Why these four teams make sense for Jay Cutler if he and the Bears cut ties
Cardinals and Dolphins would be good football fits, but the Jets seem more likely
Jay Cutler's career in Chicago -- a career that has included far too much controversy to sum up with a few words squeezed between two em dashes -- appears to be over after eight years.
Cutler's 2016 season has repeatedly hit injury snags, the latest being a potentially season-ending torn labrum, and the Bears can cut ties with him after the season without suffering severe financial consequences. With the Bears on track to land a top pick in next year's draft, which they'll presumably use on a quarterback, they're likely to straight-up release Cutler or try to trade him to a QB-needy team. Even if that trade doesn't materialize, Cutler will have plenty of suitors in free agency.
You might find it hard believe, or you might not want to believe it because you hate his demeanor, but Cutler can still be a good NFL quarterback in the right situation. We're only one season removed from his 2015 campaign that saw him post a career-high 92.3 passer rating. Despite playing without Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White for most of the season, Cutler didn't experience a multiple-interception game until Week 17. Paired with offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler revitalized his up-and-down career.
Then, this season happened. Gase left, Cutler sprained his thumb almost immediately, and shortly after he returned, he hurt his shoulder. He truly only played one great game before losing his season. Still, that glimpse of greatness and his God-given arm (just watch what might be his last touchdown as a Bear) should be enough to lure another team into signing him to a short-term contract. Though I've floated the idea of Cutler retiring after the season, I'm betting he's going to want one more shot to prove that he's a winning quarterback.
I believe there's an argument to be made for the Bears to keep Cutler while they draft a developmental quarterback. But that argument is for another day.
So, where will Cutler end up if the Bears really do part ways with their all-time leading passer?
You can pretty much look at any terrible team lacking a quarterback, like the Browns and 49ers, and make a case. I just don't buy those two teams as landing spots because they're going to have a top pick to draft a quarterback and they're both so far away from winning. Acquiring an older quarterback like Cutler doesn't make sense for teams stuck in rebuilding mode.
Now, let's run through four teams that seem like ideal destinations.
4. The Miami Dolphins
If Cutler winds up in Miami, it'll be because of his relationship with Gase. After turning Cutler into an efficient and largely mistake-free quarterback, Gase seized his chance to take on the Dolphins job and try his hand at fixing Ryan Tannehill.
He has done a heck of a job, which is why the Dolphins are the least likely of our four teams. Gase isn't likely to get rid of Tannehill after one season because the Dolphins don't actually look bad (if the season ended today, they would make the playoffs!) and Tannehill has had his moments.
He ranks 11th in completion percentage (66.0), eighth in yards per attempt (7.82) and his 94.7 passer rating tops Cutler's 2015 passer rating. That's not to say Tannehill looks like the Dolphins' future franchise quarterback, but he has done enough to stick around.
But if Tannehill collapses down the stretch and, as a result, the Dolphins waste their chance to earn a playoff spot, Tannehill's seat will heat up. The Dolphins could bring in competition in the form of Cutler.
Consider this: Tannehill has been under pressure on 38.2 percent of his snaps (the 10th-highest percentage), per Pro Football Focus. On those plays, he has accumulated a passer rating of 51.6 (26th of 30). Cutler posted the sixth-best passer rating (87.4) under pressure last season.
Despite how much Cutler and Gase enjoyed working with each other and Cutler's success last season, the match doesn't make sense as long as Tannehill is present. A reunion like this would be a great story and an even better football fit, but seems unlikely.
Unless Tannehill stumbles in December -- a scenario we probably shouldn't rule out.
3. The Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer isn't the Carson Palmer of 2015. Palmer, 36, has been bad this season. And at 4-6-1, the Cardinals are not any good, either.
That leaves the Cardinals in a tricky position. David Johnson is the best all-around back in football, Larry Fitzgerald is still at the top of his game, Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson are game changers on defense and they're probably going to look to re-sign Chandler Jones. To put it another way, they're still in win-now mode.
If Bruce Arians doesn't think Palmer can rebound from a disastrous season -- he has thrown 15 touchdowns and 11 picks and posted an 83.3 passer rating -- he might look to bring in outside competition or a replacement. He also happens to love Cutler.
Before Arians took the Cardinals' job, he was a candidate to supplant Lovie Smith in Chicago. The Bears ended up hiring Marc Trestman (a move that still haunts Bears fans to this day) and Arians moved on to Arizona. But he desperately wanted to coach Cutler and the Bears.
Here's what Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported last year:
Arians might have found part of the process somewhat peculiar, but let me tell you this: When the Bears made the decision to hire Marc Trestman at about 1 a.m., Arians was holed up in a north suburban hotel not far from Halas Hall. Had GM Phil Emery called Arians and offered him the job, he was going to take it.
