The Jay Cutler era is finally over in Chicago. Bears fans may soon wish it wasn’t.
A team that has been stuck in a downward spiral for a decade bottomed out last season when the Bears posted a 3-13 record that was the franchise’s worst since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.
And that was with Cutler at quarterback. Can you imagine what the Bears will be like now that Mike Glennon or Mitch Trubisky will be under center?
Bears fans have no choice because that’s who the team is going with. What’s worse is the Bears did nothing special in free agency or the draft to improve the pieces around their new quarterbacks.
It’s enough to make you think the real winner in all of this was Cutler, who will spend the season safe and warm inside a television booth, watching from afar.
Bears fans will likely be safe and warm, too, this season. It’s doubtful many will leave their homes to watch this team. There’s just so little here to see, which suggests even the Bears could be in for another long slog.
With that in mind, here’s a look at three players who could become part of the collateral damage and suffer a decline in play in 2017.
Jordan Howard, RB
A fifth-round pick out of Indiana, Howard had an absolutely incredible and totally unexpected breakout rookie season last year. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry while running for 1,313 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown.
Most running backs would have a hard time replicating those numbers under the best of circumstances. Howard will be attempting to do so under worse circumstances. Remember, it’s not just Cutler who’s gone. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is gone, too, and until Kevin White proves he can stay on the field and play up to his status as a first-round draft pick, opponents will focus on stopping the run, which means stopping Howard.
Josh Sitton, LG
Howard can thank the Green Bay Packers for some of his success last year. Had the Packers not cut Sitton just before the start of the season, the Bears never would have signed Sitton and therefore might never have had as strong a run-blocking unit as they did.
Sitton earned his fourth straight Pro Bowl berth, albeit as an alternate, last year and also finished the year as the league’s top-ranked pass-blocking guard by ProFootballFocus. But Sitton will soon turn 31 and his history of back and ankle problems suggests he may have a hard time maintaining his Pro Bowl form.
And then there’s the locker room issues. Sitton is adored by teammates, but he was let go in Green Bay in part because he has a tendency to speak out about the way his team is being run. If he wasn’t happy in Green Bay, it’s hard to imagine he’s going to be happy in Chicago, where his mood may also affect his play.
Cameron Meredith, WR
Meredith might have been a bigger surprise than Howard last year. An undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, he was pressed into duty as a starter after White went down with his leg injury in Week 4 and wound up leading the team in receiving with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
White appears to be healthy now, and if he stays that way and develops quickly, he will likely take over as the Bears’ top pass-catching target. That alone could reduce the number of targets for Meredith, who will likely have to beat out newcomers Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright for playing time.
And let’s not forget that with Cutler gone and Howard emerging as their top offensive threat, the Bears may become a more run-oriented team. That will further limit Meredith’s workload, which will likely result in a decline in overall production.