Jay Cutler was always perceptive, which sometimes led to petulance, a quarterback no one could ever clearly define. He could be great. He could be terrible. He could be insightful. He could be off-putting.
He was always a work in progress, which is what led to one of the more honest retirement statements, made in May. It’s now moot (yet no less cloaked in foreshadowing) with the signing of a one-year, $10 million contract with Miami on Sunday.
“I don’t know if retirement is the right word; I don’t feel that anyone ever really retires from the NFL,” Cutler said when he announced after 11 years with Denver and Chicago he was going to start doing analyst work for Fox Sports. “You are either forced to leave, or you lose the desire to do what’s required to keep going.
“I’m in between those situations at this point in my life.”
It was all-Cutler there, honest about his station in life, honest about his lack of burning desire to change it. It was a verbal shrug, a statement that was equal parts introspective and distant. It isn’t how most guys do it. It never was with this guy.
Well, now he’s back, both wanted and wanting, talked into playing the game again rather than just talking about the game by Adam Gase, the Dolphins head coach. Gase was the Bears’ former offensive coordinator in 2015 when he helped Cutler to a decent season.
Miami, of course, was desperate, having lost starter Ryan Tannehill to an ACL injury and the season about to crash course before it even began.
Colin Kaepernick was an option, but whether it was his political stances (kneeling for the national anthem, wearing a T-shirt with Fidel Castro on it) or simply a football decision, the job is Cutler’s. Kaepernick remains a free agent as preseason games start in earnest this week.
Fair or not, it’s clear at this point no NFL team really wants Kaepernick. He’ll need another injury to come down for a club to need him. The hiring for any job is about perceived positives outweighing perceived negatives – “perceived” being the operative word.
Kaepernick is struggling to decrease his perceived negatives. His perceived positives though remain another starting QB injury away, when his ability to solve a distressed situation overwhelms whatever some owner or fan base thinks of his social activism. There was a thought that Miami would be that situation. Now he’ll wait for the next one.
In different ways, that’s what happened to Cutler, too. A shoulder injury limited him to five games last year with the Bears and when they cut him, the phone wasn’t ringing with starting opportunities. Veteran and injured isn’t a good look. A history of mood swings and mystery never helps either.
So he was out. There wasn’t a lot of clamoring that he deserved better.
Then suddenly his old coach couldn’t live without him and he’s back.
Under Gase’s guidance and system in 2015, Cutler posted one of his better seasons of late. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes and delivered 7.6 yards an attempt. There were 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. No one, however, confused him with Aaron Rodgers, who he once battled for NFC North supremacy. Cutler went just 6-9 as a starter that season.
It was something though. With only Matt Moore as a quarterback possibility in Miami, it’s likely Gase would be happy with similar production out of Cutler. Miami has playmakers and a defense Chicago didn’t. It’s coming off a 10-6 season in which it made the playoffs.
Teams searching for starting quarterbacks in August don’t find perfect solutions. Be it Cutler or Kaepernick or Moore, there were no assurances here. Challenges and questions would have risen no matter who got picked.
At least here, Gase knows what he is getting. Cutler should pick up the system quickly, which is important. And at 34, with the shoulder healed, it’s not out of the question that Cutler has some games left in him. He has 139 regular-season starts and reached the NFC championship game in the 2010 season. He isn’t the same guy who confused coaches and teammates in his early 20s. Then again, how close is he to game shape?
When Cutler retired, he claimed that just catching on with some team, playing for the sake of playing, wasn’t appealing. In perfect Cutler fashion, he quoted rocker Henry Rollins: “if I returned … it would be repetition – it might be fun repetition, but it wouldn’t be meaningful repetition.”
He wanted more. He wasn’t going to pretend that he needed to be dragged off the field. He was just moving on. A likely starting spot on a good Miami team, playing under a familiar face who drew some strong play from him just two seasons ago, is more than he could have imagined.
It proved enough to give this one more shot, to see if he can revive a career that both he and the league had given up on, maybe write a final chapter that changes how he’ll forever be remembered.
Nothing really to lose for Jay Cutler, not many other options for the Dolphins, it’s a South Beach roll of the dice.