Jay Cutler has been in the NFL for 11 seasons, attempting 4,500 passes and never has experienced the highs and lows of free agency.
That is almost certainly about to change. And from a financial standpoint for the polarizing quarterback, not for the better.
As we Bears. They’ll cut him if they can’t trade him -- news flash: It’s virtually certain they will be unable to trade him -- and they are all in on trying to trade for Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo themselves., Cutler won’t be back with the
So, nothing has happened, and when it comes to Cutler’s immediate future, nothing will happen. The Bears know they face monumental odds in finding a team willing to give them an asset in return for assuming Cutler’s ridiculous contract, and this is all very likely folly, as any club with middling interest in the quarterback realizes they’ll be able to sign him at their own terms once he is cut.
So, before I get into my reporting on what a possible free-agent market for Cutler looks like, let’s take care of the minutia at hand. The Bears are shopping him, and would take a 2019 seventh-round pick for him. Given his current contract status, that might be about as much as they can expect. Cutler, 33, is due to earn $15 million next season, and has four years and a total of $72 million remaining on his current deal. You would have to be bonkers to take that on at this stage of his career, coming off a season when he played only five games because of injury, and one which he was arguably outperformed by Brian Hoyer. That is very similar to how he was arguably outperformed by Josh McCown in 2013, when Cutler was limited to 11 games.
Cutler is on a deal that averages about $18 million and his guaranteed money on that deal is finally all paid out -- the only reason he wasn’t dumped sooner. The Bears let it be known in the past that they would gladly move on from Cutler, league sources said, only no one wanted to assume this albatross of a contract. So, this latest attempt to move him is neither a revelation nor an indication of what likely is to come.
Let’s establish who Cutler is: He’s a slightly younger, slightly ballsier, considerably more aloof Ryan Fitzpatrick. And a year ago, coming off what easily was the most productive, least-self-destructive season of Fitzpatrick’s 12-year career, he earned a one-year, $12 million deal from the Jets, who regretted the move almost immediately after Fitzpatrick put pen to paper.
So ask this question: Why would any GM bring in Cutler for any sort of long-term commitment, at any salary north of $10 million to $12 million?
Since Cutler entered the NFL, 3.3 percent of his passes have ended up in the hands of an opposing defender. That’s tied with Fitzpatrick for the most of any quarterback who has appeared in 80 or more games since 2006, and it’s by a pretty good margin (next worst is Eli Manning, with a 3.1 percent interception rate). That’s a massive problem. Since Cutler entered the NFL, he has thrown 208 TD passes and 146 interceptions, while Fitzpatrick, more of a football vagabond who hasn’t started as many games, has thrown 162 TDs and 125 interceptions. So Fitzpatrick has a 1.3 TD/INT ratio, and Cutler has a 1.42 TD/INT ratio. Fairly comparable. Fitzpatrick has a career QB rating of 80.4 and Cutler has a career rating of 85.7. We’re clearly in the same ballpark.
And last season, no team except the Jets had interest in Fitzpatrick as a starter, and they didn’t sign him until just before camp started. So, again, can anyone explain why a team would be inclined to take on what remains of Cutler’s deal?
Cutler has tossed at least 14 interceptions every season in which he has played at least 15 games, except for 2015, his lone season with quarterback whisperer Adam Gase. Gase basically forbade him to force balls, make intricate reads or over-trust his arm, finding a way to limit the turnover machine to only 11 picks. It might have been Gase’s greatest quarterback coaching achievement, and this is the man who was the Broncos’ QB coach when they won a playoff game with Tim Tebow under center. Let that marinate for a minute, if you would.
But the mantra of “right player, right price” is always in vogue, and big-armed quarterbacks always find some coach/coordinator who believes he can can fix the player. So please don’t mistake this as positing the end of Cutler as an NFL starter. Not quite. It’s just the end of him playing for the kind of contracts he has been used to since his trade from Denver to Chicago in 2009 and subsequent contract extension.
As to what his actual market might look like, let’s start with the Jets. As I first reported well before the Super Bowl, Jets execs have some interest in him as a bridge quarterback. They believe he can play in the elements that are a reality in the AFC East, and they like his moxie and arm talent. And that was well before the Jets hired Jeremy Bates as their quarterback coach. Bates worked with Cutler as a youngster with the Broncos and always has been a big believer in him. I thought long ago the Jets were a likely landing spot, but it will have to be at their price, especially after the Fitzpatrick disaster.
After that, I would keep a close eye on Buffalo. The Bills have eyes for Tony Romo -- they won’t get him -- if they can’t convince Tyrod Taylor to re-do his deal to stay, and if/when Buffalo is out there in the quarterback abyss, I’m not sure they can do better than Cutler.
The 49ers would make more sense for Cutler than some other quarterbacks linked to them (Matt Schaub? Seriously?). Keep in mind that new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan goes way back with Cutler, as Shanahan’s father Mike drafted him in the first round out of Vanderbilt.
And what about the Dolphins signing him, should starter Ryan Tannehill require knee surgery? Miami, where Gase is now the coach, continues to monitor his situation and keep its fingers crossed that Tannehill heals from his late-season injury.
I think the combination of the always-combustible Cutler and notoriously hot-headed coach Bill O’Brien in Houston could make for great fodder (I’m kind of rooting for this outcome, I confess), and we all know the Texans are already disgusted by their signing of Brock Osweiler to attempt to play quarterback for them only a year ago. I wouldn’t rule this out.
The Jaguars should be looking for someone to impress upon Blake Bortles that he needs to fight to keep his starting job, and the Browns need to add to their stable of quarterbacks at some point, given how they can’t get through three quarters of regular-season football without another one succumbing to a significant injury.
Whatever market for Cutler exists likely is comprised of that group. But to think anyone is giving up much more than the seventh-round picks being extended for Julius Thomas and his bloated contract, or Branden Albert and his bloated contract, is beyond wishful thinking. And considering the Bears don’t have other quarterbacks under contract and they can’t wait to move on from Cutler, that tells you all you really know about the likelihood they can pawn their problem off on an unsuspecting team.