By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The quarterback from Santa Claus, Indiana just got another Christmas morning.
A year ago Jay Cutler was celebrating the acquisition of pet target Brandon Marshall, after new Bears GM Phil Emery realized that necessity and struck quickly to fill it. The successful Denver connection was reunited, old friend Jeremy Bates was installed as quarterbacks coach, and evil weirdo Mike Martz was sent packing.
The idea then was to protect and empower Cutler, finally allowing him to fulfill all the promise envisioned when he was brought to Chicago in 2009. Give him the tools he wants, give him a playbook that takes advantage of his skills, clear away impediments, and watch the magic happen.
Annnd…not so much.
So the next time around Emery redoubled the efforts to drag the offense into modernity, still banking on Cutler's combination of prodigious talent and maddening inconsistency, even as he turns 30. In comes Marc Trestman with his bookish, wonky offensive philosophy and Canadian-league titles, and coordinator Aaron Kromer, he of the Saints pedigree.
Then Emery got the checkbook out again, outbidding others for the best available tight end and a two-time Pro-Bowl left tackle. Martellus Bennett is a three-down player capable of doing at a high level all that is asked of the position in a west-coast-based system, and Jermon Bushrod's established abilities should quiet blind-side nerves.
As the one-two punch of news rolled in Monday afternoon, one could imagine Cutler's own reaction being as effusive as that of the most emotionally-connected meatball at the end of the bar. Yet one could also see him stop in mid-cartwheel upon realizing that more than ever – and perhaps for the final opportunity as a Bear – it's all on him.
Cutler is in the final year of his contract, and this is it.
Emery's plan is clear: no more wondering about which offense fits him, and no more apologizing for his lack of surrounding help. He is not to be dishing out angry shoves to this left tackle, nor rolling his eyes and throwing up his arms in exasperation over this tight end. No sideline hissy fits about play-calling hiccups, either, with experienced pros set to run a tighter operation.
It starts now with the critical evaluation of Cutler, concurrent with a full-out push to win this year's Super Bowl before the aging defense erodes and collapses. OTA's, mini-camp, Bourbonnais, the preseason and probably 10 real games or so before Emery makes the call on the future of the best quarterback in team history.
Both Emery and Trestman have steered carefully around loaded adjectives when discussing Cutler in public. No labels like "elite" or "franchise quarterback" have any real meaning to anyone in this equation that matters, but the deliberate nature of their remarks continues to suggest something less than full commitment as they anticipate the chance to make the most informed decision possible.
This is not in any way to suggest that Cutler is being set up. Quite the contrary is true, as the ideal scenario involves the kind of wild, explosive success that makes the next gilded contract a joy for the Bears to offer. All anybody wants is for this to finally, blessedly work after three coordinators, three QB-coach stooges, innumerable line combinations, too many sacks, pressures, dropped passes, missed blocks, and interceptions.
It's all coming from a good place, trying to help Jay Cutler help the Bears.
But depending on how you look at it, sometimes increased protection can look an awful lot like exposure.
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