Athlon Editors Debate the Fate of Smokin' Jay
Jay Cutler's contract is up at the end of the year, leaving the Chicago Bears with a decision that will impact the franchise for a long time. Do they place their trust in Cutler, or do they move on? Athlon editors Nathan Rush and Rob Doster take up the question.
It’s like asking if Mike Ditka would win a fight with a hurricane. There’s only one right answer. Yes. It doesn’t take Bill Swerski or any of his Superfan buddies to know the Chicago Bears — Da Bears! —should re-sign quarterback Jay Cutler.
How soon we forget. Remember who started under center for the Bears before Cutler arrived from the Denver Broncos, a team that replaced “Smokin’ Jay” with Heisman Trophy-winning, BCS national title-winning, first-round draft pick Tim Tebow? The Windy City aerial attack was led by Super Bowl runner-up Rex Grossman (a.k.a. “Turnover-saurus Rex”), Kyle Orton (a.k.a. “King Neck Beard”), son-of-a Super Bowl winner Brian Griese, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Kordell Stewart, Chris Chandler, Jim Miller, Shane Matthews and Cade McNown — and that’s just the 2000s-era starting QBs in Chicago.
If the Bears don’t re-sign Cutler, they are choosing a total rebuilding job over building around a proven Pro Bowl passer with 100 starts, 148 TD passes and 22,997 yards under his belt. And that would be risky business, especially considering Chicago’s recent track record of drafting quarterbacks — a list that includes four first-rounders since the NFL-AFL merger in Grossman (No. 22 overall in 2003), McNown (No. 12 in 1999), Jim Harbaugh (No. 26 in ’87) and Jim McMahon (No. 5 in ’82). And the Bears are just mediocre enough this year that there is no way to compete with the miserable Jaguars and Buccaneers for the top signal-caller available in 2014. Good luck finding a quarterback better than Cutler, who went No. 11 overall in 2006.
Chicago needs to focus on the once-feared Monsters of the Midway defense. Stopping Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford is the answer to winning the NFC North — not replacing Cutler, a legitimate franchise quarterback.
– Nathan Rush
Tony Dungy was recently asked whether he thought Jay Cutler was a franchise quarterback. Dungy’s response: “He could be, but not from what I’ve seen so far.”
And that’s precisely the problem with Cutler. Even now, in the eighth season of his career, he remains more promise than production. Chicago has nothing to gain by breaking the bank to keep a quarterback who has yet to reach his potential and has made precisely one playoff appearance in his career.
Cutler may be the last man standing from the 2006 first-round quarterback class, but he has risen no higher than the middle of the pack among his peers. He’s 16th among active players in passer rating, and his interception percentage of 3.4 ranks 28th and underscores his alarming and ongoing propensity for the ill-timed turnover.
Then there’s his health. Once a paragon of durability, Cutler has seen an increasing susceptibility to injury that is rapidly diminishing his long-term value. This season marks the second time in three years he will have missed multiple games.
It would be one thing if the Bears had no other options, but the opposite is true. Next spring’s NFL Draft will see one of the great quarterback classes of recent memory. Names like Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Marcus Mariota, Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray will be clustered atop draft boards in war rooms across the league. A Bears team that will likely be drafting in the middle of the pack will still have several tantalizing first-round options.
The Cutler experiment in Chicago has been a qualified success at best, and after only one playoff victory — against a 7–9 Seahawks team that was the worst playoff team of the modern era — it’s time for the Bears to move on. Better options await.
– Rob Doster