Hoge: Breaking Down The Future Of The Bears’ Fascinating Quarterback Situation

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 09: Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer #2 of the Chicago Bears walk off of the field following the 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OCTOBER 09: Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer #2 of the Chicago Bears walk off of the field following the 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — When Bears general manager Ryan Pace holds his first press conference since training camp on Wednesday, he’ll likely be peppered with questions about the team’s quarterback situation.

Just don’t expect many answers.

For one, it wouldn’t be prudent for Pace to announce his intentions to the 31 other teams in the league, but also, it’s quite possible — likely, actually —  that the GM hasn’t made definitive decisions on Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.

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Here’s a look at the five quarterbacks who, until Monday, had lockers inside Halas Hall and what their futures with the team might be:

Jay Cutler

Despite so many absolute claims that the Bears should get rid of Cutler “just because,” that would be irresponsible thinking by any general manager in this situation. Here’s the reality:  Cutler is the only quarterback on the Bears’ roster who is currently under contract for 2017. In fact, he’s technically under contract for four more seasons, but none of that money is guaranteed, giving the team who owns that contract all the control. Cutler is owed a $12.5 million salary in 2017, plus $2.5 million in roster bonuses, which he’ll earn in increments each week he is on the active roster.

What does this all mean? While Cutler is still technically under the most lucrative contract in the entire league (seven years, $126.7 million), his total cash number of $15 million in 2017 ranks 12th among NFL quarterbacks — less than the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick and Brock Osweiler — making him somewhat affordable.

Plus, consider the upcoming quarterback market. Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor and Tony Romo could potentially be available, but otherwise, we’re talking about guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, E.J. Manuel, Mike Glennon and, well, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Add in a questionable rookie draft class at the quarterback position and it’s pretty obvious Cutler has some trade value this offseason.

All of the above is why the New England Patriots might consider trading Jimmy Garoppolo, as he would be the most sought-after quarterback via trade, potentially setting the market for Cutler.

But this is extremely important to remember over the next few months: the Bears do not need to be in a hurry to move on from Cutler. There are no deadlines here. He is not owed a dime until Week 1 of next season. And last year’s Sept. 3rd trade of Sam Bradford is the perfect example of why the Bears can be patient. If there isn’t a team desperate enough to trade for Cutler in March, there might be one in August or September, depending on injuries.

Cutting Cutler “just because” it’s time to move on makes zero sense.

Brian Hoyer

Of course, if the Bears intend on starting the 2017 season without Cutler, they need to have a viable replacement on the roster. That underwhelming free agent list I just mentioned? Hoyer might be the best option on it, depending on the availability of Cousins and Taylor, who aren’t exactly headed to the Hall-of-Fame.

After making $2 million in 2016 on a one-year deal, the Bears hold exclusive negotiating rights with Hoyer until Mar. 9 when the new league year begins. Given the fluidity of his quarterback situation, it might make sense for Pace to lock up Hoyer on the cheap so he knows he at least has a good backup, if not a solid bridge quarterback while they develop a younger, more permanent option. On the flip side, Hoyer might want to wait to see what he’s getting himself into with the Bears, understanding that he’s entering a friendly market. Still, the 31-year-old seems to have a pretty good grasp of who he is as an NFL quarterback and he expressed a desire to stay in Chicago.

“I’m realistic. I know what my status is,” Hoyer said Monday when asked if he would look for a starting job. “But I also know what I’m capable of doing. You kind of take all of that into consideration.”

Hoyer also expressed a willingness to mentor a young quarterback.

“I kind of did that with Johnny (Manziel). Look, I’m a good teammate. I’ve been around. I have a lot to offer in that regard,” he said. “But I also think, and this is what I said in Cleveland, the best way to show a young guy how to do it is to do it well and just do your job. But I really have a lot of confidence that playing in these four games here really re-emphasized that for me. Just proving to myself I can play at this level.”

Matt Barkley

The Barkley train took a sharp turn off a cliff at end of the season as the fourth-year quarterback threw nine interceptions — nine! — in his final three games. Overall, Barkley threw eight touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 1,611 yards in seven games (six starts) for an underwhelming passer rating of 68.3.

By comparison, Hoyer threw six touchdowns, zero interceptions and 1,445 yards for a passer rating of 98.0 in six games (five starts).

Undoubtedly, some pro scouts around the league will be encouraged by Barkley’s throwing ability (the arm is “good enough”) and believe they can work with him on his decision-making, but there’s a pretty obvious ceiling here.

If Barkley is willing to take a cheap deal to compete for a backup job then maybe there’s still a spot for him in Chicago.

Connor Shaw

Shaw impressed the Bears in training camp and two preseason games before a broken leg ended his season in August. He spent most of the year around the team at Halas Hall and could be a guy Pace wants to keep on the depth chart. Shaw is a restricted free agent, but he has only played in one NFL game and that was in 2014. He’s an undrafted quarterback who spent the last two years on injured reserve. If the Bears want to keep him around, it shouldn’t be very hard.

David Fales

In case you’re wondering how John Fox feels about Fales, the head coach completely forgot the quarterback was with the team in training camp. When asked why Fales played in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, Fox said: “We just wanted to look at David. We had not seen him. Neither one of those quarterbacks (Fales and Barkley) were even on our team in camp.”

Not only was Fales on the team in camp, he’s actually been on the team for both training camps Fox has led as Bears head coach (although, in fairness, Fales had an illness for most of the 2015 preseason). Still, it’s not surprising Fox forgot about Fales’ presence on the team as the quarterback didn’t sniff the field in the preseason until the second half of the Bears’ final preseason game. In fact, when Shaw broke his leg, the Bears actually went back to Hoyer instead of letting Fales play. Eventually Fales was cut and signed by the Ravens, while the Bears instead signed Barkley to their practice squad. It was only after Cutler, Hoyer and Shaw were all lost for the season that the Bears brought Fales back to be Barkley’s backup.

So if you’re wondering if Fales, a restricted free agent, is part of the team’s future plans, it appears he is not.

At this point, no one really knows who will start at quarterback for the Bears in 2017 — and that likely includes Pace and Fox. The next calendar year will be fascinating when it comes to the Bears’ quarterback situation. Put your seat belts on.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.