When Jay Cutler went down with a thumb injury earlier this season, Bears brass hoped Caleb Hanie could play well enough to keep the team in the playoff hunt. He didn’t and they aren’t. Hanie will be a free agent at the end of the year and blew a golden opportunity to positively shape his 2012 season. A successful stint filling in for Cutler could have opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed to an unproven back up. If he played lights out, a starting job and corresponding salary bump was in his immediate future. In 2008 Matt Cassel played 16 games in place of an injured Tom Brady, threw for almost 3700 yards and 21 touchdowns. The following year he signed a six-year, $63 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. That path wasn’t meant to be for Caleb. Even with an average performance to close out the season, the Bears or another team would give him a multi-year contract to hold a clipboard and back up a starter. A veteran second stringer who can quickly digest a playbook, stay cool under pressure and manage a game isn’t easy to come by in the NFL. Unfortunately for him, Hanie’s inability to avoid costly turnovers and show improvement from week to week could land him in football’s unemployment line. In 2004 Jonathan Quinn was Rex Grossman’s back up in Chicago. He was a veteran back up brought in by offensive coordinator Terry Shea because he understood the newly implemented offense. When Grossman went down with injury in week 3, Quinn was forced into game action. His horrible performance that season dramatically altered his career path. In 5 games that season (2 of them partial games) his Quarterback Rating was 53.7 and he managed to throw just 1 touchdown. He went from a career back up making a very good salary ($800,000 in 2008) to a player that couldn’t find work the following year and never played another NFL game. Believe it or not Hanie has been worse with a 41.8 Quarterback Rating mostly due to his 9 interceptions over the last 4 games. History is about to repeat itself.
With the playoffs out the window analysts don’t expect Jay Cutler to return this year. If Lovie Smith allows Caleb Hanie to play out the season and he shows no sign of growth, Mike Martz’s talent evaluation will be validated. It has been no secret that Martz wants no part of Caleb Hanie. He demoted him not once but twice last season. And he temporarily demoted him again during training camp this past summer in favor of rookie, Nathan Enderle. Angelo will likely let Hanie go to free agency and sign a true veteran back up this offseason. Caleb Hanie will seek a back up job with another team but it won’t be easy because he couldn’t limit his mistakes over the course of this year. Most players in the NFL want exactly what Hanie got, a chance to be a star. But sometimes earning a decent wage, staying out of the spotlight and holding a clipboard has its advantages too.