Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace described Jay Cutler's situation as "fluid" on Wednesday, partly because the quarterback has not been medically cleared following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder in December.
The Bears have been actively shopping Cutler since the end of the season and would open up $13 million in salary-cap space if they trade or release the veteran quarterback. But none of that can happen until Cutler is healthy enough to pass a physical.
"Jay's under contract, so it's fluid. I would describe it as fluid," Pace told reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. "There are a lot of conversations going on between us and Bus Cook. I think one of the things with Jay I value is his agent, Bus Cook. We're close, and I think at times like these that relationship is important because we can be honest and transparent. I think he's one of the top agents out there, and I think that helps in this process."
Pace added: "[Cutler] is far along in his rehab. I wouldn't say he's there yet, but he's definitely ahead of [schedule]. He hasn't gotten to that point yet [where he's been medically cleared], but he's ahead of schedule."
The general manager left the door open for Cutler to return in 2017, although that scenario is highly unlikely.
"At this point we pretty much have everything on the table," Pace said. "For us, to do it the responsible way, that's necessary."
Cutler is under contract through 2020, but there is no guaranteed money left on his deal. His base salary in 2017 is scheduled to be $12.5 million, and he can earn $2.5 million in per-game roster bonuses if he is on the active roster on game day.
The 2017 salary is modest for an NFL starting quarterback, but Cutler is coming off a disappointing season in which he started only five games because of injuries.
The Bears would carry $2 million in dead money -- the remaining portion of his restructured prorated signing bonus -- with Cutler off the roster.
Cutler, who turns 34 in April, holds almost every passing record in franchise history, but he has led the Bears to just one playoff appearance in eight seasons.
Chicago's arguably most polarizing athlete, Cutler has been through a tenure with the Bears that has been marked by turnovers. He has 109 interceptions in 102 regular-season games for the Bears, including a career-worst 26 picks in 2009 after the club paid a hefty price to acquire him from the Denver Broncos
General manager Ryan Pace often speaks of drafting the best available player. That sounds like a cliché, but taking the player with the highest grade on the draft board is a smart way to do business. We’ve all heard the horror stories of teams taking quarterbacks too high: Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Johnny Manziel, just to name a few.
The Bears want no part of that club.
Still, Pace’s main priority is quarterback. The Bears will undoubtedly draft one in the early rounds, but bypassing all the potential top-10 defensive talent – Jonathan Allen, Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, etc. – just for the sake of picking a quarterback doesn’t make much sense.
So, Garoppolo or no Garoppolo – perhaps Bill Belichick still deals him for the right price – the Bears cannot be reckless with such a high pick. It has to be best available, plain and simple.
What the Garoppolo news does affect is Chicago’s Week 1 starter. Odds are no matter whom the Bears draft at quarterback, that player is unlikely to be ready to start the regular season.
Garoppolo seemed like such a good fit because at 25 years old, he’d be the unquestioned guy from Day 1. Garoppolo doesn’t have much NFL starting experience, but he has enough that any team trading for him automatically anoints him the present and future starter.
A rookie quarterback – even if it’s Trubisky, Watson or Kizer – will require time to develop.
That’s why the Bears have to sign a free-agent bridge quarterback. Brian Hoyer is one name that comes to mind because of his above-average play (six touchdowns, zero interceptions) in 2016, plus the relationship he enjoys with Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. Mike Glennon, 27, looks to be a promising free agent. Glennon had two decent years with the Bucs before they drafted Jameis Winston. The Bills are figuring out what to do with Tyrod Taylor, who would be guaranteed between $27.5 million and $30.5 million if he’s on the Bills' roster next season. Taylor, 27, passed for 37 touchdowns and 12 interceptions the past two years.
Pace called Jay Cutler's situation “fluid” when he met with reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Going back to Cutler is a non-starter. Good luck selling year nine of Cutler to the fans in Chicago. The Bears need him to pass a physical before they can trade or release him.
