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If Jay Cutler fails in ’13, Bears are better off moving on

In four seasons with Bears Jay Cutler has 34-22 record an 81.9 passer rating. | Sun-Times Library

In four seasons with the Bears, Jay Cutler has a 34-22 record and an 81.9 passer rating. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: August 15, 2013 6:35AM

The first practice of Bears training camp isn’t until July 26, but excitement for it already is bubbling over around town. Some of that has to do with all the bad baseball we’ve had to endure. And some of it has to do with the void left by the Blackhawks’ long championship run.

But most of it, I think, has to do with the raging hope that this is the season Jay Cutler finally puts it together, thanks to some new talent around him and a new coach. Bears faithful are praying, with fingers crossed, that this is the season Cutler lives up to the promise attached to him when he arrived like a cranky messiah in 2009.

But what if the quarterback, gasp, has a bad year? Or even an average year? What if all the pieces are in place, even a good offensive line, and he still performs below expectations? What if he’s mediocre, and the Bears don’t make the playoffs?

I’m not trying to be negative here (it just comes naturally). I’m trying to be pragmatic.

If Cutler struggles in 2013, what do you do about him going forward?

You let him go forward right out of town.

He has one year left on his contract. For the Bears, the correct answer to whether Cutler should get a new deal is not, “Who else are we going to find?’’ That’s a defeatist attitude. It says that you’re willing to accept something less and that you don’t have confidence in your ability to identify talent.

With a new left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) and a new tight end (Martellus Bennett), there is reason to think the Bears will finally have a good offense. If not, sorry, the blame falls on Cutler. In his four years with the Bears, he has a 34-22 record and an 81.9 passer rating. Nothing about that says “franchise quarterback.’’

It’s why this season is so big for the organization and perhaps why new coach Marc Trestman sidestepped a question early on about whether Cutler is a franchise quarterback. He shrewdly took a wait-and-see approach.

“He wants Jay to earn that in his eyes,” general manager Phil Emery said. “That’s OK, I’m good with that.”

Emery, who’ll have the loudest voice in the discussion of a new contract for Cutler, has no trouble uttering the ‘‘F’’ word.

‘’I see Jay as a franchise quarterback,’’ he said in January. ‘’We’ve got to build around him. That’s been the goal from the beginning — to build around Jay and to build our team toward championships.’’

Can Cutler lead the Bears to a Super Bowl? No one can say they know the answer to that question. The Bears surely haven’t put him in the best position to succeed in the past. There have been problems on the offensive line and at wide receiver since he arrived from Denver.

But he hasn’t always played well, either. He has forced passes. If you listen to experts in the passing game, his throwing mechanics aren’t good and, worse, he has seemed unwilling to change them. Then there’s the sideshow of his blowups with teammates and coaches. Of course, nobody cares about any of that if a quarterback wins.

If Cutler doesn’t play well and the Bears re-sign him anyway, it’s going to be an expensive proposition. If they put the franchise tag on him, he’ll earn the average of whatever the top five NFL quarterbacks are making, which is to say oodles. If they sign him to a long-term contract, they’ll have to give him big money because other teams likely will be in line to do the same. The promise of Jay Cutler has always been his best selling point. No reason to believe teams will be able to fight off the urge.

If the Bears win it all this season, Cutler is going to be much richer than he already is. And worth every penny. The Ravens won last season’s Super Bowl, and not long after, quarterback Joe Flacco received a six-year, $120.6 million contract. Cutler doesn’t take care of the ball as well as Flacco does, but you get the idea in terms of dollars.

Should he stay or should he go?

If he plays well, throw wads of money at him. If he doesn’t, see ya. That might seem like the seesawing of a manic talk-show host, but in this case, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of in between.

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