LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A pair of accomplished and respected Chicago Bears players told ESPNChicago.com on Wednesday night that a portion of the locker room feels "confused and uncomfortable" over how coach Marc Trestman handled Jay Cutler's benching compared to the minor discipline offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer received last week.
But while noting that a faction of Cutler detractors exists inside Halas Hall, the general belief is the respective punishments for Cutler and Kromer are gravely inconsistent, after the Bears' offensive coordinator received "basically a slap on the wrist" for his very public indiscretions when he tearfully revealed in a team meeting on Dec. 8 that he was the anonymous source cited in a published NFL Media report highly critical of the quarterback.
Kromer coached the Bears from the sidelines during Monday night's 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints, and is expected to finish out the season.
This further magnifies the distrust between Trestman and the locker room, an on-going issue during much of the Bears' disappointing 5-9 season, according to the players.
CHICAGO -- You can imagine the scene here on Wednesday.
Thousands of Chicago Bears fans checking their smartphones on their train ride home, or stewing in late-afternoon traffic, or getting dinner ready for their kids, and realizing the moment they never thought would happen had already happened.
ESPN Insider Adam Schefter had the news: "Stunner from Chicago: Bears starting QB Jimmy Clausen this week, per source."
Fathers called sons. Bartenders poured shots. Radio lines were open, then jammed. Lots of people blinked and refreshed their Twitter feeds. Is this another Schefter fake account?
Nope, it was real.
Where were you when Jay Cutler was benched?
Bears head coach Marc Trestman getting fired? That's expected. General manager Phil Emery getting canned? Sure, makes sense.
But Cutler? I thought he'd never leave. If we had a zombie apocalypse, he'd find a way to get $20 million.
"Well, he's really good at firing rocks at zombies," the rebel leader would say with a shrug.
The Bears finally benched Cutler after nearly six seasons, 81 games, 129 touchdowns, 93 interceptions, four offensive coordinators, two contract extensions, two head coaches, two general managers and about 60 million tweets debating his value, personality, moxie, toughness, face, head, hair, heart and arm.
We've parsed every bit of Cutler's being these past six years, and the only thing we've learned is Cutler isn't The Guy. He's just a guy. Another failed quarterback for a franchise bedeviled by the position.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter dropped a stunner Wednesday night when he reported the Chicago Bears' plan to bench $126.7 million quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of backup Jimmy Clausen on Sunday when the club hosts the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.
The situation brings to mind one that transpired in 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida, when former head coach Jack Del Rio made the decision to bench and eventually cut former No. 7 overall pick Byron Leftwich in favor of David Garrard.
When Del Rio informed people inside the organization of the decision he’d long been wrestling with, the team’s assistants agreed -- at least publicly -- while folks on the personnel side, including former front-office boss James “Shack” Harris, vehemently disagreed. The situation became so heated it forced a meeting with then team owner Wayne Weaver involving Del Rio and those on the personnel side against the move.
Del Rio swayed Weaver to give him final say in that decision by making the argument that, ultimately, ownership holds the coach accountable whether the team is successful or not. So if Del Rio was going down, he wanted to do it with the man he preferred under center.
That’s not to say that’s exactly what’s going on behind closed doors at Halas Hall. But with questions concerning Marc Trestman’s job security, if he is going to go down in flames, he'd likely prefer to do so with a quarterback he knows will execute the system the way he asks. As opposed to someone doing his own thing, which is what Cutler has done for the better part of the season -- based on observations from NFL experts such as Trent Dilfer -- leading to serious struggles and the quarterback leading the league in turnovers (24).
Former Bears backup Josh McCown played within the confines of Trestman’s scheme last season, filling in for an injured Cutler and finishing with 13 touchdown passes and one interception while setting the single-season franchise record for passer rating (109.0). While it would be foolish to expect similar success from Clausen against the Lions on Sunday, what Trestman is likely counting on from the backup is for him to simply execute the offense the way he’s asked to, as opposed to freestyling and making the types of game-changing mistakes seen from Cutler.
It may be far-fetched to believe at this point that Trestman can save his job, but if he can find a way to defeat Detroit and the Lions’ vaunted defense with Clausen at the controls, the coach might be able to prove to ownership that he’s not the issue pulling down the team; that it was actually Cutler.