Outside of Cutler, Pace is presented with lots of options. The Garoppolo development is disappointing, but it doesn’t change the focus. The Bears have to acquire better pieces at quarterback, otherwise there’s no end in sight to the rebuilding process.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Kirk Cousins will surprise you. Just when you think you've got the Washington quarterback figured out, he does something entirely unexpected and flips your entire perception of his future. Cousins was a mess for years, a turnover machine whose most appealing quality to Washington fans was the simple fact that he wasn't Robert Griffin. Then, as if it had suddenly occurred to Cousins he might want to avoid throwing interceptions, he stopped: The same quarterback who threw a pick on 4.3 percent of his passes before the "You Like That!" win over the Bucs in 2015 has dropped his interception rate to 1.6 percent since.
Washington franchised Cousins after what amounted to a little more than a breakout half-season in 2015, and Cousins promptly delivered a superb follow-up campaign. He finished seventh in passer rating and sixth in opponent-adjusted QBR while helming an offense that ranked fifth in DVOA. At 28 and with no notable injury history, Cousins made more than enough of a case for a long-term deal.
Surprisingly, what seemed like it would be an expensive-but-routine negotiation to keep Cousins in burgundy and gold is spiraling out of control. And while Washington placed the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins
Marc Trestman has returned to the Canadian Football League as the Toronto Argonauts named him their new head coach Tuesday.
Trestman, 61, was the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in 2013 when the Chicago Bears hired him to be their new coach. The Bears fired him after just two seasons. He had a 13-19 record in his short stint in Chicago.
The Baltimore Ravens then hired him to be the team's offensive coordinator but lasted less than two seasons in the role when he was fired by coach John Harbaugh in 2016 after a Week 5 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Trestman has enjoyed far more success in the CFL. He led the Alouettes to two Grey Cup titles in his five seasons as head coach. The Argonauts also hired Jim Popp as their new general manager Tuesday. Popp was the Alouettes' GM during Trestman's time as head coach of the team. In his 21 seasons as Montreal's GM, the team won three Grey Cup titles.
Before becoming the Alouettes' coach, Trestman was a longtime NFL assistant and served as the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. He was Oakland's offensive coordinator in 2002, a season in which quarterback Rich Gannon was named the NFL's MVP and the Raiders suffered a 48-21 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Gannon was 37 when he won the MVP award in Trestman's system in 2002 after throwing for 4,689 yards and 26 touchdowns.
As the NFL scouting combine gets underway this week, more than 300 prospects will be taking their talents to Lucas Oil Stadium in hopes of impressing scouts, coaches and general managers from all 32 teams.
Based on the 40-yard dash, team interviews, position drills and other tests of the combine, there will be new information for coaches, executives and teams to think about as the NFL draft approaches.
What do you think is the most important part of the NFL combine? Weigh in on the combine and which quarterback prospect you think has the most to prove this week.
The NFL scouting combine runs from Tuesday to Monday. On-field workouts begin on Friday and will continue through Monday. Quarterbacks arrive at the combine on Wednesday with medical examinations on Thursday, bench press on Friday and on-field workouts on Saturday.
The NFL draft is April 27-29.
-- Isaac Chipps
Can you believe it? The NFL franchise tag has been in use for 25 offseasons, dating to 1993 and the start of the free-agency/salary-cap era.
During that span, we've seen teams benefit from the arrangement when they preferred not to make a long-term commitment to their best players. The tag has sometimes provided the necessary structure to jump-start negotiations. Occasionally, we've seen it work out well for players. (Seattle Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones got to sit out three consecutive training camps, all while earning top dollar as the franchise player, before signing a lucrative long-term deal in 2005.)
So in this momentous year, let's look back at five of the best and worst franchise-tag decisions of 202 total from 1993 to 2016.
Quality is based on the perspective of the team, rather than the player who was tagged, and is, of course, up for debate.
