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Re-signing Josh McCown should be high priority for Bears

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears

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Updated: March 10, 2014 3:47PM

Josh McCown should be as important to the Bears’ offseason plan as their pursuit of defensive end Michael Bennett, addressing their concerns at safety or re-signing cornerback Charles Tillman.

That might sound crazy, considering the team’s defensive problems and because McCown might never play if Jay Cutler stays healthy.

But is it really?

McCown is more than a typical backup, which coach Marc Trestman undoubtedly understands better than the outside competition. Hence, Trestman said at the NFL Scouting Combine, “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure he is” with the Bears.

The defense is going to remain in transition regardless of who is signed when free agency opens Tuesday at 3 p.m., who is drafted in May or what type of scheme is built by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The offense — one that was just among the league’s best — will have to steer the ship, making McCown essential.

But this isn’t just about what McCown does on the field. It’s more than his abilities to competently run the “concepts” of Trestman’s offense, which culminated in his 109.0 passer rating, 66.5 completion percentage and 13 touchdown passes in five starts and eight ­appearances.

Trestman, being the quarterback whisperer he is, might be able to turn any journeyman into a ­quality fill-in. Quarterback Jordan Palmer was re-signed (along with defensive tackle Nate Collins) to a one-year deal late Sunday, but his return shouldn’t prevent McCown from coming back.

McCown’s value runs deeper.

His close relationship with Cutler can’t be ignored. It should be emphasized and valued with all the money invested in Cutler ($54 million guaranteed) and with an offense built to win. He helps Cutler be better — would other quarterbacks go to Cutler’s house to assist with game preparation? — and is a unifying presence in the locker room.

“We’ve all said we want Josh,” Trestman said at the combine. “We want him to be a part of our football team. We recognize how important he is not just as the backup quarterback, but as an influence in our locker room. He’s a great leader. He’s great for our quarterback room as well, which is the most important room in the building.”

Because of the collective bargaining agreement, McCown always was going to “hit the market” after signing a minimum-salary benefit deal in 2013, when the Bears were limited by the salary cap. And he’s said it more than once that it would be foolish for him not to listen to other teams at this point in his career.

Money definitely is being spent on quarterbacks. Chad Henne just received a two-year, $8 million deal from Jaguars and Matt Cassel signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Vikings.

McCown could be looking at lucrative offers from the Jets, Buccaneers, Texans and other teams yearning for that veteran role ­model or might-be starter.

But the Bears might not have to outbid such teams. They just need to be competitive with their offer, responding to the market they weren’t going to set. Their offer has to be a true sign of how much they value him. Make it incentive-based should he have to come in for Cutler, who hasn’t played a full season since 2009. But make sure it rewards him should he not.

The Bears know how much McCown values his situation here. He believes in what he, Cutler, quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and Trestman can accomplish together. The weapons he has here are better than nearly team in the league, too.

McCown and his wife, Natalie, also have said Chicago has worked for their North Carolina-based ­family better than previous locales. His family ultimately will be the most-important factor in his ­decision.

McCown just needs the right deal from the Bears.

“He knows exactly where he stands with us,” Trestman said at the combine. “When he’s ready to say, ‘I want to come back.’ I know [general manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure he is.”


Twitter: @adamjahns

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