Friday, August 18, 2017

Cutler Has Something in Miami He's Never Had Before: A Warm Welcome

    It was refreshing to see Miami fans welcome Jay Cutler with a warm ovation.  The respect the fan base showed to its new quarterback was heartfelt and respectful; it was also new, to Cutler at least.
    A lot is made of bringing quarterbacks along and giving them a chance to start their careers properly.  Placing too much pressure on young shoulders, however competent, can lead to the frequent phenomenon of the first-round-quarterback-never-was.  In this regard, Cutler was immediately set up to fail.
    Drafted in the first round at #11 overall, Cutler left Denver's fan base puzzled.  The team had made it to the AFC Championship game with fan favorite Jake Plummer the previous season.  Fans thought the Broncos would use their picks to upgrade a few fringe positions and make another run behind the charismatic everyman quarterback who was a Southwestern regional hero due to his fine career at ASU and for the Cardinals. Trading up for Cutler cost a 1st and a 3rd round pick and seemingly added nothing to the on field product.
     Plummer felt betrayed.  Who knows what sort of locker room Cutler walked into.  His coach, Mike Shannahan, liked what he saw and decided to start Cutler in game 12.  The Broncos were 7-4, and Plummer was healthy.  This was as high pressure an opening to a career as a player could have. Cutler went 2-3, showing amazing upside but also growing pains.  The team missed the playoffs, and in many senses, fan resentment was already baked in.
     During the next season, Cutler showed all of the statistical improvement that could be desired in a second year quarterback, finishing in the top half of passers in the league (12th.) In fact, he opened the season 3-0 with 8 touchdown passes.  However, the Broncos again missed the playoffs with a winning record.  Shannahan was fired and Josh McDaniel, perhaps the least prepared head coach in history, landed a job that was far too big for him.  McDaniel catered to the fan base, insinuating he would shop Cutler.  Hurt, Cutler sold his house and insisted on a trade.  A fresh start seemed in order; he didn't get one.
    In an eerie carbon copy, Cutler replaced a local hero with limited talent but great heart and charisma, this time Kyle Orton.  Beloved by the Bears fan base because he had rescued the team from an over-priced glamor boy (Rex Grossman), Orton left town with a first and third round pick.  Fans felt betrayed and that the Bears had over payed.  Again, Cutler came to a team in need of valuable parts that had surrendered picks to get him.  Again, he had to win a locker room from one of the most popular players on the roster.  Again, Cutler performed, and again he was treated with lukewarm semi-affection by a fan base that never got over his origin with the team.  Perhaps a good looking kid from the SEC with a monster arm was too reminiscent of Grossman.  Cutler won, without protection, without a defense, and without a running game.  Bears fans and media responded with amusing memes and merciless press coverage.
     So Jay Cutler retired, and it seemed football was done.  And then the remarkable happened, and he walked onto the field the other night and heard something equally remarkable:  gratitude.
   As I have written elsewhere, when Cutler went down injured with the Bears his replacements went a combined 1-8.  In games he started in those same seasons, Cutler was 17-7.  His replacements played behind they same line, handed to the same backs, threw to the same receivers.
      I think Miami fans knew what they were doing when they got to their feet last night.  And i think Jay Cutler probably thought that he had finally arrived in the style he has always deserved.

Jay Lopez

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Jay Cutler: A Talented, Clutch Player, Oddly Undervalued.

   I'll begin by saying that I am a firm supporter of Ryan Tannehill and I wish him a speedy and full recovery.  That said, I have been crunching the numbers on Jay Cutler and I am very impressed by what I see.  A few trends have emerged:  Cutler has produced a high number of fourth quarter scoring drives.  More importantly, Cutler has improved teams after his arrival.  However, Cutler has also been subject to a great deal of cynicism and mistrust from fan bases and coaching staffs.  I am hoping that Miami will offer this talented player a warmer welcome.  Here are a few reasons to believe.
    In his first full season as a starting quarterback in Denver, Cutler led fourth quarter comebacks against the Bills and Raiders in his first two games.  In the Raiders game he also engineered an overtime drive to win.  In that same season, he led two additional drives to tie or win in the fourth quarter and overtime- and this was a first year starter.  In his second season Cutler led an additional 4 game winning drives.  Let's recap:  8 comebacks out of a rookie starter?  No wonder the season ended with comparisons to Manning and Brady.
     Despite this early success, Cutler met with a strange lack of popularity.  Despite only missing the playoffs on a season-ending game in which his defense surrendered 52 points, Cutler found himself suddenly on the outs.  Mike Shannahan was fired so the Broncos could make room for New England wunderkind Josh McDaniels.  McDaniels insinuated that Cutler was expendable.
       This may have temporarily endeared McDaniels to his new fan base.  Shannahan had inserted Cutler into Denver's lineup over the wildly popular Jake Plummer.  The team was 7-4 when Shannahan, induced by Cutler's talent, switched horses.  The rookie closed 2-3, and the Broncos missed the playoffs.  Cutler was an easy whipping boy, despite glamorous statistics and a solid record as as starter.
       When Cutler got wind that McDaniels was shopping him, he sold his house and asked for a trade.  Here I see the first of several career-long traits emerge.  Cutler wants to be valued.  And he is willing to go where he is wanted.  He is also fiercely proud and competitive.
     The aftermath for the Bears and Broncos in the next two seasons reveals Cutler's value.  McDaniels went on to an 11-17 record without Cutler and was fired in 18 months.  Cutler, meanwhile, went 19-13 in the next two seasons and had the Bears winning the NFC north.  The Bears had been 15-17 in the two seasons prior to Cutler's arrival.  The Broncos had been 18-14 prior to his departure.
    In Chicago, Cutler was often a punching bag, both for other teams' defensive lines and for the media. Cutler replaced a very popular Kyle Orton (who had saved the franchise from Rex Grossman) and Cutler had the misfortune of rolling into a working man's town as a heralded blue blood.  Although he was successful (twice winning a tough division in his first three years) the fan base never truly warmed.
    But Cutler remained ferociously competitive, once pushing an inept lineman in his huddle and lighting up Mike Martz for terrible protection schemes (he took 52 sacks that season) all while pushing a limited Bears roster to a division title.  However, the hits came at a price and Cutler was often injured.  Which leads to a closing thought.
     Cutler was injured in 2011 with the Bears sitting at 6-3.  His backups went 1-6.  In 2012, he sat for a concussion after leading the Bears to 7-1.  They lost the next two games.  Cutler returned and went 3-3, and the Bears missed the playoffs at 10-6.  Think about the WAR there:  Cutler was 17-7, his replacements were 1-8.  If this were baseball, a smart front office would have made him their franchise player.
    In sum, Jay Cutler should never have been available for the Dolphins to sign.  A perfect storm of under-appreciation and talent has ensued, which has given the Dolphins the unique opportunity to fall upwards.  Hey O line: protect this guy; he'll win.

Jay Lopez