A quarterback whisperer if you will, Trestman made an admission Wednesday regarding Cutler that was telling.
Asked if he’d been able to coax the best from Cutler, Trestman admitted, “I think that’s evident I haven’t up to this point. Am I working on it? Yes. We’ve seen moments, but we haven’t done it on a consistent basis. I can’t hide from that.”
During a nationally televised loss Monday night to the New Orleans Saints, Cutler tossed three interceptions and generated a season-low passer rating of 55.8. He also produced a total QBR of 6.8 against the Saints, which registered as his second-worst performance of the season in that category (6.0 QBR in Week 10).
The highest-paid offensive player in the NFL this season, Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps, which ranks as third worst among all qualified players in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Trestman doesn’t need Clausen to flash Cutler’s immense physical skills: that rifle arm, that sneaky mobility. The coach just needs Clausen to execute within the system the way McCown did in 2013, and the way the team believed Cutler would when the club signed him last January to a seven-year contract extension.
It’s unlikely starting Clausen will save Trestman’s job. But at the very least, it allows him to go down his way as opposed to being forced to play a quarterback who has demonstrated time and time again a maddening inability to lead the team and consistently execute the scheme.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the team is planning a starting quarterback switch from Jay Cutler to Jimmy Clausen. The Bears have not made an announcement related to a potential move.
Cutler posted a 6.8 Total QBR and was sacked seven times in Monday night’s loss to the Saints. It was the second-worst quarterbacking performance of the week, better than only Johnny Manziel.
It was also the second time in six weeks that Cutler posted a Total QBR below 7.0 and the third time in that span in which he had a Total QBR lower than 25.
Cutler had a 59.0 Total QBR through Week 11, which ranked 15th-best in the NFL. His Total QBR since then is 43.6, which ranks 21st.
The cash value of Cutler’s contract this season is $22.5 million. That’s the highest in the NFL for a player who leads the league in both interceptions (18) and turnovers (24).
Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps. The average NFL quarterback averages a turnover for every 65.3 snaps.
Clausen hasn’t started a game since the 2010 season and the reason is likely due to his ineffectiveness then. Clausen went 1-9 as a starter for the Panthers that season. In those 10 games, he threw three touchdowns and nine interceptions, posting a league-worst Total QBR of 11.0
In fact, that Total QBR is the lowest season-ending QBR for a quarterback for any of the nine seasons in which that stat has been tracked.
Far from the only thing wrong
The problems for the Bears have been magnified in recent weeks because of the team’s struggles.
The other big issue they’re currently dealing with is that they can’t stop anyone. They lead the NFL with 409 points allowed.
Their defense added a league-leading 7.6 expected points per game in 2012. Last year they fell all the way to 30th, costing the team about 6.6 expected points per game. They are again 30th this year, costing the team about 7.3 expected points per game.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed 67.6 percent of their passes against the Bears this season, the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL. Their 3,811 passing yards allowed are the second-most of any team. They’ve allowed 33 touchdown passes, most in the NFL.
Teams have exposed the Bears secondary with intermediate-length passes. The Bears have allowed 48 completions on throws 11 to 15 yards downfield, the most in the NFL. Opponents have completed 59 percent of passes thrown at least 11 yards downfield, the worst percentage for a defense this season.
Opponents are putting up big numbers outside the numbers. They've allowed 18 touchdowns on such throws, one fewer than the team with the most, the Steelers.
Cutler has struggled this season in leading the Bears to a 5-9 record. In Monday's 31-15 loss to the New Orleans Saints, he threw two touchdowns but had three interceptions to bring his NFL-leading totals to 18 interceptions and 24 turnovers. He produced a season-low passer rating of 55.8 and generated a total QBR of 6.8, which registered as his second-worst performance of the season in that category (he had a 6.0 QBR in Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers). He also was sacked a season-high seven times against the Saints.
Cutler is the highest-paid offensive player in the NFL this season at $22.5 million and signed a seven-year contract after last season. Coach Marc Trestman informed him Wednesday morning that Clausen would get the start, sources told ESPN Senior NFL Insider Chris Mortensen.
