If rumors are to be believed, the Bears are shopping JayCutler and have interest in 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. While the Bears are undergoing a rebuild under a new front office and coaching staff along with the loss of longtime staples Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, the 49ers are similarly searching for a new identity after the loss of Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore and Patrick Willis. It’s no secret the Bears planned to explore trade options with Cutler, but news that
is considering parting ways with Kaepernick comes as a bit of a surprise.
This year’s free agent class and draft class are incredibly weak at the quarterback position, and if the Bears are going to find a taker for Cutler’s money that may play in their favor. The same could be said for the 49ers. With few viable options available, the 49ers may be able to get a king’s ransom for a 27-year-old conference winning signal caller. I went into this piece thinking the best route for the Bears is to avoid Kaepernick at all costs, even if it means at least one more season of Cutler. But after sorting through pages of contracts and statistics, it began to look like a move that makes sense for the Bears.
Cutler and Kaepernick are relatively similar from a statistical standpoint. Kaepernick has only started two and a half NFL seasons, while Cutler has nine seasons under his belt. (For the sake of consistency these numbers will represent the 2012-2014 seasons.). But over the course of the last three seasons, Kaepernick has put up comparable, if not better numbers.
From 2012-2014, here is a list of how Cutler and Kaepernick compare in a variety of categories:
Completion Percentage (three season average):
Yards Per Catch (three season average):
QB Rating (three year average):
While Cutler leads in yards and touchdowns, Kaepernick has fewer than half the interceptions, throws for a higher completion percentage and has a high QB Rating. Add in Kaepernick’s mobility and the argument starts to shift considerably. In two-and-a-half seasons as a starter Kaepernick has run 259 times for 1,578 yards. Cutler has run 103 times for 542 yards. By no means am I the type to argue in favor of a rushing quarterback. I have yet to see one win a Super Bowl and until that happens, I will be a doubter. However, with Cutler at the helm, sacks have been a major issue. There is no doubt the Bears offered Cutler subpar offensive lines throughout his tenure, but the last two seasons weren’t nearly as bad as the seasons prior. Cutler also has the tendency to hold on to the ball too long and step into rather than away from pressure. Increased mobility that could be offered by Kaepernick may help alleviate that issue, thus making the offensive line more productive. Yes, Kaepernick was sacked an alarming 52 times last season, but Cutler also suffered a 52 sack season in 2010 when the Bears were one win from a Super Bowl.
The biggest obstacle blocking a trade of Cutler is his inflated contract. Jay is guaranteed $15.5 million next season and another $10 million the season after if he is on the roster past Thursday. Kaepernick has a base of $10.4 million this season with a $15.27 million cap hit and roughly $9.9 million in dead money. After this season, Cutler’s dead money shrinks to $6 million, while Kaepernick’s is $14.79 million. Both players become free agents after the 2020 season, but the dead money is off both deals after the 2018 campaign. From 2015-2018 Cutler is owed a total (both guaranteed and non-guaranteed) $66.5 million, while Kaepernick would cost $71.26. Factor in that Kaepernick is four years younger than Cutler and again, the scale tips a slight bit toward Kaepernick.
One of the biggest knocks against Cutler is his locker room and on-field leadership. He is not a vocal type and has rubbed a number of teammates and coaches the wrong way over the course of his career. I’ve spoken personally to a number of former teammates that off-the-record would tell me what they really thought of Jay as a teammate. Let me tell you, it’s not good. Kaepernick can be an odd dude as well. But if what the Bears are looking for is a complete culture change in the locker room, then a move from Cutler to Kaepernick would make a great deal of sense.
All things being equal I’d take Kaepernick over Cutler given the position the Bears are in. While I keep hearing the word “potential” used with Jay, he is 31-years-old and what you see at this point, is pretty much what you get. Some of that harvestable potential may still exist in Kaepernick. While he is far from a great quarterback, he would be a fine place holder for a couple seasons, and that’s something Jay can’t be at this point. Not after the rumors of the front office wanting him gone and the separation from his favorite target in Brandon Marshall.
If the Bears could find a way to deal Cutler and flip a similar package for Kaepernick it would be the wise move to make. But Kaepernick is likely to cost a lot more. And if there is a huge gap in the asking price, the difference between the two is simply not worth it.