As Jay Cutler departs, Mike Glennon represents new direction for Bears at QB

On the fourth day of January, less than a week after the Bears completed their worst 16-game season in franchise history, general manager Ryan Pace struck a reassuring tone, vowing to attack his offseason overhaul with purpose. Equipped with ample salary-cap space and favorable draft status, Pace wanted it known that he understood his responsibilities.

"We're going to be aggressive and calculated this offseason," he declared. "We're in a position to do so. We'll have a clear understanding of our roster and where our needs are and where we want to add to each position."

Suffice it to say, the 40-year-old GM still has a lot of heavy lifting ahead. The first day of free agency came and went Thursday with Pace and the Bears making their biggest splashes with the high-profile players they said goodbye to.

Jay Cutler's release was mostly a formality, an unsurprising and inevitable separation triggered by a team craving a new direction.

Alshon Jeffery's exit to the Eagles was a blow, subtracting the team's most proven weapon from an offense that finished 15th in the league in yards per game and 28th in points last season.

Mike Glennon's arrival? Well, that left many fans and experts scratching their heads, with Glennon agreeing to a three-year contract, which according to reports could be worth up to $45 million with $19 million guaranteed.

Will this ultimately be the Bears' most resounding offseason move at their most important position? Is there belief at Halas Hall that Glennon can elevate the franchise to new levels?

At the very least, the Glennon signing signals a fresh start, even if it is a curious vote of confidence in a quarterback whose last start came in Week 9 of 2014 — a 22-17 Buccaneers loss to the Browns, for what it's worth.

To this point, Glennon's NFL performance has been ordinary. His 18 starts — 13 as a rookie, five more in 2014 — produced a completion percentage of .583; a rating of 83.2; a touchdown pass-to-interception ratio of 2:1; and only five victories. He also spent the last two seasons as Jameis Winston's backup.

Within some league circles, talent evaluators see Glennon's strong arm and intelligence and recognize potential for him to emerge as a reliable long-term starter. But Glennon's lack of mobility and inconsistent accuracy remain concerns. Whether he'll take control of the QB1 role Cutler has held since 2009 remains to be seen.

Cutler's send-off Thursday proved respectful. The soon-to-be 34-year-old leaves as the franchise's record holder in career completions, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes and rating. He also leaves with a .500 record and only one playoff appearance.

The Bears made a point to publicly thank Cutler as they sent him into free agency with Pace, coach John Fox and Chairman George McCaskey all expressing gratitude in a statement. Pace highlighted Cutler's professionalism and toughness. Fox called the quarterback "one of the toughest competitors on our roster." Added McCaskey: "We are grateful to Jay for all he did as a Bear. His ability, toughness, and intelligence were on daily display at Halas Hall and Soldier Field. He had an extraordinary impact off the field, doing things for people — especially kids — without expecting or wanting any recognition. I was and am a big fan of his."

Still, the Bears made clear they preferred to move forward with Glennon. So with that, the page was turned.

The Bears are expected to introduce Glennon at Halas Hall in the coming days, perhaps as early as Friday. And from there, Pace will be pressed to detail his attraction to the 6-foot-6 quarterback, what he values most and how he hopes the former third-round pick will develop.

It will also be important to read the Bears GM for what might come next at the position. The Bears still need to add another quarterback to the roster and will have opportunity to select one in next month's draft.

But will Glennon's arrival and the financial investment made in him deter the Bears from seriously considering a quarterback in the first round? And if so, would Pace truly be able to sell hope to a success-starved fan base by pitching a 2017 quarterback combination that includes Glennon, Connor Shaw and a to-be-determined rookie likely to be no better than the fourth- or fifth-best quarterback prospect in an ordinary draft class?

For perspective, Glennon's contract is hardly crippling with the reported $19 million in guaranteed money registering as only 35 percent of what the Bears guaranteed Cutler in the lucrative extension he signed in 2014. If Glennon doesn't turn out to be the difference-maker the Bears hope he is, they'll have the opportunity to move on without great difficulty. And if he establishes himself as a successful starter, the gamble will be celebrated.

There's no doubt Glennon's arrival registers as Pace's first serious attempt at solving a quarterback quandary that has flustered so many of his predecessors. But it will also be important to monitor how many more swings he'll take.

For the last three months, Pace has emphasized how critical it will be to find the right quarterback. On Thursday, he pushed forward with that effort.

dwiederer@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @danwiederer

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