Jay Cutler stepping away from one microphone venue he despised in favor of another to begin another career made for interesting discussion about his suitability to be a commentator for FOX football coverage. But while his performance as an analyst ultimately will answer questions about his abilities behind a microphone, left unanswered will ultimately be the ones about his abilities behind center.
The bigger story behind Cutler’s move was why a quarterback who totaled more passing yards than the likes of Kurt Warner and Sonny Jurgensen, and more TD passes than Joe Flacco, couldn’t find a quarterback job at age 34. Jeff George got one at 34. Ryan Fitzpatrick had one at 34. Josh McCown has had four since he turned 34.
Yet in a league where painfully few teams have one legitimate starting quarterback, Cutler could not land a job as a second-stringer. FOX was willing to take a chance on Cutler in a job he’d never done before. Nobody in the NFL was willing to take a flyer on a guy who’d had 11 years of seasoning.
Whether or how much he really wanted a job after the Bears cut ties has been cited as a possible factor. Regardless, the Houston Texans weren’t interested and that’s a playoff-intent team with Tom Savage as their starter, at least until Deshaun Watson assumes his rightful place as that. The New York Jets didn’t even nibble, content with McCown. Cleveland was fine with DeShone Kizer in the second round.
You have to assume it wasn’t talent; never was, for that matter. (Hopefully his fan base doesn’t start blaming his supporting cast of booth- or panel-mates if he doesn’t do well at this job.)
Peter King, longtime NFL chum from Platteville Days, posited in an excellent MMQB piece that “Cutler was a little too smart for his own good.” FOX colleague-to-be Charles Davis’ glowing comments to Adam Jahns over at the Sun-Times notwithstanding, production meetings with the weeks’ broadcast teams during his playing time here were marked by more than a few instances of bizarre, rude behavior.
Cutler defenders cite his having seven different offensive coordinators in the span of his last nine seasons (including Rick Dennison in Denver) as a cause for his consistent mediocrity. Maybe the NFL looks at it from exactly the opposite direction, that Cutler was part of why no coordinator since Dennison survived longer than two years coaching him. John Fox is the first of four Cutler head coaches to see him ousted, not the other way around.
Wonder how the scene might’ve gone in Houston if GM Rick Smith had signed Cutler and walked into coach Bill O’Brien’s office…
“Bill, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is I signed Jay Cutler for you. The bad news is, I signed Jay Cutler for you.”
The Bears had no thought whatsoever of opting to hold onto Cutler while putting a young franchise guy in their pipeline, the way Andy Reid and Kansas City did behind Alex Smith. The reasons were more than anybody-but-Cutler and don’t matter here, but that his own team didn’t want to keep him over a lesser-credentialed Mike Glennon is a statement.
Now Cutler is in a position where he can make his own statement, or statements; in fact, that’s kinda his job now. And maybe he really didn’t want to play anymore, didn’t say so explicitly but projected it (there’s that body-language thing again). None of this is to say Cutler’s a bad guy, or even a really bad quarterback. But that nobody in a QB-lite league wants a quarterback with more than 32,000 passing yards does stand as the final mystery over an individual, a lot of whose career was shrouded in it.