Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is not stranger to coaching changes. | Paul Connors~AP
On New Year’s Eve, a day after completing his second-worst NFL season, Jay Cutler sounded tired, deflated and defeated.
Not like a franchise quarterback.
Asked about his status entering the final year of his contract, Cutler said, “We’ll see how it plays out.
“I think, first and foremost, their concern is going to be finding coaches, and we’ll address it from there.”
On Tuesday, chairman George McCaskey and general manager Phil Emery strongly backed Cutler.
McCaskey called him the team’s best quarterback in the last 60 years, likely dating back to Hall of Famer George Blanda, and Emery insisted the Bears have to “build around Jay and to build our team toward championships.”
But those words probably don’t give Cutler much peace of mind.
Two days after the 2008 season ended, after an epic late-season collapse, the Denver Broncos surprisingly fired Mike Shanahan. The Broncos became the first team since 1967 to blow a three-game lead with three games left, and owner Pat Bowlen axed his longtime coach, who drafted and developed Cutler.
Bowlen then assured Cutler he wouldn’t mess with the second-ranked offense, keeping the staff and roster largely intact. But an offensive coach, Josh McDaniels, was hired, and he fired many of the offensive assistants, including Jeremy Bates. The final betrayal, in Cutler’s eyes, was McDaniels expressing interest in trading for Matt Cassel, then refusing to admit it at first. In a later meeting, McDaniels made it clear that no player — including Cutler — was off-limits via trade.
By April, Cutler was traded to the Bears.
On Monday, Cutler deflected when asked about that emotional 2009 offseason.
“The only thing I’m really thinking,’’ Cutler said, ‘‘is I wish we could have done more offensively, wish we could have made more plays and won a few more games here and there and I think overall just be more consistent offensively.
“I think that definitely would have helped things.”
Cutler liked and admired coach Lovie Smith, who always backed him, just like Shanahan, and he was shocked by what went down Monday.
Now Cutler faces the unknown again.
He probably doesn’t feel as fiercely loyal to the current offensive staff, although Bates did join the Bears last offseason.
And Cutler’s tepid answer when asked about Bates’ chances of sticking around could point to where his confidence is at.
“I don’t know; I have no idea,” Cutler said. “I would say no, but that’s a guess.”
Cutler also said he isn’t interested in assisting in the search for a new coach, although he added, “I don’t think they’re going to ask me.”
But surely Emery will ask Cutler about Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. This weekend, Emery will interview McCoy in Denver.
For a short time, McCoy and Cutler overlapped in Denver after McDaniels hired him.
If Emery really wants the highly coveted McCoy, Cutler might have to win him over and show he’s not a coach killer. McCoy, after all, also is expected to interview for the vacancies with the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills.
Whoever is hired, Cutler faces a crucial period in his life.
He became a father in July, he’ll presumably get married to fiancée Kristin Cavallari at some point, he’ll turn 30 in April and he’ll be entering the final year of his contract.
It’ll be put up or shut up for Cutler, and the size of his next deal — perhaps his final blockbuster — will depend on whatever he does in 2013.
A few weeks ago, Cutler provided a backhanded endorsement of offensive coordinator Mike Tice by noting how many different coaches he has worked with and the positives of continuity. But on Monday, Cutler relented on the prospects of change.
“No one really wants to change or think about changing,’’ he said. ‘‘Now that it’s upon us, we’ve got to be positive about it. We’ve just got to keep moving forward, and whoever it is, we’ve got to make the most of it.”