Trestman admitted Wednesday before word spread of the benching that he hadn't been able to coax the best from Cutler.
"I think that's evident I haven't up to this point," Trestman said. "Am I working at it? Yes. We've seen moments, but we haven't done it on a consistent basis. I can't hide from that."
Trestman pointed to the offense as a whole, not just Cutler, in addressing the Bears' issues.
"We haven't been able to do the things that we want to get done," he said. "We're working towards that. But the answer to that is obvious. I'm trying to give you the most truthful answer, and that is, we've seen moments of it, but it's not where we need to go. It's not where we need to be. But it's not all about Jay. It's about our entire offense, working together to get it done."
The defense has ranked among the league's worst the past two seasons, but the bigger issue is the regression of the offense. The Bears have gone from second to 19th in scoring and have failed to hit the 30-point mark this year.
Clausen has appeared in three games for the Bears this season and completed three of nine passes. He will get the start against the Detroit Lions
“I think that’s evident I haven’t up to this point,” Trestman said. “Am I working at it? Yes. We’ve seen moments, but we haven’t done it on a consistent basis. I can’t hide from that.”
Cutler won’t let him.
The highest-paid offensive player in the NFL this season, Cutler currently leads the league in turnovers (24). On a per-play basis, Cutler has averaged a turnover every 33.3 snaps this season, which ranks as third-worst among all qualified players in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. What’s more is Cutler’s turnover rate is nearly twice as high as the average qualified NFL quarterback this season (the average is a turnover every 65.3 snaps).
“I haven’t been able [to coax the best from Cutler] and we haven’t been able to do the things that we want to get done,” Trestman said. “We’re working towards that. But the answer to that is obvious. I’m trying to give you the most truthful answer and that is, we’ve seen moments of it, but it’s not where we need to go. It’s not where we need to be. But it’s not all about Jay. It’s about our entire offense, working together to get it done.”
ESPN’s Jon Gruden hired Trestman back in 2001 to serve as a senior assistant with the Oakland Raiders, and during the broadcast said the Bears coach should consider benching Cutler and taking a look at backup Jimmy Clausen. Trestman indicated Wednesday he’s not quite ready to sit Cutler.
“Jon certainly has a right to his opinion, and each and every week we go through our evaluations all the way around,” Trestman said. “As I said, Jon’s got a right to his opinion.”
For the better part of the season, Trestman has talked extensively about the team’s great weeks of preparation, and admitted after a Nov. 10 blowout loss at Green Bay, to being “confounded” by the team’s inability to transfer the groundwork laid in practice to the games.
Against the Saints, the Bears converted just 2 of 12 third downs, which led to the club’s defense being on the field for 33 minutes and 31 seconds as Drew Brees ripped Chicago for 375 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Asked whether he was still confounded by Chicago’s preparation not transferring to games, Trestman acknowledged the club still hasn’t found answers, which for the organization, should be troubling considering just two outings remain in the 2014 season. At this point, it’s unclear whether a thorough offseason examination would adequately reveal all that ails Chicago’s offense.
“We haven’t been able to answer that question. We have to be honest with that,” Trestman said. “I’m being honest with you, we haven’t seen that. We haven’t been able to unlock that, and that’s the reason we’re 5-9.”
Rodgers told the NFL Network he was “baffled” by the situation, and criticized Kromer’s behavior while expressing empathy for what Cutler endured in the week leading up to Chicago’s loss to the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football."
“I would have a major problem if somebody said something like that,” Rodgers said. “I think anybody that plays the position, you can’t help but empathize with Jay for that situation. You talk all the time about being connected, being a unit, believing in each other. But if you have unnamed sources, people out there cutting you down, and then you find out it’s the person calling the plays… that would be really hard to deal with, to look at him the same way.”
During that meeting, Kromer apologized to Cutler, who said he “wasn’t angry” with the offensive coordinator.
But the entire situation resonated profoundly throughout the organization, with Bears general manager Phil Emery chiming in Monday night during the WBBM pregame show to vent his feelings.
