- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.
So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Two things designate Jay Cutler as Chicago’s MVP: his $22.5 million base salary for 2014, and the fact that the team doesn’t have any other experienced quarterbacks currently under contract.
Obviously, long-time defensive stalwart Charles Tillman qualifies as a secondary MVP candidate given his leadership, production and ability to force the turnovers which have been a hallmark of Chicago’s defense over the years.
But Tillman, who earned $7.95 million in 2013, is set to become a free agent and will also be 32 once the 2014 season gets underway, which means he could be on the way out of Chicago. So at the moment the Bears have only one bona fide starter at corner on the roster (recently re-signed Tim Jennings) as potential backups such as Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden are also set to hit free agency.
As for Cutler, his contract runs through 2020. But because of the way the deal is structured the Bears are stuck with him for a least three more years (base salaries over the next three years of $22.5 million, $15.5 million and $16 million). Cutler’s passer rating of 89.2 in 2013 was surprisingly a career best. But he also missed five games due to injury. In fact, Cutler hasn’t played all 16 games of a season since 2009, which means the Bears need to protect themselves with a solid backup in case he’s forced to miss time.
The Bears did that last offseason by signing Josh McCown, who will be 35 next season and set to hit free agency at a time when the organization is tight against the cap. Even if the Bears bring back McCown, it will likely be a one-year deal at the veteran minimum.
So although Bears general manager Phil Emery said the club plans to target defense in the draft to infuse youth on that side of the ball, they also need to address quarterback at some point.