“I mean you kind of suck, but my dad says you might be good some day.”
These are the optimistic, yet slightly insulting words of Stan Marsh, one of the main characters from South Park. He was speaking to Jay Cutler, who at the time was the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback. This fictional encounter aired on Comedy Central almost a decade ago but it still fascinates me. Even when his career was just beginning, we already had our doubts about Cutler. Maybe we always will.
Cutler announced his retirement on Friday, but it’s not like we’ll never see him again. Quite the contrary—he’ll be calling games for Fox this fall, working in the booth alongside veteran broadcasters Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis. For better or worse, Cutler will still be a part of our football lives each Sunday even if he’s not wearing a helmet and pads anymore.
It’s natural to conjure up memories when an iconic player retires—we did that just a few weeks ago when Tony Romo called it quits. But Cutler’s legacy is a bit more complicated. He certainly had talent. You can’t fake your way to 10 seasons as an NFL starter. But despite his first-round pedigree, the 34-year-old never separated from the pack. Cutler was invited to one Pro Bowl (that’s two less than Andy Dalton), appeared in two playoff games (both in 2010), topped 4,000 yards once and never reached 30 touchdowns in a single season.
When push came to shove, Cutler’s penchant for turnovers and untimely injuries (most notably his early exit from the 2010 NFC title game) usually offset his more positive traits. Cutler was rewarded with a seven-year, $126 million contract extension after the 2013 season—the largest contract ever given to a quarterback at the time. He never came close to delivering on it. It all adds up to the resume of a mild underachiever, though Cutler’s on-field performance is just a sliver of what he’ll be remembered for.
The most interesting aspect of Cutler’s career was how disinterested he appeared at all times during it. There was a certain artistry in the way Cutler carried himself, a profound nonchalance that was both refreshing and irritating. Cutler’s apathetic demeanor served him well at times (you can’t feel pressure if you don’t feel anything at all) but his poor body language could rub people the wrong way. Comedian Hannibal Buress probably put it best when he said, “It’s something about his face, where you look at his face and you’re like, ‘I don’t like that dude.’”
The Bears weren’t asking Cutler to throw sideline hissy fits like Tom Brady, but some semblance of human emotion here and there would have probably done the trick. Unlike the namesake of his hometown in Indiana, there was no joy to Cutler’s game. He was the football version of J.D. Drew, a reluctant star with the emotional range of Keanu Reaves.
Cutler’s prickly nature was an impediment throughout his career, but it also made him a cult figure. I can’t remember what life was like before the Smokin’ Jay Cutler meme exploded, but it couldn’t have been as interesting as the world we live in now. Smokin’ Jay was an Internet phenomenon, bringing unexpected levity and satire to one of the more infamous figures in pro sports. Once Cutler became the punch line, it became easier to look past his many shortcomings. His messy exit from Denver, his reluctance to lead, even his lousy parenting when Kristin Cavallari is out of the house—it’s all part of the Cutler persona.
Aside from the photo-shopped cigarettes dangling from his mouth, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Cutler was the chemistry he had with Brandon Marshall. Cutler and Marshall both got their start in Denver, spending three years together before Cutler was eventually traded to Chicago. After four years apart, Marshall and Cutler reunited in the Windy City, playing together from 2012-14. Marshall and Cutler won’t be remembered as fondly as duos like Jerry Rice and Joe Montana or Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, but it was still a highly effective pairing. Marshall went over 1,000 yards receiving in four of his six seasons with Cutler including his career-high of 1,508 yards set in 2012. As two of the most misunderstood players of their generation, it’s only fitting that Cutler and Marshall will be remembered in the same breath.
Cutler’s retirement, which he swears is permanent, wasn’t his decision. The league made that choice for him. After being outplayed by journeyman Brian Hoyer during an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, the Bears correctly diagnosed that Cutler wasn’t the team’s long or short-term solution at quarterback. Even before the Bears poached Mike Glennon from Tampa Bay, Cutler’s fate was already sealed. Chicago let him go at the start of free agency, ending Cutler’s eight-year tenure with the Bears.
