If you lived in Chicago for any of the last eight years, you likely heard the litany of “if onlys” from Jay Cutler’s very loud supporters.
If only he had a smart offensive coordinator.
If only he had a full complement of talented receivers.
If only he didn’t spend half his life under a pile of defensive linemen, thanks to teammates who didn’t know how to block.
If only he could show off his natural talent without the burden of lesser human beings bringing him down.
Well, guess what? No more “if onlys.’’ Only a question: If not now, when?
The former Bears quarterback has agreed to a one-year contract with the Dolphins. This one season should resolve, once and for all, whether he was the victim of weak offenses around him in Chicago, as his backers so adamantly insist, or whether he’s a tragically flawed football player, as some of us are certain he is.
We’ll finally get to see how Cutler does in a close-to-perfect laboratory setting. The Dolphins have a good running back, excellent receivers, a decent offensive line and an innovative, offensive-minded coach — everything a quarterback needs to be good himself.
My guess is that we’ll see the Same Old Jay, but I’m open to the possibility that his entire career has been one big, unfortunate occurrence. I’m also open to the possibility that the inhabitants of Mars prefer cabernet to merlot by a two-to-one margin.
The Cutler experiment is the opposite of what some of us wanted to see from Phil Jackson, basketball coach to the stars: How good would his motivational genius have been if he had taken the lowly Nets coaching job after working with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant?
How good will Cutler be with a playoff-caliber offense (assuming he never had one in Chicago)? We’re about to find out. The Dolphins needed him in a big way after starter Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury in training camp last week. Cutler will be reunited with Dolphins coach Adam Gase, who was the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015. He’ll also have two highly talented receivers in Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills.
It’s not in Cutler’s DNA to be cautious, and that was his undoing in Chicago. He’d throw into double coverage, sometimes compounding matters by doing so off the wrong foot. He’d hold on to the ball too long and take a bad sack. But he had his best season in Chicago when Gase was the offensive coordinator, passing for 3,659 yards and putting up a career-best 92.3 passer rating. There’s a chance all the planets are finally aligned just so for him.
His decision to play again means we’re deprived of Jay Cutler the broadcaster, at least for now. He had joined Fox Sports in May as an NFL analyst, signaling his apparent retirement from football. But retirements in sports are flimsy, unreliable things, and here we are. I can’t decide what makes me more curious: Cutler in a new setting as a quarterback, surrounded by excellence, or Cutler in a TV booth, where the perceived indifference that was on display at times in his football career might pop up again.
The now-famous Smokin’ Jay Cutler meme perfectly captured what many of us saw as his essence. But there must be a fire inside him. He wouldn’t have signed with the Dolphins otherwise. His one-year deal reportedly is worth $10 million, but he made about $117 million the previous 11 seasons. It’s not as if he has been rattling a cup of coins on a street corner.
It’s possible some of us have had him all wrong, but the evidence is vast enough to make that prospect unlikely. Some people saw a softening of his edges in his last few seasons with the Bears, as if that was enough to wipe out the previous behavior. But the purported former Jay, the one who wasn’t always a pleasure to deal with, would have leaked into a TV booth, guaranteed. Maybe it would have made for good television. Maybe that was the whole idea of Fox Sports being interested in the first place.
But that’s on hold. Now Cutler is somebody else’s quarterback. It’s the Dolphins’ turn to see if they can harness his athleticism and create a successful quarterback. And it’s Cutler’s chance to show Chicago that circumstances beyond his control made him the uneven performer he was as a Bear. It’s his perfect opportunity.
So broadcast this: He’s back with something to prove. Once and for all.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.