Best franchise-tag decisions
Sean Gilbert, DT, Washington Redskins | Years: 1997-98
The Redskins paid dearly to acquire Gilbert in 1996, sending the No. 6 overall pick to the Rams, so they wanted to get more than one season for their trouble. But Gilbert was a union-minded veteran who drove a hard bargain, and he sat out the 1997 season rather than play under the franchise tag. Rather than pay him, though, the Redskins used the franchise tag again and waited while the Panthers rescued them. Rather than getting saddled with a weighty deal the Panthers soon regretted, the Redskins turned Gilbert into a pair of future first-round picks.
Peerless Price, WR, Buffalo Bills | Year: 2003
Sometimes, teams use the franchise tag to increase trade return. The Bills capitalized on Price's career year -- 94 receptions, 1,252 yards, nine touchdowns -- in 2002 to dangle him with the tag the following offseason. The Falcons were known to regret passing on Price in the 1999 draft and still wanted him as a weapon for quarterback Michael Vick. Atlanta surrendered its first-round pick in 2003, No. 23 overall, for a player the Bills weren't planning to bring back. In turn, the Bills used the pick on tailback Willis McGahee -- who sat out his rookie year while recovering from a knee injury but then produced 3,365 yards and 24 touchdowns from 2004 to 2006.
Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee Titans | Year: 2008
Haynesworth was one of the NFL's most dynamic and confounding interior disruptors at the time, and the Titans did not meet his demands for a long-term deal. They let him play out the 2008 season under the tag, getting a career-high 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles from him, and then let him sign a monster free-agent contract with the Redskins in 2009. (By prior agreement, the Titans couldn't tag him again.) His new deal -- which included a then-record $41 million in guarantees -- turned out to be one of the worst in free-agent history. Haynesworth was totally disinterested in playing, was traded after appearing in only 20 games and was out of football by the end of the 2011 season. Whether by design or accident, the Titans got out from under him just in time.
In part because of their shrewd/ruthless use of the tag, the Bears got eight highly productive years from Forte at an overall average of $4.375 million per season. Between 2008 and 2015, no running back had more combined rushing/receiving yards than Forte (12,718). The Bears made him a low offer in 2011, knowing they could use the tag in 2012 if needed. Forte turned it down, and the following year, the sides agreed on a four-year deal worth $32 million. At the time, Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson was earning more than $14 million per year. Forte's compensation remains one of the most stark examples of how the franchise tag can suppress the salary of high-end players.
Anthony Spencer, DE/LB, Dallas Cowboys | Years: 2012-13
In truth, this two-year arrangement worked out well (financially) for both sides. In 2012, Spencer delivered the Cowboys a career season. He totaled 11 sacks and 95 total tackles in 14 games, in exchange for about $8.8 million. The Cowboys franchised him for a second consecutive year in 2013, at a cost of $10.6 million. Spencer then suffered a knee injury that required microfracture surgery. He played in only one game that season and was out of football by 2015. So in the end, the Cowboys were able to pay as they went rather than commit to a long-term deal. And Spencer received a total of $19.4 million over two years, at least as much if not more than he would have taken in over two seasons of a multiyear deal.
Worst franchise-tag decisions
Joey Galloway, WR, Seahawks/Cowboys | Year: 2000
Let's be clear. The Seahawks made a great decision to franchise Galloway, even though he was 29 and had caught only 22 passes in 1999 after an eight-game holdout. The Cowboys made the huge blunder here. They were so infatuated with the idea of adding a playmaking receiver that they sent two first-round picks to acquire Galloway's rights. He never produced a 1,000-yard season for them and scored only 11 touchdowns in three full seasons before being traded again in 2004. The Seahawks used the picks to select running back Shaun Alexander in 2000 and receiver Koren Robinson in 2001.
Steve Hutchinson, G, Seahawks | Year: 2006
In this case, the Seahawks erred in not using the franchise tag. Hutchinson was an All-Pro player who wanted elite money at a position that rarely got it. The Seahawks used the transition tag, which offered them only the right of first refusal, to let Hutchinson find his true worth on the market. He did, signing a precedent-setting $49 million offer sheet with the Vikings that contained a "poison pill" that made it impossible for the Seahawks to match. In the end, the Seahawks got too cute and received no compensation for losing a Hall of Fame player that they wanted back all along.
Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers | Year: 2014
To be fair, the Panthers extended the tag three months before Hardy was charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend. He already had signed the tender by the time the incident occurred, preventing the Panthers from rescinding it. But in the end, the Panthers got only one game out of him (and one sack) while still paying the entirety of his $13.4 million salary. Almost no production, and nationwide scorn, proved a double scar for the franchise.
A 26-year-old pass-catching tight end who had produced 127 catches and 10 total touchdowns over the previous two seasons? Clay sure seemed to be a keeper. But the Dolphins apparently weren't convinced. They passed on the $8.347 million franchise number in favor of the $7.071 million transition tag. That decision, worth $1.276 million in potential savings, cost them a player they are still trying to replace. Clay signed a massive offer sheet with the Bills. The Dolphins didn't match. After veteran Jordan Cameron fell short the past two seasons, the Dolphins will finalize this month a trade for another tight end, Julius Thomas. Clay, meanwhile, has caught 108 passes for the Bills.
Josh Norman, CB, Panthers | Year: 2015
I did my best last season to justify and explain the Panthers' thinking here. There was absolutely an argument to make for allowing a 29-year-old cornerback to move on, especially by a team that philosophically favors building from the interior, rather than committing to multiple years of eight-digit salaries. But you must have a reasonable plan for replacement, and the 2016 season proved the Panthers did not. They ranked No. 24 in defensive QBR, allowing the fourth-most passing yards in the NFL (4,291), despite a pass rush that recorded 47 sacks -- second most in the NFL. If nothing else, the Panthers should have allowed Norman to play out the season on the franchise tag and then parted ways.
Say what you want about Jeffery's past two seasons -- derailed because of injuries and suspension -- but he's an accomplished and coveted player. Jeffery averaged 72.2 receiving yards per game for the Bears; only Brandon Marshall (78.3) averaged more per game in team history (32-game minimum). Wide receivers like Jeffery, 27, rarely hit free agency -- most teams go out of the way to extend No. 1 receivers.
There will be substantial interest in Jeffery’s services beginning March 9, and the Bears' reluctance to engage in any recent meaningful contract talks puts them at a disadvantage. Jeffery wants to play for a contender and will strongly explore all options.
Without Jeffery, the Bears are vulnerable at wide receiver.
The franchise hasn’t abandoned hope that 2015 first-round pick Kevin White will develop into a star player. Unfortunately, White has suffered two separate season-ending injuries to the same leg since the Bears drafted him. There is no way of knowing if he’ll ever pan out.
Veteran Eddie Royal has enjoyed a fruitful NFL career, but he has been unable to stay healthy the past two years. In the final year of his contract, Royal is set to earn $5 million, but none of it is guaranteed. Former seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson, who is seemingly always hurt, is coming out of his original rookie contract. Receivers such as Josh Bellamy (restricted free agent) and Deonte Thompson (exclusive rights free agent), who played large roles in 2017, are better-suited for special teams. Daniel Braverman, Chicago’s 2016 seventh-round choice, barely played last year as a rookie.
Third-year receiver Cameron Meredith is coming off an impressive season, but no one is ready to anoint him a No. 1.
The Jeffery decision creates a gaping hole on the depth chart. The Bears have to get serious about pursuing receivers in free agency and the draft, but will any be better than Jeffery? Remember, Jeffery has 13 career 100-yard receiving games. And in 2013 and '14, Jeffery combined for 174 receptions, 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns.
That’s not easy production to replace.
Yes, using the franchise tag to sign Jeffery for $17.5 million would have been a large salary-cap number for one player to carry. But Chicago is positioned to be in the top five in cap space (the cap is also expanding), and that is before $13 million is cleared with the expected release or trade of QB Jay Cutler.
