"Teams are just afraid to say, 'Let's start again, because we literally do not have a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl with the quarterback that we have,'" said one club president, who was among a dozen personnel people, executives and coaches who spoke for this story on the condition of anonymity. "They'd rather have an average to above-average quarterback than wait to get a great quarterback. I think it's more than fair to say that the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of the known."
Others contend these personnel decisions have more to do with history than fear. Only 28 of the 151 quarterbacks drafted from 2000 to 2010 went on to start for at least 2½ seasons. That 81 percent failure rate speaks to why many franchises are more inclined to ride with what they have than possibly die with the unknown. They believe if they surround the quarterback with the right pieces, the whole will be greater than the individual parts.
Consider the Cowboys. When Romo signed his extension, he had led Dallas to only one playoff win in nine seasons (seven as the primary starter). Still, owner Jerry Jones signed him to a deal that included payouts of $40 million over the first two seasons. Jones sold the signing by pointing out that Romo was 55-38 as a starter and could lead the Cowboys on a postseason run with a few upgrades around him. Instead, Dallas has been stuck in that murky area between being just good enough to compete for a playoff spot and not being bad enough to land near the top of the draft, where the odds of finding a franchise quarterback are greater.
Some argue that's where the Bears are with Cutler. For every reason to re-sign him, there seemingly was an argument to let him walk as a free agent. Since joining the Bears in 2009, he has thrown for 101 touchdowns, 13th-most in the league; but his 75 interceptions are more than all but four players during that time. He has won 39 of his 67 starts for Chicago, but he also missed six games in 2011 and five games in 2013 because of injury. The Bears have had only one losing season since Cutler's arrival, but also have made just one playoff trip. That was in the 2010 season, when Cutler won in the divisional round but sat out nearly all of the second half of the NFC Championship Game with a knee injury.
The decision to re-sign Cutler wasn't made by the Bears in a day, a week or a month. It was made over two years, beginning the day that Phil Emery was hired as general manager. The longtime personnel man methodically evaluated the polarizing Cutler, extensively studying his three seasons with the Broncos and first three years with the Bears. He looked at the talent around Cutler, the constant turnover in play-callers, the ability to make plays with his arm strength even as the pocket dissolved around him. Emery said nothing publicly but had a pretty good idea going into last season that Cutler was his guy.