COMMENTARY | Chicago Bears fans are in an unfamiliar situation: their team has more good quarterbacks than it has open quarterback positions. For now, with Jay Cutler injured, things are decidedly controversy-free. When he returns, Cutler will rightfully return to his starting position and Josh McCown will temporarily fade back into obscurity. There is little doubt which player is better: it's Cutler. When he is healthy, he needs to be playing for the 2013 Bears. Those who argue otherwise are simply overreacting to McCown's recent play. At season's end, however, things get more complicated. The 34-year-old McCown has, so far, earned himself an offseason controversy. The Bears are in big trouble with the salary cap and Jay Cutler is due a substantial raise. At this point, Jay Cutler is the 16th highest paid quarterback in the NFL with his $10 million salary cap number. There are 17 quarterbacks under contract to earn more than $13 million in 2014 and given the recent market for quarterbacks that made Joe Flacco the highest paid player in history (at least for a while), Cutler is likely to command at least a top 10 salary: this sets the bar at around $16 million for his possible yearly salary on a long-term contract. Bear in mind that this does not even necessarily mean that he has to be considered a top 10 quarterback in talent or production, as the market for quarterbacks has gotten much more expensive in the recent past. Also, players like Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson are still on their rookie contracts and not among those top salaries. For example, a team like the Houston Texans could pay Cutler $14 million and save money compared to what they would be paying Matt Schaub if he was kept on the squad. Needless to say, McCown would cost little more than the veteran's minimum, in his case around $1 million. This won't mean much to Bears fans without a little context. The team has $80 million committed to just 25 players for next season; the final roster will include 53 players and the salary cap will be around $125 million. Unfortunately, the Bears have a great deal of other prominent free agents: Henry Melton, Matt Slauson, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, James Anderson, Zack Bowman, Nate Collins, Roberto Garza, Kelvin Hayden, Devin Hester, D.J. Williams, Corey Wootton, Major Wright, and Robbie Gould are all starting players that are not under contract for next season. Just bringing back each of those players back at their current salary would be impossible because of the cap and the cost to fill out the rest of the roster. Cutler's 2013 salary would put that group well over the mark. Of course, some of those players will not return, others will earn more, others will earn less. Nonetheless, it illustrates the magnitude of the problem faced by the Bears. They need to make major improvements on defense and they will likely need to cut Julius Peppers (would save $10 million in cap room) and not bring back Henry Melton and Charles Tillman, at the least, to afford yet another high-priced player like Cutler. In the NFL, teams often get crafty to make room for their big contracts. General manager Phil Emery will know more than the public about the ins and outs of the salary cap rules, his current contracts, and his bargaining position with different players. It is within the realm of possibility that the team could keep Cutler without a complete transformation of the defense that involves a great deal of salary cutting to the defensive side of the ball. Given the information at hand, however, that seems unlikely. If fans wonder why the Bears might choose Josh McCown over Jay Cutler, this is why. They are under no illusion that McCown is a better football player. He's older, less talented, and with a far worse track record. Nonetheless, at 10% of the cost, Marc Trestman and Phil Emery might reach the conclusion that the team would be better off if they took a hit in the play at quarterback in order to make the aging, horrific defense more competitive. Doing so would constitute perhaps the biggest gamble in franchise history. Jay Cutler was costly to get and despite his failure to live up to very high expectations, he has been the best quarterback and only real starting-caliber quarterback since at least the Jim McMahon era. Many otherwise elite teams have seen their chances squandered in Chicago due to unfathomably poor quarterback play. Phil Emery, long before becoming general manager, worked in the front office in those woeful days. To let Cutler walk would, in my view, say relatively little about Josh McCown. It would instead be a vote of confidence for Marc Trestman, first and foremost. Keeping McCown as the presumptive starter for 2014 suggests an organizational belief that Trestman is the caliber of coach that can take a quarterback that would be marginal in any other setting and use playcalling and an elite supporting cast to turn him into a very productive player. The other aspect that would allow such a plan to make sense is the upcoming draft; it is believed to be extremely deep at the quarterback position. Phil Emery would also be staking his own job and reputation on his ability to draft a quarterback that could take the reins as soon as 2015 as McCown is apt to age or regress quickly. Pressure also falls on Trestman to prepare this young quarterback in this scenario. Finally, it would reflect a lack of confidence in the defense. It has been among the league's worst this season in a variety of measures as it has dealt with a plethora of injuries. If Cutler is kept in the fold (and possibly even if not), next year's defense will probably be without Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, and possibly Tim Jennings. That means potentially four lost pro-bowl players with no apparent replacements waiting in the wings. Letting Cutler go would allow for substantial investment in that defense which has already made a Cutler-led offense look insufficient this season. Emery may judge that the defense simply cannot be improved enough to win in the near term if the team has a $15 million quarterback. Given the salary cap and the recently exploding salaries given to quarterbacks, nothing is more valuable than a cheap (and preferably young) quarterback. The decision is surprisingly complex and the Bears front office is certainly already beginning to stress about it. A great deal can change between now and the offseason, however. Another injury to Cutler, more heroics from McCown, a playoff run led by Cutler, or a myriad other possibilities exist to convolute or simplify the issue. Only one thing is for sure: Phil Emery and his staff are very happy that there at least five more games to be played before this decision has to be made. Right now, the correct choice is astonishingly unclear. Jacob Long, a native to the Chicago area, is a writer on the Yahoo Contributor Network. He has experience covering sports and news for WMC-TV in Memphis, TN and owns the film and TV blog The Renegade's Film Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jlongrc.