High stakes for Hanie with free agency in future

Caption
(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie (right) is sacked by Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil (left) and outside linebacker Von Miller in the third quarter Sunday in Denver.

LAKE FOREST – After the first three starts of his NFL career, Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie has developed a greater appreciation for one of the league’s primary lessons.

“Wins are tough to come by,” Hanie said Wednesday. “They don’t hand them out.”

Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.

The Bears (7-6) will try to snap a three-game losing streak Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks (6-7), who have won four of their past five games. Both teams are on the outside looking in when it comes to the NFC playoff race and cannot afford to lose this weekend.

Likewise, the game could have big-picture implications for Hanie’s career.

The Bears’ 26-year-old quarterback will be a free agent after this season, which is his fourth in the league. Hanie could prolong his NFL career and compete for playing time by showing steady improvement in the next few weeks, or he could be out of the league if he struggles.

In his weekly interview with the team’s website, Bears general Jerry Angelo said Hanie needed to improve. Hanie has posted a subpar 48.6 passer rating in his first three starts.

By comparison, injured quarterback Jay Cutler had an 85.7 passer rating in 10 starts.

“We’ve lost three games with Caleb as our quarterback, and I’ve said from the onset a big part of judging a quarterback is based on winning,” Angelo said. “In fairness to Caleb, keep in mind that we had control of all three games but didn’t finish.

“For me to say anything other than he needs to improve would be wrong. He’s got to do a better job, make more plays and help us win a game.”

One play in particular bothered Hanie as he reflected on an overtime loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 14. On third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, running back Marion Barber was uncovered with open space in front of him, but Hanie sailed a pass over his head.

“It was a big play,” said Hanie, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 115 yards. “It was there for the taking, and I just missed him. Those are the ones you always want back.

“Those things are magnified when you lose, and that’s just something you’ve got to deal with. I own that play. I own all the passes that I miss. So I’ve just got to hit it.”

The Bears have drawn criticism for failing to sign an experienced backup quarterback during the offseason to provide insurance for Cutler. However, such quarterbacks are scarce, and Angelo said other teams could lure those players more easily than the Bears.

“We’ll address that,” Angelo said. “But it’s important to understand that quality backups want to be in a position to start. They want to at least compete to start, and when they come in and see an established quarterback in place, that’s not where they want to go.”

For his part, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he remained confident that Hanie could become a winning quarterback. Martz relied on a conservative game plan against the Broncos and could do the same this weekend against Seattle’s 13th-ranked defense.

“There’s no question he’s getting better,” Martz said. “He’s getting a better feel for the game. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get.

“He’s going to have a long career in the league. He’s basically a rookie learning as he goes.”

Hanie preferred to focus on beating the Seahawks instead of fretting about his future.

“I’m not worried about [me] personally,” Hanie said. “All I’m worried about is the team.”

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