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Addressing QB position a top priority

In the first of a nine-part series, ChicagoBears.com takes an in-depth look at the Bears' quarterback position heading into the 2017 offseason.

The injury bug that decimated the Bears in 2016 bit the quarterback position the hardest as Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Connor Shaw all landed on injured reserve.

Cutler entered the season with high expectations after posting a career-high 92.3 passer rating in 2015. But the 11-year NFL veteran sustained a sprained thumb on his passing hand in a Week 2 loss to the Eagles and missed the next five games.

Cutler returned in dramatic fashion, passing for 252 yards and one touchdown in an impressive 20-10 win over the Vikings and the NFL's No. 1 defense Halloween night.

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Cutler finished the year throwing for 1,059 yards with four touchdowns, five interceptions and a 78.1 passer rating.

But after the bye week he struggled in back-to-back losses to the Buccaneers and Giants before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. Cutler finished the year throwing for 1,059 yards with four touchdowns, five interceptions and a 78.1 passer rating.

Hoyer replaced Cutler and became the first quarterback in Bears history to throw for at least 300 yards in four straight games. But the Bears went 1-3 during that stretch and Hoyer was lost for the season with a broken left arm he suffered in a loss to the Packers.

In his first season with the Bears, Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,445 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a stellar 98.0 passer rating.

With Shaw having broken his leg in the third preseason game, the Bears called upon the inexperienced Matt Barkley to replace Shaw.

Barkley initially showed promise, throwing three touchdown passes in his first NFL start against the Titans. He should have had a fourth, but receiver Joshua Bellamy dropped the potential game-winning TD pass in the end zone late in a 27-21 loss.

Barkley led the Bears to a lopsided 26-6 victory over the 49ers the following week and then played well in a narrow loss to the Lions, passing for 212 yards and one TD. But then the wheels fell off for the USC product, who threw 10 interceptions over the final three games of the season, including five in an ugly loss to the Redskins.

Moving forward, there's a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position. Cutler's contract runs through the 2020 season, but it's unclear whether he'll return in 2017. While he has set virtually every Bears passing record in eight seasons in Chicago, he has posted a mediocre 51-51 record as a starter and won only one playoff game.

The other four quarterbacks on the roster—Hoyer, Barkley, Shaw and David Fales—are all due to become free agents next month.

During his post-season press conference, Bears general manager Ryan Pace vowed that addressing the position was his No. 1 offseason priority.

"In my mind, there is no more important position than the quarterback," Pace said. "It is a critical, critical position. I know and I recognize that the decision that we make on that quarterback is going to be significant for all of us for the direction that this organization is going to head."

Pace vowed to explore all avenues in his quest to address the position.

"Everything's on the table right now," he said. "It's free agency, it's trade, it's draft, it's current players on our team. Everything's on the table, and we've got to analyze all that and the next two months are going to be huge for that. It's critical that we get that right."

Asked what attributes he's seeking at quarterback, Pace said: "There are a lot of things we value in that position. This year it was about consistency and availability. We played with so many different quarterbacks it was hard to find continuity. We're looking for consistency and productivity from that position and I think we'll find it this offseason."

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