No quarterback likes pressure, and only a very select few perform better under it. Jay Cutler may be one of those, if not exactly under the presumed kind of pressure. A logical question arising out of that fact, however, may well make sense as part of Bears draft plans for 2016, a draft ostensibly light on elite, first round quarterbacks but ones who will be available on Days 2 and 3.
Cutler may indeed be one of those individuals who not only responds well to a challenge or threat, but also in fact needs one. He would be in select company in that regard.
It was a routine practice in Green Bay when the Packers year-after-year brought in backups for Brett Favre, as one of them turned out to be Aaron Rodgers.
More recently, consider Tom Brady as a possible object lesson.
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Brady is in the discussion as one of the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Yet, during his epic run as New England Patriots starter, the Pats drafted his “replacement” over and over again:
Probably just coincidence here, but in three of those years in which New England drafted a quarterback (2003, 2011, 2014), including the last one when they took a quarterback on Day 2 (2014), Brady responded with a Super Bowl ring.
“I think the Patriots use a high draft choice every year to light a fire under Tom Brady,” said ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, apparently tongue-in-cheek, on WSCR, adding with emphasis, “and it works.”
Clearly neither Brady nor Favre ever needed a lot of fire-lighting; for Brady, being passed over in the 2000 NFL Draft until the sixth round, when he was the backup drafted to understudy Drew Bledsoe, provided enough of that.
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Switching back to Cutler: The Bears quarterback has played some of his most self- and team-destructive football when he’s been given a hug:
2009 - Bears trade two No. 1’s to Denver, Cutler gets a contract bump, leads the NFL with career-worst 26 INTs.
2012 - New general manager Phil Emery first uses “franchise QB” to describe No. 6; Cutler posts second-worst passer rating of career, worse QBR than Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder, others.
2014 - Emery gives Cutler a seven-year, $126.7 million contract; Cutler goes 5-10 as starter, ties league-worst 18 INTs.
Then in come general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox, who directly withhold any endorsement of Cutler as their starting quarterback for 2015. Even then-offensive coordinator Adam Gase is on the phone during February with former coaches getting a read on Cutler.
Result: Cutler posts career-best passer rating (92.3), third-best QBR of his 10-year career and second-best INT percentage of his career. And he earned plaudits from a coach who knows quarterbacks:
“I think you file things and you put it back there but you always like to figure it out on your own,” Fox said of the Cutler relationship during remarks at last week's NFL Scouting Combine.
“And he was probably one of the brightest spots, I think, about our first year in Chicago and getting to know our players, which we know a lot better now than we did at this time a year ago. So I saw way more about his mental toughness. I saw way more about how he can absorb an offense and execute it under pressure. I think that speaks volumes for how successful he was on third downs, which is a tough down for a quarterback in the NFL. But I was very, very pleased with what I saw and what we have to work with going forward.”
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Pace has indicated his preference for drafting quarterbacks, and the Bears actually have stocked up behind Cutler. But it has been nothing like what the Patriots have done behind Brady, and therein lies the lesson.
The Bears drafted David Fales in the sixth round (2014), Nathan Enderle in the fifth (2011) and Dan LeFevour in the sixth (2010) — not what would be described as “serious” additions, and none of them panned out, although Cutler did have his two best combined seasons (2010-11, 17-6 win-loss record) in those years that the Bears took LeFevour and Enderle.
By comparison, when the Bears invested a fourth-round pick in a quarterback in 2005 (Kyle Orton) behind their starter (Rex Grossman), the Bears went to the playoffs that year and the Super Bowl the next.
Just a thought.