It was assumed Cutler would find a new team in short order but that never materialized. The Jets showed mild interest in the ex-Bear but cancelled their meeting after inking veteran Josh McCown to a one-year contract. Cutler practically begged the Texans for a job after their plan to acquire Tony Romo unraveled, but they wouldn’t even answer his calls. After Houston drafted Deshaun Watson in the first round, he gave up his NFL dream in pursuit of broadcasting. Cutler probably could have landed a backup gig if he wanted one but it doesn’t look like that was part of his thought process.
News of Cutler’s foray into the broadcasting world was met by shock and skepticism. On paper it doesn’t look like an ideal fit—Cutler has never been Mr. Personality. But lately we’ve seen a more candid side of Cutler, who discussed everything from Mitchell Trubisky to his birthday suit after announcing his retirement on Friday. If this unfiltered version of Cutler is the one we’re going to see on TV this fall, sign me up.
I discussed the post-Cutler Bears at length in last week’s Bump and Run. I won’t rehash the whole thing, but my general thesis was that Chicago took a huge risk in trading up for Trubisky, a one-year starter at North Carolina. I also didn’t care for the way the Bears misled Mike Glennon, who expected to be the team’s franchise quarterback but has instead been reduced to a one-year stopgap.
But whatever the Bears end up doing at quarterback, it will have to be without Cutler, who has chosen to reinvent himself in the broadcast booth. Unfortunately for Hannibal Buress, his face will still be the same, just with a little more makeup than we’re used to.
Quick Hits: The Bills hired Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane to be their new general manager. He’s taking the place of Doug Whaley, who was fired shortly after the draft. Before hiring Beane, the Bills also interviewed Eagles director of college scouting Trey Brown, Texans director of player personnel Brian Gaine and Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst … Falcons guard Hugh Thornton announced his retirement after four NFL seasons. The 26-year-old accumulated 32 starts between 2013-15 before missing all of last season with a foot injury … New Colts WRs coach Sanjay Lal was highly complementary of contract-year wideout Donte Moncrief. “With me, it’s a blank slate. And I see this piece of clay that can be one of the better receivers in the league,” said Lal. “He has all the tools” … Geno Smith tore his ACL six months ago but claims he’s already back to 100 percent. The former Jet will back up Eli Manning in 2017 … Jets wideout Robby Anderson was arrested at a music festival in Miami over the weekend. Anderson allegedly pushed a police officer and now faces charges for resisting arrest with violence and obstruction of justice … Despite not having a team, seven-time Pro Bowler Nick Mangold said he’s still hoping to play this season. The 33-year-old has only visited one team (the Ravens) since getting cut by the Jets in February … The Ravens officially re-signed restricted free agent Terrance West on Monday. T-West will handle early-down work until Kenneth Dixon returns from his four-game PED suspension … Rams GM Les Snead said the “goal” is for Tavon Austin to be ready by training camp. Austin has already been ruled out for OTAs after undergoing arthroscopic wrist surgery last Thursday … Panthers left tackle Michael Oher is scheduled to appear in court on June 6. Oher was charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly throwing his Uber driver to the ground during a confrontation in Nashville last week … Scot McCloughan said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the Redskins for firing him as GM. “I wish I could have been here longer to see it come to fruition,” he said. “But still, I’m gonna’ pull for them” … ESPN’s Katherine Terrell believes Joe Mixon “will likely get a heavy dose of playing time right away.” The Bengals selected Mixon 48th overall in last month’s draft. He would have been a first-rounder if not for his 2014 assault arrest … ESPN’s Adam Teicher expects Spencer Ware to open 2017 as the Chiefs’ lead back. Ware held that role last year but now faces competition from third-round pick Kareem Hunt … Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer says it’s “difficult to see” Dorial Green-Beckham making the Eagles’ 53-man roster out of training camp. DGB disappointed last year and the Eagles upgraded their receiving corps by signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith during free agency … The Saints are optimistic Max Unger will return during the preseason. The 31-year-old underwent foot surgery last weekend.
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