Do you miss Jay Cutler? Get over it

With Mitch Trubisky’s Bears career in limbo, revisionist history is making some Bears fans long for a talented-but-flawed quarterback who was much better in their memory than on the field.

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Chicago Bears v San Diego Chargers

Jay Cutler (walking off the field after throwing an interception against the Chargers in 2015) threw 156 touchdown passes with the Bears, but also threw 110 interceptions. His passer rating in eight seasons with the Bears was 85.2.

Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

When Ryan Pace inherited Jay Cutler’s bloated contract upon being hired as the Bears’ general manager in 2015, it seemed like he had nowhere to go but up in terms of quarterback cost-efficiency.

But he has gone mostly downhill. After cutting Cutler in 2017, Pace signed Mike Glennon to a three-year, $42 million contract that looked bad before the ink was dry. Pace then traded four draft picks to move up from No. 3 to No. 2 to take Mitch Trubisky.

Pace’s total investment in getting the quarterback right — any NFL GM’s No. 1 job — is staggering. He hired a coach in Matt Nagy to tutor Trubisky. He paid Chase Daniel $10 million for two years in part to tutor Trubisky in Nagy’s offense. He has hired two offensive coordinators and two quarterbacks coaches and created a new assistant coaching position — passing-game coordinator — to make room for John DeFilippo as quarterbacks coach. And Pace recently spent a fourth-round pick and $21 million guaranteed to acquire Nick Foles, who may or may not win the starting job.

The news that Pace has declined the fifth-year option on Trubisky’s rookie contract has stoked another round of hand-wringing. Not only the old news — did you know the Bears could’ve drafted Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson instead of Trubisky in 2017? But also the new — Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton were much cheaper options than Foles. Winston signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Saints; Dalton signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Cowboys. Why not them?

The Bears paid a premium for Foles instead of courting Winston or Dalton for an obvious reason — Foles’ familiarity with Nagy’s system. But the Winston/Dalton lament is within reason. As is almost every bit of the heat Pace is getting for his general management of the quarterback situation. 

The one regret that has emerged from the Bears’ quarterback quandary that I am compelled to push back against is the notion that the Bears miss Jay Cutler. This meme might be just a product of the lunatic fringe on Twitter. But if it’s at all a real thing, it is just off base. 

If you miss Cutler, you’re missing a figment of your imagination. You’re remembering the fabulous throws he made but forgetting all the ill-timed mistakes he made. Yes, Cutler was a victim of bad luck (the Bears lost Brian Urlacher for the season less than two quarters into the Cutler era, and Cutler twice was injured at critical times — in the NFC Championship Game and the following season when the Bears were 7-3). Cutler often had a non-elite receiving corps, a revolving door of offensive coaches and poor protection, and he played on teams with subpar, sometimes horrid, defenses. 

But Cutler not only missed opportunities to overcome those obstacles, as similarly talented quarterbacks have done, he was at the root of some of them. Cutler — at times, at least — was too easily annoyed to amend discord or tolerate mistakes. For all his physical skills, Cutler too often was consumed by the muck, instead of rising above it to make good things happen.

And the one time he had almost everything going his way, in 2013 under Marc Trestman, he was good but not great. With the best weapons he ever had — Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte — with all five starters on the offensive line playing all 16 games and with a true quarterback whisperer as his coach, Cutler’s passer rating was 89.2. That not only was 12th in the NFL (way behind Foles’ league-leading 119.2), but second on his own team, well behind Josh McCown’s 109.0. 

The unfair knock on Cutler is that he didn’t care. Despite the body language and his often dismissive public attitude, Cutler absolutely cared and absolutely wanted to win. “This isn’t a hobby for me,” was one of his most spot-on quotes. But that’s Cutler’s torment — for all his will and all his skill, he lacked the focus to be world class consistently enough to be the quarterback every team desires, and he lacked the “it” factor to be the kind of leader who makes every teammate a little better and turns complementary pieces into dangerous weapons. Those are two big reasons why the Bears were 51-51 with Cutler as a starter. 

So as fans lament the Bears’ quarterback situation, “They should have drafted Patrick Mahomes” is getting old, but it’s accurate. “I miss Jay Cutler” is just a sign of how much the frustration is mounting. 

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