Let's not get silly. There's no quarterback controversy in Chicago. Yes, Josh McCown had played excellently as Jay Cutler deals with a series of injuries. But McCown is just a capable backup, filling in until Cutler's healthy. Cutler's the face of the Bears—he'll get his job back the second he's cleared...right?
Reporters asked Marc Trestman just that last night, after McCown forcibly raised the question by throwing for four scores and rushing for a fifth, getting hit and helicoptering into the end zone. Trestman was unequivocal.
"There's no change in the plan," Trestman said. "We'll see where Jay is this week. He'll have to be released by the doctors. When Jay is ready to play, he'll be playing."
"When he is good to go and can have a full week of practice, he'll be our quarterback."
That settles that. But this isn't just some academic discussion to sell newspapers. The success of McCown, a 34-year-old journeyman, has major implications for the Bears beyond this season.
Cutler has missed five full games and parts of two others with a torn groin muscle and an ankle sprain. When he is healthy, he is very-good-to-great. He is often not healthy. He's not soft, as some of the dumber pundits have dubbed him over the years. In fact his exceeding toughness, a willingness to stand up in a frequently collapsing pocket and to play through pain, may be what puts him on the shelf on occasion.
McCown, in what amounts to six-and-a-half games' worth of work, has outperformed Cutler. That's indisputable. Every measure—his completion percentage, his yards per attempt, his eye-opening passer rating of 109.8, his TD/INT ratio of 13/1—is superior. The transition for the Bears' skill position players has been more than seamless. Brandon Marshall's second half has been better than his first. The same goes for Matt Forte, who's got a chance at a career year. Alshon Jeffery has emerged as a force, with four of his six scores coming from McCown's fingertips.
"He's amazing," Marshall said. "We really appreciate his leadership and what he's been doing for us."
But all of this may be incidental. This isn't the usual quarterback controversy, with a young guy challenging an established vet. McCown is on his seventh team (eight if you count the UFL), and is on a one-year contract. At his age, the Bears couldn't possibly see him as a potential QB of the future. And yet, Rich Gannon arrived in Oakland at the same age. Under the tutelage of Marc Trestman, Gannon turned in an MVP 2002 and led the Raiders to the Super Bowl.
That's not at all to say that McCown's ceiling could be even higher than this—only to note that Trestman has long been hailed as the quarterback whisperer. He was brought in to take a Cutler-led offense to the next level, but he's managed to do it with Cutler's backup.
That should very much concern Cutler, who's in the last year of his deal. He's 30, and quite possibly the best proven starter allowed to hit free agency since Peyton Manning. He's going to get paid big-time by somebody. But if Chicago decides that Trestman is capable of turning just about any signal-caller into a weapon, that somebody might not be the Bears. They could very easily pick up a QB on the cheap (Vick, Schaub, Henne), let Trestman work his magic, and devote that extra cap space to the defensive side of the ball, where it's sorely needed.
So, there's no quarterback controversy. But this might be a tryout. Jay Cutler is the Bears' starter from the moment he's cleared until the moment he becomes a free agent. After that? If the front office believes that McCown's success is actually Trestman's success, there might be one near-elite quarterback on the open market.