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Haugh: Jay Cutler could be the next Jeff George

Published: Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 9:43 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

(MCT) — Of all the former Bears players Chairman George McCaskey could have compared Jay Cutler to the other day, he chose George Halas.

Who last played in 1928. Who played end. Who never contributed to getting a head coach fired because, well, he was the head coach too.

McCaskey intended the bizarre comparison as a compliment to Cutler’s leadership, which after seven seasons remains unproven enough to fill hours of sports talk-radio debate. But really, all comparing the maddeningly inconsistent quarterback to Halas did was compel us to consider the hundreds of other Bears in history with whom Cutler has more in common.

Take Jeff George, for example, forever known around the NFL as a petulant symbol of squandered potential who spent the final month of the 2004 season with the Bears. Despite enormous physical skills, George won one playoff game in his career — and it didn’t come until his 10th season. Cutler has one playoff victory after seven. How long before Cutler gets his second after a coaching change? Will he ever?

Cutler supporters cringe every time their guy shares a sentence with George but, as No. 6 awaits his third NFL coach and sixth offensive coordinator, you wonder.

You wonder whether the Bears offense’s limitations have had everything to do with an overmatched offensive line or if those chronic issues have clouded the broader question of whether Cutler makes everybody around him better or worse. You wonder why the Bears offense never has been ranked higher than 23rd since Cutler arrived or why, after the Bears acquired Brandon Marshall and hired buddy Jeremy Bates as quarterbacks coach, he still finished 20th in passer rating with a Ryan Fitzpatrick-ish 81.3. You wonder if something intangible, something more than just good pass protection has been missing from the offense.

At least the men interviewing with general manager Phil Emery to become the Bears’ next head coach should wonder.

The process of overstating Cutler’s importance to the Bears has resumed in earnest in the days following Lovie Smith’s firing. McCaskey and Emery, who called Cutler the “franchise quarterback” he still could be, sounded like they had fallen in love all over again. His immense physical talent makes the infatuation understandable. I fell hard like much of Chicago on April 1, 2009 — one of the most exciting days in recent Bears history — when the Bears traded with the Broncos for Cutler. Fool me once ...

Four unfulfilling, unpredictable seasons later, has nobody else in the city learned that playing quarterback the NFL requires more than a big arm, great mobility and good hair? Being the best quarterback in franchise history is a little like being the most polite Baldwin brother. Compare Cutler to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers — not an end from the 1920s. Apply pressure, not pap.

In the biggest of games, nobody in town ever has found any reason to nickname Cutler “Big Day Jay.” Too often Cutler has made an impact on outcomes without making the difference.

Put Cutler behind a quality offensive line and the yards and touchdowns and victories might follow. But Cutler has been too up and down as a Bear for Emery to factor him too much into his decision on the next coach. To some candidates, Cutler might be the most attractive part of the job. To others, he understandably might be the least.

To Emery, how the next coach’s system and personality complements Cutler should matter less than how Cutler complements the next coach’s system and personality. This can’t be another offseason devoted to surrounding Cutler with everything he wants.

Look at the impressive field of candidates Emery has assembled: bright minds, many from successful offensive backgrounds.

Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, a coach of the year front-runner, helped develop Manning and Andrew Luck. Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy showed schematic dexterity devising winning game plans for Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Manning — three dissimilar quarterbacks. Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements, one of the more intriguing options because of how his hiring could affect the Bears’ rival, comes with endorsements from Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael learned from play-calling master Sean Payton.

Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, a former Army defensive back who will appeal to Emery’s service-academy background, fits the personality profile Emery seeks. Special-teams coordinators Keith Armstrong of the Falcons and Joe DeCamillis carry lower profiles but, based on the reputation of their character around the league, no lesser credentials.

The early short list bodes well for Emery. The Bears envision hiring a man who will do enough great things for the franchise that perhaps one day a McCaskey can compare him to Halas. And nobody would raise an eyebrow.

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