Speaking of quarterback, the Bears are moving on from Cutler and therefore are expected to have a new starter in 2017. If the new quarterback happens to be a younger player, or maybe even Jimmy Garoppolo, whom is he supposed to throw the ball to? While the Bears plan to prioritize an offseason quarterback upgrade, how can they allow the club’s most decorated receiver to walk away for nothing? Even a veteran bridge quarterback -- Brian Hoyer, for example -- can thrive only with quality receivers.
The Bears have essentially left the cupboard bare -- unless they aggressively address receiver in the draft and beyond.
Chicago already had glaring needs at quarterback, tight end, cornerback and safety before they declined to apply a second franchise tag on Jeffery.
Why create another unnecessary void on the roster?
There is a strong likelihood that Jeffery will sign with another team once free agency begins on March 9, the source said.
Teams have until Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET to use their franchise designation.
NFL Network first reported the news of the Bears' plans.
Jeffery's numbers took a hit the past two seasons because of injuries and a suspension, but the 2013 Pro Bowl selection is one of the most productive receivers in team history and is still an upper-echelon receiver, with 13 career 100-yard receiving games.
Despite playing under the $14.599 million franchise tag in 2016, Jeffery caught only 52 balls for 821 yards and 2 touchdowns in 12 appearances, as Chicago started three different quarterbacks -- Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. He missed four games after serving a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
From 2013-14, Jeffery combined for 174 receptions, 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns. He missed seven games due to a variety of injuries in 2015.
He was drafted by the Bears in the second round in 2012 out of South Carolina.
A closer look at the positions the Chicago Bears could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Positions of need: The Bears have to get serious about drafting a quarterback. After eight years with Jay Cutler, Chicago is ready to move in a different direction. The club might explore a trade with New England for Jimmy Garoppolo, or they could look to sign another veteran quarterback such as Brian Hoyer or Mike Glennon. But regardless, the Bears need an infusion of young talent. Chicago has drafted only four quarterbacks since 2005 -- Kyle Orton, Dan LeFevour, Nate Enderle and David Fales. None remain with the team. The Bears can no longer ignore the most important position in all of sports. At some point -- probably in the early rounds -- the Bears are expected to address the need (unless they hit a home run and trade for Garoppolo). In the defensive backfield, the Bears have no proven playmakers aside from veteran Tracy Porter. One of last year’s fourth-round picks, Deiondre' Hall, figures to get a look at cornerback, but Hall played sparingly as a rookie. Former first-round pick Kyle Fuller shockingly missed an entire season because of a routine knee scope. Bringing Fuller back -- under any circumstances -- sends a terrible message to the rest of the locker room. The picture at safety is even more confusing after Adrian Amos, Harold Jones-Quartey and Deon Bush (another 2016 fourth-round choice) spent the year in and out of the starting lineup. As a team, the Bears finished the season with only eight interceptions. And at tight end, Chicago is dangerously thin. Veteran Zach Miller is a terrific pass-catcher when healthy, but he suffered another season-ending injury in 2016. Miller should return, but the Bears have to protect themselves at the position. At receiver, Alshon Jeffery could bolt via free agency, and 2015 top pick Kevin White has played in just four regular-season games because of injuries. Veteran Eddie Royal is coming off another subpar year and is out of guaranteed money. Marquess Wilson suffered yet another injury a couple of months before his original rookie contract expires.
Mitch Trubisky (quarterback), North Carolina: Trubisky could be a risky pick because he made so few career starts at North Carolina. But Kyle Long had only five career starts at Oregon before the Bears drafted him in Round 1 and he went on to make three straight Pro Bowls. The Bears have to investigate all available quarterbacks. Trubisky is at the top of the list.
Deshaun Watson (quarterback), Clemson: Again, the Bears have to properly vet all the quarterbacks. But there is plenty of tape on Watson, who led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff National Championship. Watson is known for his leadership skills and would be a breath of fresh air in the post-Cutler era. But some believe he isn’t worthy of a top-five pick. Whether it’s Watson, Trubisky, DeShone Kizer or Patrick Mahomes, the Bears cannot reach for a quarterback. But drafting a quarterback is critical, and Watson is one of the best all-around passers in this class.