"I’ve had to step back this week and let the emotions of those events quell down a little bit so that I was in position to listen and work through the processes and the structure we have to arrive at a conclusion that was in the best interest of the team,” Emery said. “I was very angry, to be honest with you, with what happened. Disappointed, upset, like many of our fans and like many of our players, which was obvious because that’s how the information got out, in terms of Aaron’s apology to the team.”
Rodgers told the NFL Network he “felt for Jay that he was having to deal with that.” Cutler, meanwhile, told WBBM after Monday’s game the entire situation “didn’t affect me preparing for the game” in which he threw three interceptions, was sacked seven times and produced a season-low passer rating of 55.8.
“I was surprised that the coach came out and admitted that it was him. I think, in general, unnamed sources are pretty gutless,” Rodgers said. “But then he comes out and admits it was him. I don't think he deserves any credit for that, but it was interesting that he did."
Rodgers pointed out the differences in work environments in Green Bay and Chicago, and credited coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson for creating an atmosphere in which communication rules and minimizes the prospects for such situations as what took place with the Bears from occurring.
"I would have a major problem with that, if [Green Bay offensive coordinator] Tom Clements was saying stuff like that about me -- which he never would, because Tom and I are so close, and I think we have good communication," Rodgers said. "I think there's a way of doing things when you have issues, and it's keeping it in-house.”
Cutler felt the same way, saying he learned early on in his career that it was better to operate that way.
“When I first got in the NFL [with the Denver Broncos], Mike Shanahan made a huge emphasis that things get kept in house. Throughout my nine years I’ve tried to abide by that policy and keep things in-house,” Cutler said. “Some years I’m better than other years. When [Bears coach Marc Trestman] got here, he was of the same method: Let’s try to keep things in house. And I think we’ve done a heck of a job throughout almost two years, haven’t had a lot of leaks, haven’t had a lot of things happen inside the building that have gotten out. Obviously we had something this time get out. It’s not a bad thing. It’s going to happen, and we’re not the first team it’s going to happen to and we won’t be the last team.”
Dungy was asked in an interview with The Sporting News whether the firing of his longtime friend and opponent in Super Bowl XLI was fair.
The Bears fired Smith on Dec. 31, 2012, a day after the club closed the season with a 26-24 triumph at Detroit to improve to 10-6. Chicago missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, and the organization believed it was time to head a different direction. So ownership brought aboard Marc Trestman.
Since making the change, the team -- which openly discussed the desire to close in on the Green Bay Packers -- has deteriorated under Trestman’s watch, finishing 8-8 in 2013, and well on the way now to a record worse than that in 2014.
Smith produced at least 10 victories in two of his final three seasons. Having worked for Indianapolis and Tampa Bay as a head coach, Dungy understood the win-now mindset that led to Smith’s ouster.
“Sometimes you can get spoiled by success,” Dungy said. “Nine-, 10-, 11-win seasons, but you didn’t get to the Super Bowl, so that’s unacceptable. You have to strive for more.”
Dungy declined to criticize Trestman, but mentioned Chicago’s front office hasn’t provided the coach enough talent to field a consistently competitive team.
"From the talent part, they’re really a ways away," Dungy said. "You take away some of the guys that Lovie had, [Charles] Tillman, [Julius] Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and you’re gonna be a ways away."
"Ever since I was a little kid, it's what I've wanted to do," Conte told WBBM Newsradio in Chicago. "In college, I didn't even graduate school because my senior year, I honestly let school be a casualty to that because I knew I had one opportunity to make it to the NFL, and I put everything into that. And I felt school's something I could figure out later.
"As far as after football, who knows. My life will revolve around football to some point, but I'd rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life. It's something I've wanted to do with my life and I wanted to accomplish. And I pretty much set my whole life up to accomplish that goal. So I don't really look toward my life after football because I'll figure things out when I get there and see how I am."
Conte, 25, has had a litany of injury issues this season -- also missing time due to a back injury, an eye injury and sprains of both shoulders. He's been held out of three games this season, and he has been unable to continue in seven of the 12 that he's seen action in.
"As long as I outlive my parents, then we'll be all right," Conte said.
Conte told ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson that his comments to WBBM do not reflect his stance specifically on concussions, claiming that he was referring to the general health risks of playing in the NFL.