TELANDER: Will Cutler be indifferent or invigorating with Dolphins?
Two things immediately come to mind when pondering the play-retire-play-again career of Jay Cutler.
First, there was Cutler’s unnerving, blank-faced stare on the Soldier Field sideline during the second half of the Bears’ loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in January 2011.
This was the furthest the Bears had progressed in the postseason since the 2007 Super Bowl, and the possibilities of a victory had fans on an excited, dreamy edge.
Just the week before, Cutler had led the Bears to a 28-0 lead against the Seahawks in an easy divisional-round victory. The thought was that his unpredictability and lack of emotion had been solved and this truly was the year.
But Cutler injured his knee at some point in the first half against the Packers and allegedly was too hurt to play. So he stood watching his teammates carry on from the sideline without him, as stone-faced, non-communicative and seemingly disinterested as a Grant Park statue.
Who was this guy? Was he hurt, or had he given up? He wasn’t grimacing, smiling, speaking, nodding, frowning — nothing. Was there a heart inside?
Later, there would be video of Cutler climbing stairs easily that weekend, and, well, things would never be the same for him in this town.
Secondly, there was fill-in quarterback Josh McCown, who went 3-2 with a stellar 109 passer rating when Cutler was hurt in 2013. McCown insisted Cutler would be the starter again once he had healed.
Why, we scribes asked, when you’re playing so well?
“Have you seen his arm?” McCown said with a laugh.
So those two things merge to give us our best view of the 34-year-old Cutler, who was set to do commentary on Fox TV this season after being let go by the Bears, then abruptly signed with the Dolphins.
He is freakishly gifted. But he is oddly flawed.
Now Cutler is back with old offensive-coordinator pal Adam Gase, now the Dolphins’ coach, a man who supposedly knows how to get the most and best from Cutler. Could be. All we can do is wonder.
Budding Dolphins franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill is injured and will be out for many weeks. Somebody must step in to lead the offense, and there in aqua green and orange suddenly is Cutler with the keys.
The guy who holds almost all of the Bears’ passing records, yet who always seemed to let fans down in dispiriting ways, is starting a new sports life down in Miami.
The Bears don’t play the middling Dolphins this season — unless they were to meet in the Super Bowl, which seems ludicrous even to mention. But won’t we be watching Cutler on NFL highlights and lowlights and blooper screens just to see if he infects South Florida with the same tantalizing potential and ultimate blah-ness he showed in Chicago?
Tannehill has $53 million remaining on his contract, but it is not guaranteed. Such is the all-or-nothing nature of the NFL. Cutler, on the other hand, has a $10 million contract with the Dolphins, which puts him in the bottom three of signed veteran quarterbacks.
No harm, no foul. Easy come, easy go.
But what if Cutler plays like a star? I have a hard time believing it could happen, but it’s possible. Would that change our perception of him up here, where no one was sad to see him go? Where Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky now can rule?
But what if veteran Glennon and kid Trubisky are duds? Well, the ramifications — on the field and in the Bears’ front office — are too many to consider right now.
Some people believe that free agent Colin Kaepernick, the kneeling protester, should have been signed by the Dolphins, that his upside at 29 is far greater than Cutler’s. Maybe it is.
But Kaepernick just might be silently blackballed in the league. This country voted for Donald Trump, remember, and rich white men still run things in the USA. That would include the NFL.
So, dear Colin, you want to play for the Man? Better cut your hair, stand up and kneel only when the Man says to. Or find a sympathetic coach. (Good luck there.) Or get out of this glorified meat business entirely.
Cutler can throw a football through a wall. He stands for the anthem. His attitude is unknowable.
I guess all we can say is, “Have a nice South Beach life, dude.”
Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.