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This is the first in a series of position-by-position looks at the Bears' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. We begin with an analysis of Chicago's QB situation.
Overview: Lost in the loud chorus of harsh criticism — much of it unfair — that QB Jay Cutler received during and after the Bears' loss in the NFC championship game was the fact that Cutler performed well in some difficult circumstances for much of the 2010 season. He was learning Mike Martz's complex offense, playing behind a porous offensive line and lacking a true No. 1 wide receiver. Despite that, he threw 23 TD passes and 16 interceptions and had a completion percentage of 60.4. A decent year ended badly with an awful showing against Green Bay, before he left with an MCL tear, and it will be intriguing to see how he responds next season.
The team will have to make some decisions about the personnel behind Cutler on the depth chart, as his backups, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie, both have contracts that will expire this offseason. Hanie is due to become a restricted free agent and Collins will be unrestricted. Collins, 39, who was signed to a one-year deal in late August after Martz pushed for him to be brought in, is not expected to be back. Hanie, who earned some points with his play in relief of Cutler and Collins the NFC championship game, could return.
Here's a breakdown of each of the quarterbacks on the roster:
Jay Cutler: Some league observers have said that Cutler's improper mechanics — he throws off his back foot at times — are one of his main flaws, and Martz has admitted that they could use some work. No one questions Cutler's athletic ability, though. He has plenty of arm strength and mobility. Cutler used his considerable improvisational skills to his advantage frequently last season, rushing for a career-high 232 yards (4.6 yards per carry). His decision making is still questionable at times and he takes huge, ill-advised risks that sometimes result in turnovers. Cutler will need to improve in that area — he has thrown 43 interceptions in his 33 games with the Bears, including the playoffs. The injury he suffered against the Packers was supposed to take 3-4 weeks to heal, so that shouldn't be an issue for him going forward.
Todd Collins: Collins was dreadful when he had opportunities to play last season. He didn't throw a touchdown pass, was picked off five times and finished with a QB rating of 5.9. The passing game was a nonfactor when he was under center and he didn't show the veteran poise that was expected from him. His career is likely over.
Caleb Hanie: We still have a very small sample size to consider — Hanie had 14 career regular-season passing attempts before entering the NFC championship game late in the third quarter. He did spark the offense on a big stage against Green Bay, but he also threw two picks, including one that was returned for a TD by NT B.J. Raji. Overall, that performance boosted Hanie's stock and he could become a top backup somewhere, if not in Chicago.
Bottom line: Cutler is not going to win many popularity contests away from Halas Hall, but the Bears are behind their franchise QB and they need to surround him with a better supporting cast on offense this offseason. Hanie has made a solid case that he's ready to be a No. 2 QB in the league and we'll have a better sense of where he'll fit next year if and when the Bears tender him this offseason.