When the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens tangle on Sunday at Soldier Field, it will represent more than an opportunity for the Bears to win against the defending Super Bowl champions. It will also be an opportunity to take a glimpse into their own future.
That’s because the Ravens have been hampered this season by the play, and the contract, of QB Joe Flacco. Sure, it doesn’t help that he is constantly under assault from opposing defenses, getting sacked 30 times this year (only Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill have been sacked more), but his numbers aren’t anything to point to with pride.
Even with Ray Rice finally showing the wear and tear that one could expect from a back that runs with his sense of reckless abandon, Flacco has only racked up 2307 yards passing (10th in the league), and has thrown 12 TD’s and 11 INT’s.
Making matters worse, Flacco is throwing the ball more often. He has already attempted 346 passes in nine games this season, and his completion percentage of 59 percent is good for 23rd in the league. His QB rating of 77.3 is the lowest it has ever been in his career.
Flacco’s struggles are only magnified because of the massive contract he signed in the offseason.
The deal, for six years and $120.6 million ($52 million of which is guaranteed) made him the richest player in the league after he led the squad to a Super Bowl title last year. The move also caused a bit of a salary cap headache for the Ravens, who had to send Anquan Boldin, their best wide receiver by a mile in the playoffs, to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth round draft pick.
It’s the contractual part of things that should scare Bears fans the most. With Cutler coming up to free agency, he and his agent will likely be seeking a sizable pay increase and some decent terms to go with it. After all, it will probably be the last chance in Cutler’s career to sign a long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money, so all the hope for a hometown discount is likely just a pipe dream.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they aren’t in a position where they can just open up their wallets and forget the consequences. All season long, the team has been dealing with only having a small amount of cap space, and after the season ends, they will have to deal with over half of the roster hitting free agency. Some of the guys won’t command much in the way of raises, but players like Charles Tillman, Robbie Gould, and Corey Wootton are all on the list of guys who will want to get paid handsomely for their services.
Add to that slew of free agents the fact that the Bears’ defense is in shambles at the moment, and you can see the writing on the wall for GM Phil Emery. If he gives in to Cutler and gives him a Flacco-like five-year deal with $35-40 million in guaranteed money, he will be losing a significant amount of cap flexibility to try to fix a defense that has been abysmal this year.
The Ravens paid Flacco in at least some part because they wanted to avoid the PR hit that would have come had they let the Super Bowl-winning quarterback sign somewhere else for a massive deal. The Bears could be in a similar situation to the Ravens if the best quarterback they've had in half a century were to leave the organization, and it will be interesting to see whether that perceived public pressure causes Emery to be a bit more aggressive.
That knowledge leaves the Bears in a bit of a bind when it comes to the Cutler situation, and they need only look across the field Sunday to see what their future could bring if they overpay for a starting quarterback that isn’t necessarily among the NFL’s elite, but gets paid like he is.