CHICAGO (MCT) — One of the questions the Bears will wrestle with as they work toward Friday’s cutdown to a 53-man roster is if a $3.5 million insurance policy for Jay Cutler is enough.
Phil Emery prioritized a proven backup for Cutler at the outset of free agency, signing Jason Campbell for one season and making him among the higher-paid backups in the league. What we don’t know is if the Bears will keep a third quarterback behind him.
Josh McCown will get ample opportunity to state a case for himself Thursday night in the exhibition finale against the Browns in Cleveland when he should get extensive playing time. The Bears could carry three veteran passers on the roster or elect to go with Cutler, 29, and Campbell, 30, and add a young player to the practice squad, which can be formed beginning Saturday.
“I just want to play well,” McCown said. “I played two games at the end of the season last year, been through OTA’s. I think they probably have reached a conclusion on me already. Maybe not. But any time you go out there, you’re putting it on tape as part of your resume.”
Thirteen teams opened 2011 with only two quarterbacks. The Bears did it in 2009 when Caleb Hanie backed up Cutler and Brett Basanez was on the practice squad. There are arguments for both sides.
McCown, 33, proved in two starts last season he can perform at a competent level on short notice and with little practice time. If the Bears had used him in all six games without Cutler last year, they might have reached the postseason and the current state of the franchise could be dramatically different. Through three exhibitions, he has completed 9 of 17 passes for 88 yards.
Often when a team is carrying three quarterbacks at least one of them is a younger player, so that would make this trio somewhat unusual. The Bears already cut their young gun, officially placing Matt Blanchard, an undrafted rookie from Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, on waivers Monday. There is a lot of money invested in the position and McCown is signed for $825,000 even though his minimum-salary benefit deal counts only $590,000 vs. the salary cap. With injuries, including the possibility the team might need to carry a second punter in September, going without a third quarterback would provide roster flexibility. Other players, such as linebacker Dom DeCicco, free safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Stephen Paea, also have minor injuries.
McCown certainly understands the challenges for backup quarterbacks. When he joined the Bears last season, they were his fifth franchise in seven years. His younger brother Luke just bounced from the Saints to the Falcons this week, reuniting with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, for whom he played previously with the Jaguars. Between the two of them, they have been with 10 franchises.
If the Bears needed to re-sign a veteran in season, there is a chance McCown would be available. But he could appeal to another club with a need.
“Any time they turn the lights on and you compete, it’s fun,” he said. “You go out with the mindset of working on things and trying to sharpen up some things.”
Third quarterbacks have not been productive for the Bears. Hanie had the job in 2008 behind Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. In 2010, Dan LeFevour never made it to the regular season. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz didn’t like Hanie and lobbied successfully to bring in Todd Collins. Nathan Enderle wasn’t prepared when disaster struck last season. The Jaguars cut him this year earlier in training camp.
Campbell missed 10 games last season with the Raiders after suffering a collarbone injury but he has been durable throughout his career. Whether he is enough behind Cutler to make Emery comfortable remains to be seen.