Arians didn't travel to Arizona and interview for the Cardinals job until after he was informed the Bears had made the decision to hire Trestman. The job Arians wanted was in Chicago.
And here's what he said about Cutler last September, per ESPN.com:
"Cutler is a passionate guy that wanted to win, you know," Arians said. "I think he gets misunderstood a lot. We spent a good hour together, and I was very, very impressed with him.
"Sometimes when you care a lot, your body can give different signals. Each person's different. The guy obviously cares about winning."
Cutler would fit well in Arians' offense. Arians loves throwing deep and Cutler has the arm talent to do just that.
It'll come down to Arians' opinion on Palmer and if the franchise is willing to spend the money.
2. The Jacksonville Jaguars
Remember when the Jaguars (sorry, Rex) were the darlings of the offseason?
Finally, after years of ineptitude, the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs in 2016. They went out and landed free agents Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, drafted top-five talents in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack and were bringing back an offense that featured Fantasy superstars in Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
Their biggest issue: Bortles is not a good NFL quarterback. There's no way around that, even though he continues to thrive in garbage time, which has boosted his passer rating to 80.6. His passer rating when the Jaguars are trailing by 9-16 points? 102.7.
The Jaguars need to bring in offseason competition. That competition could be Cutler.
Because the AFC South is weak, winning the division with nine wins isn't far-fetched. And the Jaguars' defense entered Week 11 ranked 15th in DVOA and should improve as their rookies get acclimated to the NFL.
I'm not saying the Jaguars would be a playoff team with Cutler, but they would be a heck of a lot better than 2-9. At the very least, he might push Bortles.
I know what you're thinking. I just wrote above that I wasn't going to consider awful teams like the Browns and 49ers, so why am I including the two-win Jaguars? I don't think the Jaguars are any good, but I don't think they see themselves that way. They entered the season with playoff aspirations and, given how much money they spent in free agency, I don't see a complete rebuild coming.
Acquiring a quarterback who can hold his own might be their solution to keep their sinking ship afloat.
1. The New York Jets
The Jets are so close to becoming the Bears of the AFC East.
They already traded for Brandon Marshall. They already signed Matt Forte. Heck, even Kellen Davis was on the Jets' roster until mid-November, and the only reason any team should have Davis on their roster is if they want to experience plays like this:
The only thing worse than Ryan Fitzpatrick's film is Fitzpatrick AND Kellen Davis' film combined. pic.twitter.com/Jo4H9AELWB— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) March 3, 2016
They're just Cutler away from becoming the 2013 Bears. And you know what? It actually makes so much sense.
The Jets don't have a quarterback. They waited all summer long to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, which clearly didn't work out, because Fitzpatrick never has been a good starting quarterback. He has thrown 13 picks and was briefly benched in favor of Bryce Petty.
So, here's the good news for the Jets: They don't have any financial investment in Fitzpatrick after he throws his final pass this season.
Here's the bad news: They don't have a better option on the roster, which is why they were forced to bring back Fitzpatrick during training camp. Geno Smith isn't good or under contract next season. Petty was so bad in his lone start (5.09 yards per attempt) that Todd Bowles gave the job back to Fitzpatrick. And Christian Hackenberg showed the Jets nothing in the preseason.
Are the Jets really going to enter next season with these two quarterbacks?
Why is James Franklin making Christian Hackenberg play like this? pic.twitter.com/3B25Kc2m1Y— DJ Gallo (@DJGalloEtc) September 2, 2016
Bringing back Fitzpatrick isn't the answer, but signing Cutler might be. For one, he has a history with Marshall and Forte.
After enduring this version of Fitzpatrick (Marshall has hauled in just 49 percent of his targets this year), I can't think of a better time for Marshall to make things right with Cutler. Heck, he already started this offseason by saying (again) that Cutler could win MVP. Maybe he was just trying to jinx Cutler so that he would wind up with New York next year. After all, they've combined for 40 touchdowns.
Forte and Cutler have always been on good terms. Before he departed Chicago in free agency, Forte talked about how he wanted to remain with the Bears because of Cutler. And in a September appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, Forte defended Cutler's personality, calling him a great teammate.
Look, the Jets would surely want a quarterback better than Cutler, but quarterbacks better than Cutler aren't available (well, Tony Romo might be). Heck, it's not often quarterbacks of Cutler's caliber are free agents.
The Jets should capitalize on the chance. They're a year removed from a 10-win season, when Fitzpatrick didn't suck. With a better quarterback than Fitzpatrick, they could compete for a playoff spot -- at least I'm guessing that's what they're thinking. Meanwhile, as Cutler, Marshall and Forte recreate their Chicago days, the Jets still have two developmental quarterbacks in Petty and Hackenberg.
And ask yourself this: Who could better teach Hackenberg how to succeed with funky mechanics and erratic accuracy than Cutler?
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