by Kent Sterling
Jay Cutler is fool’s gold, and the Chicago Bears just spent a bunch of gold like fools.
The Bears have consigned themselves to mediocrity for the foreseeable future by locking themselves into a franchise quarterback level seven-year deal (GM Phil Emery refused to specify the cash allotted in the deal) with a quarterback solidly ranked in the middle of the pack. If past is prologue, the deal ensures the Bears will continue to win no less than seven and no more than ten games (as Cutler has during each of his seven seasons as a full-time starter) through 2020.
It’s not that Cutler is a bad quarterback; he’s not. He’s good. As a full-time starting quarterback for seven-years, Cutler put together a 54-45 record, and led his team to the playoffs once.
That’s good – consistently good.
Cutler has never lost more than nine games in a season, and has never won more than 10.
That’s good – consistently good.
When he turns 31 in April, Cutler will likely be closer to retirement than to his rookie season. That means fans, coaches, team executives, and everyone else who can google Jay Cutler can see exactly who and what Cutler is, and what he is not.
Cutler’s passer rating has always – relentlessly – been in the 80s. There was one year (2009) when Cutler posted a 76.8, but other than that, his rating has been 88.5, 88.1, 86.0, 86.3, 85,7, 81.3, and 89.2. Good – consistently good.
What Cutler has never been is a championship level quarterback. There are roughly 16 teams who would love to have Cutler as their quarterback, and another 14 who would not.
Among active quarterbacks, Cutler has the 15th highest passer rating. Ahead of him are Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Cam Newton, Shaun Hill, Carson Palmer, David Garrard, and Andy Dalton.
Remove Hill, Palmer, Schaub, and Garrard from the rankings, and Cutler rises to 11th. But who would rather have Cutler than Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, or Andrew Luck? Even Nick Foles and maybe Robert Griffin III would likely be seen as better long term options.
It’s not impossible for a team with a good quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Eli Manning has won two, and Joe Flacco just won one a year ago, but their teams featured dominant defenses. Building a dominant defense while investing franchise QB level cash in a good quarterback is difficult.
The Bears are like so many NFL teams who look at a disappointing season, and see the moment where failure was determined. Emery and coach Marc Trestmen have mentioned the last minute of the season finale against the Packers as the reason for the failure of the 2013 Bears to advance to the playoffs.
The truth is the Bears lost an additional seven games, and finished the season 5-8 after starting 3-0, and Cutler ranks third in his own division in value at quarterback. Aaron Rogers will be the best in the NFC North for as long as he can play. Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions at this point is second because he has significant upside. The worst he is going to be is another Jay Cutler.
There are only so many Mannings, Rodgers, and Bradys available in the NFL, and getting one requires tremendous luck. No one ever allows a championship level quarterback to leave, but it’s essential to understand the difference between Flacco and Brees. The Ravens made a critical error after the 2013 Super Bowl in rewarding play that was simply good enough to allow the defense to win games. Without Ray Lewis and a declining Ed Reed, the Ravens needed a franchise QB to win, and Flacco fell short as the Ravens finished 8-8 – also just outside the playoffs.
Culter is very similar to Flacco, and rewarding him with an expensive seven-year deal puts the Bears and Ravens on similar footing. And that means a future of 8-8 seasons that tease fans, coaches, and management into believe the image they see in the mirror is closer to a championship than it appears.