The business side of professional football is often brutal. The players who perform well are rewarded with rich contracts, while those who fail to live up to expectations are quickly forgotten. For a franchise to stay above water, dozens of these decisions must be made on a yearly basis.
The Chicago Bears are beginning a rebuild under new head coach John Fox, so all holdovers from the previous regime are under the microscope. Some of them have huge salary-cap hits coming up next season; others are going into a contract year. No one mentioned in this article is guaranteed a spot on the team a year from today.
The following players are facing a make-or-break season with the Bears in 2015.
More from FoxSports
Cutler has become one of the most criticized quarterbacks across the league. Last year, he threw 18 interceptions, lost six fumbles, weathered 38 sacks and was even benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen late in the season. He led the Bears to only five wins, which resulted in a complete overhaul of the franchise.
With new leadership, however, things could be different for Cutler in 2015. Head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase have come over from the Denver Broncos, where they last coached Peyton Manning. If they can't turn Cutler's play around this year, they can cut ties with him before the 2016 season and save $4 million.
Jeffery has already established himself as one of the best young receivers in the game. This season, however, he has a chance to propel himself into an elite rank of NFL receivers. With a big season as Chicago's No. 1 receiver in 2015, Jeffery might be able to command a Dez Byrant/Demaryius Thomas-level payday on the open market next year.
It'll be tough for Jeffery to get there, though. He has large shoes to fill now that former teammate Brandon Marshall is with the New York Jets. The former second-round selection's past production -- while impressive (198 catches, 2,921 yards, 20 touchdowns) -- is not enough to warrant top money. Jeffery's 2015 statistics must be eye-popping, too.
There's a lot on Houston's shoulders going into the 2015 season. Originally signed last offseason to a five-year, $35 million contract, his first season with the Bears ended when he tore his ACL celebrating a sack during a blowout loss.
That was Houston's first and only sack of the season. Although a transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker will require him to be a more fluid athlete, the former Oakland Raider claims to be "a lot better" after having knee surgery, according to ESPN. If Houston doesn't prove it on the field, the Bears can save just over $4 million by cutting him before next year's June 1 deadline.
McClellen has played three NFL seasons but has yet to find a home in the Bears' defense. Perhaps the switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme under new coordinator Vic Fangio will do him some good. He is projected to be the platoon's primary signal-caller at the middle linebacker position.
Through his first two seasons, McClellin struggled to make an impact at defensive end. Last year, after a switch to outside linebacker, wasn't much better. The Bears did not pick up the former first-round draft pick's fifth-round option, so he's slated to become a free agent next spring. If he doesn't show significant improvement this season, he won't be a very attractive player on the open market.
Mundy has steadily improved with age. Although he has been in the league for six years, 28 of his 30 career starts have come in the last three seasons. Last year, at age 29, he started all 16 games for the first time in his career. Mundy finished the season with four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), a sack and over 100 tackles.
But the competition at safety is much more crowded this year. In addition to free agency acquisition Antrel Rolle and fifth-round rookie Adrian Amos, the Bears also have second-year pro Brock Vereen in the mix. It'll be tougher for Mundy to find playing time in 2015, which doesn't bode well for his market value as a free agent next offseason.
*All salary cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com.