Jay Cutler's success as FOX analyst not the biggest question hanging over ex-Bears QB

Jay Cutler's success as FOX analyst not the biggest question hanging over ex-Bears QB

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.

[RELATED: Will Bears fans finally get to see another side of Jay Cutler in his new role as FOX broadcaster?]

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.

Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White


Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White

Questions have been hanging over Kevin White ever since GM Ryan Pace opted to invest the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft on a wide receiver with one outstanding college season on his resume. Given Pace’s strike for a quarterback with a roughly similar body of work last draft, this may qualify as a Pace “strategy,” but that’s for another discussion closer to the draft.

But in the wake of signings at wide receiver by Pace and the Bears over the start-up days of free agency, a new and perhaps darker cloud is forming over White. This is beyond the obvious ones visited on the young man by his succession of three season-ending injuries, and by a nagging belief in some quarters that White is a bust irrespective of the injuries.

The point is not that White will never amount to anything in the NFL. Marc Colombo came back from a pair of horrendous leg injuries to have a career as a solid NFL tackle, albeit with the Dallas Cowboys, not the Bears.

The problem facing White now, assuming he comes back able to stay healthy in a competition with Cameron Meredith for the spot opposite Allen Robinson, is whether there is reasonably going to be a roster spot the Bears can use for him.

This would be on top of whether Pace and the organization could bring themselves to cut ties with a quality individual in a move that would amount to admitting a failure in what was supposed to be a defining initial top-10 pick by a regime committed to building through the draft.

White is still under his rookie contract with its $2.7 million guaranteed for this season, so there is little reason to simply give up on him, even assuming an offset if White then signs on somewhere else.

But Robinson and slot receiver Taylor Gabriel account for two of the starting three wideout spots. For the other wide receiver job, Meredith, also coming off season-ending knee surgery, rates an early edge on White based on Meredith’s 66-catch 2016 season.

If White does not start, he then becomes a backup, and backups are expected to contribute on special teams. It’s what has kept Josh Bellamy in the NFL, and what new Bears tight end Trey Burton points to as his ticket to making it through his first years with Philadelphia.

White doesn’t cover kicks, doesn’t return them, doesn’t block them. The Bears have typically expected special-teams participation from their No. 4-5 receivers, although the fact that Meredith and Robinson are coming off knee injuries, and chances that the Bears will keep six wide receivers in the West Coast offense of Matt Nagy, all could tilt a decision in favor of White simply as insurance/depth, even with his own injury history.

It is difficult not to have a spot of rooting-interest in White, a young guy trying so hard to get a career dream off the ground. It’s just also difficult to see a clear fit in the new Bears world that began forming in earnest in the past several days.

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.