80s. Then what? There were 21 quarterbacks with 200 or more attempts last season that had a passer rating higher than Cutler's 81.3.

Cutler enters the final year of his contract with a base salary of $8.47 million. With anything less than a deep playoff run and a solid regular season, it's going to be impossible for him to command a contract that approaches the top at his position.

But if he performs well and proves to be a good fit for coach Marc Trestman, the Bears likely will look to extend Cutler. Keep in mind Emery has not been averse to using the franchise tag the last two offseasons. That could be the club's approach with Cutler.

Cutler already is tops in franchise history in completions with 1,034. He is closing in on the No. 1 spot in attempts and needs 2,395 yards to pass Sid Luckman in that category.

More than anything, that's an indictment of the Bears' sorry quarterback history because Cutler has yet to approach the success he had as a passer with the Broncos.

Concussions remain a concern for a player who has been sidelined by two in the previous three seasons. Things didn't go well for backup Jason Campbell in a 32-7 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco when Cutler missed a game last season after an illegal hit by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins produced a concussion.

Campbell made $3.5 million, and the team has a more economical option behind Cutler this time with Josh McCown, who will count only $580,000 against the salary cap.

Third quarterback Matt Blanchard could make a push for a roster spot with a solid performance in the preseason, leaving plenty for him to play for in the fourth game, when he should see extensive time.

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