Tom Brady is out. Peyton Manning is out. Drew Brees has been out for a while.
Joe Flacco is in. So is Colin Kaepernick.
When it comes to NFL quarterbacks, are we witnessing a changing of the guard?
If so, where does Jay Cutler fit?
A pair of first-time Super Bowl quarterbacks will square off 12 days from now in front of 70,000-plus fans in New Orleans and tens of millions watching on television.
It doesn’t take a Harbaugh to realize that it will be the biggest game of their careers.
While many of us will binge on food and pay extra attention to commercials Feb. 3, Flacco and Kaepernick will fight to join Brady, Brees, the Manning brothers, Aaron Rodgers and a few others as quarterbacks who have won a title during this century.
Side note: Yes, dozens of other players on both teams also will affect the outcome. But no position in team sports is more important than quarterback. Period.
Flacco will wear No. 5 for the Ravens. Kaepernick will wear No. 7 for the 49ers.
Perhaps this is a good time to bring up No. 6 for the Bears.
If a guy from Delaware and a guy from Nevada can compete for a Super Bowl ring, surely a guy from Vanderbilt should be qualified to do the same.
We could spend all day debating whether Cutler is the quarterback who will lead the Bears to their first Super Bowl title in almost three decades. Count me among the skeptics. But excellence absolutely is possible, and Cutler will receive every chance to succeed as he pilots the Bears’ offense for at least one more season.
Whether Cutler knows it or not, his greatest hope for a championship ring is new head coach Marc Trestman, a quarterback guru who will challenge his latest project.
For the past few seasons, Bears coaches on both sides of the ball have heaped praise on Cutler. But Trestman wisely stopped short of endorsing Cutler for a bust in Canton, Ohio.
When asked specifically whether he considered Cutler to be a franchise quarterback, Trestman verbally scrambled out of the pocket.
That is to say: Trestman didn’t answer yes, and he didn’t answer no.
“Jay Cutler is a guy who loves football,” Trestman said. “Jay Cutler is a guy who’s willing to learn. Jay Cutler, to me, in my very short time with him, wants to do everything he can to help his franchise and please our amazing fans.
“That’s where we’re going to start, and we’re going to work one day at a time in a proactive way with a sense of urgency to get him to be the guy that he wants to be and we want him to be.”
Bears general manager Phil Emery, who has described Cutler as a franchise quarterback on multiple occasions, liked Trestman’s reply even if it varied from his.
“That’s OK,” Emery said. “He’s got to spend some time with him.
“Part of the reason that Marc is our head football coach is he’s going to push the level of our players. He wants Jay to earn that [designation] in his eyes.
“That’s OK. I’m good with that.”
The best way for Cutler to earn the love is to win when it matters most.
With Trestman calling plays, Cutler should have the proper coaching. With another set of draft picks and free-agent signings, he should have a stronger supporting cast.
In less than two weeks, another race will begin to become a Super Bowl quarterback.
The door is wide open.
Like Flacco and Kaepernick, Cutler is fully capable of walking through.
• Tom Musick covers the Bears for Shaw Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.