Jonathan Allen (defensive end), Alabama: Allen doesn’t fill a specific need, but he might be the best available player at No. 3 overall. The consensus top defensive player in college football last year, Allen can play inside or outside. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio could have a field day with Allen, who left Alabama with 22.5 sacks in his final two seasons.
Jamal Adams (safety), LSU: Adams is a hybrid safety who wreaks havoc all over the field. The Bears have suffered through a revolving door at safety since Chris Harris and Danieal Manning started in 2010, which is also the last time Chicago reached the postseason. Adams is a big-time athlete who would start day one and never look back.
Marshon Lattimore (cornerback), Ohio State: Lattimore has the size to play man-to-man in the 3-4. The Bears have to overhaul their entire secondary, and cornerbacks are typically valued more than safeties. The idea of Lattimore in Round 1 is intriguing because it’s much easier (and less expensive) to draft a starting cornerback than to sign one in free agency.
"I still believe he can play at a very high level," McCown said on SiriusXM NFL Radio with Ross Tucker and Greg McElroy.
McCown, 37, has unique insight into the mind of Cutler. The two enjoy a close friendship going back to when McCown played for the Chicago Bears in 2011 and 2013.
McCown -- who passed for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in '13 -- left Chicago for Tampa the following season, but the quarterbacks stayed in contact.
McCown -- a free agent -- is convinced a market exists for Cutler, who turns 34 in April. The Bears are likely to release Cutler if they cannot find a trade partner. There is no guaranteed money left on Cutler’s deal, and the Bears open up $13 million in salary-cap space with him off the roster.
Cutler played in just five games in 2016, passing for four touchdowns and five interceptions. The embattled quarterback has tossed 109 interceptions since joining the Bears in 2009.
"He had a rough one this year dealing with injuries," McCown said. "But as we’ve said for a long time -- the skill set is there. With a quarterback-driven league, and often a quarterback-needy league, you have to think there will be opportunities (for him). It’s just finding the right one he feels matches his skill set. Finding the right people. And if he wants to continue playing.
"I know he’ll make the best decision he can for him and his family. I root for him either way it goes. As a friend, and a football fan, and as a guy who appreciates quarterbacks, I hope he continues to play and finds a good spot where he can play good football. Because I believe that is still in his future."
McCown, however, is unsure about Cutler's willingness to accept a backup role. Except for one brief week late in 2014 when ex-Bears head coach Marc Trestman benched Cutler for Jimmy Clausen, Cutler has been the unquestioned starter his entire career. Cutler has appeared in 139 games since 2006 -- starting all of them.
"I don’t know [if he’d be a backup]," McCown said. "I haven’t really talked to him about that. If I had, I’d keep that between us. But every guy, especially guys who have played a long time as starters as he has -- it’s not an easy transition for several reasons. You’re stimulated by the process of being the guy, getting the reps, and a financial component where you go, 'I don’t necessarily have to be backup.' All things considered, that is a hard transition for a lot of guys."
On NBA trade deadline day, our NFL Nation reporters picked the best trades by all 32 franchises in NFL history.
Certainly, the New England Patriots' 2007 trade for Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders for a fourth-round pick made our list. Some wondered if Moss would fit in on Bill Belichick's team, but the receiver recorded an NFL single-season record 23 touchdown catches in the Patriots' undefeated regular season.
Back in 1992, the Green Bay Packers sent a first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for some guy named Brett Favre. And who could forget the blockbuster 1989 trade between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings? The Cowboys sent Herschel Walker to the Vikings in exchange for eight draft picks. That deal laid the foundation for the Cowboys' run of Super Bowls in the 1990s.
The careers of Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Joe Namath, Jerome Bettis, John Elway, Dick Butkus, Marshall Faulk and Jerry Rice's were impacted by trades. It's hard to imagine how their careers would have turned out on different teams.
What do you think? What is the best trade in NFL history?
The NFL's trading period for 2017 begins March 9 at 4 p.m. ET. Until then, teams may agree on a trade but it can't become official.
-- John Wilmhoff