With Bears quarterback Jay Cutler missing a significant part of the season and with the emergence of backup Josh McCown into a better-than-average player, word has been bandied about lately that Chicago would let Cutler walk after the season rather than pay him a contract that might be worth as much as $20 million per year.
The franchise tag seems unlikely because it would cost the Bears about $16.2 million for one season -- a heavy burden for the salary cap considering Cutler seemingly hasn't played well enough to earn franchise-quarterback-for-life status.
But in an interview with ESPN 1000, via ESPN.com, Bears general manager Phil Emery also said he hadn't ruled out using the franchise tag on Cutler.
“I didn't say that I would rule it out,” Emery said Friday. “I said it's not the first thing we would think about in signing players that we like. If you put a franchise tag on a player, that's a player that you like. We like Jay. If you like a player, you want to move forward in a multi-contract year basis, not a short term.”
While Cutler's reign as the Bears quarterback has been inconsistent and consists of just one playoff appearance in his five years with the team, Emery had high praise for him.
I've said it before: I'm convinced that Jay is a franchise quarterback,” Emery said. “The rest of that as far as where we are going in the future, we'll work out that in the offseason. Certainly I'm pleased with Jay. I think he's grown in certain areas. When he's been healthy and been on the field this year, he's been playing at his highest level ever during the course of his career.
"I think he's improved in the leadership area. I think his demeanor has improved. I think the time off made him appreciate the great coaches that we have. He's told me that our coaches are on fire with their game-planning, execution and getting guys ready to play. The last three games that he played when healthy from start to finish, he's been over 100.0 in passer-rating. So we see a lot of good things out of Jay.”
But because Cutler's backup has played so well, the possibility of signing McCown (who, like Cutler, is in the last year of his contract) to a much less expensive contract, especially since coach Marc Trestman has him playing so well, is a possibility. This, even though the team's contract with McCown could cause trouble for the organization.
For the record, Cutler has said that he'd be cool if he had the franchise tag slapped on him.
Lest you think the Bears will rush right out and tag Cutler, however, remember what Emery said earlier this month.
"The franchise tag for the quarterback position has unique challenges because the average comes out to be such a big portion of your cap and your total money available to spend on other players to acquire to help your team," Emery said.
"With the franchise tag being so high for the quarterback position, to use it and not sign the individual to a long-term deal hurts the team because you lose the ability to prorate the amount of guaranteed salary over the length of the contract. Proration lowers the salary cap number in relation to that player's contract. Obviously the lower the number in relation to the salary cap, the more players you can sign to help your team reach its goals."
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