Jay Cutler is a good pickup for Dolphins, but try to have reasonable expectations

Jay Cutler to the Dolphins is a done deal. (Getty Images)

Jay Cutler is coming to the Dolphins and he’ll surely be celebrated as a hero, swooping in at a moment’s notice to lift Miami after losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Be clear about this: It’s a really smart move for the Dolphins. It’s the best possible choice given their circumstances.

But go against every fiber of what defines you as a Miami sports fan and force yourself to have reasonable expectations. It’ll feel weird, but please try it out.

Cutler is 34 years old and it’s been two years since he had a productive season, though it’s worth noting that performance was guided by Adam Gase as his offensive coordinator. In a vacuum, there’s no way the Dolphins would’ve chosen any version of Cutler over a healthy Tannehill.

Forget all the things you’ve heard about Cutler as a person. That stuff is tough to verify and rarely makes any difference anyway. How much weight do anonymous quotes or media interpretations of his behavior carry when Gase and Jermon Bushrod disagree with every syllable of it?

The football side of Cutler is what’s worth dissecting. Simply from a logistical standpoint, he has some catching up to do. The upside is that there are still five weeks of practice before the Sept. 10 season opener against Tampa Bay. While Cutler probably won’t be ready for game snaps in time to appear Thursday against Atlanta, there are three more preseason games.

His limited history with Gase—one season—helps, but it doesn’t mean he’ll ease right in at full stride. It’s not the same playbook in part because he’s not the runner Tannehill was. Plus, Cutler’s never played with a single one of these skill players. The only former teammates he’s got on the Dolphins are offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Bushrod.

Then there’s the question of whether he’s in shape, unless the “no tan lines” photo of him that his wife posted on Instagram a few months ago is good enough for you. Obviously the Dolphins wouldn’t have signed Cutler if he’d been sitting around eating Cinnabons and turkey legs all offseason, but getting in playing shape is a challenge for anyone who’s unsigned.

Whatever Cutler’s been doing since the Bears cut him in March, it’s probably not on par with Miami’s offseason conditioning program, Organized Team Activities, minicamp and what the team’s done in the first nine practices of training camp.

He’s been banged around quite a bit, too. Last season alone, he hurt the thumb on his throwing hand and needed surgery after tearing his right labrum. He’d been through a serious knee injury and a concussion before that. His last 16-game season was 2009.

When he’s healthy, it’s a wild ride.

For the past 11 seasons, his arm has been in the conversation for the NFL’s strongest. He fits the ball through windows that many quarterbacks wouldn’t even consider. He’s had six years of 20-plus touchdown passes—a number Miami quarterbacks have hit just four times since Dan Marino retired. He had 18 game-winning drives for the Bears in eight seasons.

The downside, of course, is turnovers. Cutler’s thrown 61 interceptions in his last 62 games, and that’s including the pristine year under Gase in 2015. He’s been sacked 302 times and has averaged eight fumbles per year.

The sum of all those thrills and spills is a quite mediocre record of 17-20 for the Broncos and 51-51 for the Bears as an NFL starter.

In a quarterback-starved city like Chicago, they couldn’t complain. In Denver, conversely, whoever they could find in the draft sounded more palatable (the Broncos downgraded, it turned out, by picking Tim Tebow). How much tolerance you have for Cutler depends on your alternatives.

That might even be true for Gase, who said in March the team wasn’t exploring him even as a backup. He was clear that any conversations they’d had about his football future were merely as friends (they’re close enough in age to have gone to college together).

“I never brought up anything about him coming with us because I like our situation,” Gase said at the time. “I love Jay, but I do like the situation that we’ve got going on right now at our place.”

Situation? Ah yes, Matt Moore. It seems the Dolphins are content to have him on hand if they need a stopgap, but not as their full-time starter. His run as a first stringer will be brief. He remains an excellent backup and gives Miami more security that former practice squad quarterback Brandon Doughty would.

None of this is to say bringing in Cutler is a bad idea or won’t work out. It was easily the best move for the Dolphins—better than Colin Kaepernick—and there’s good cause for Miami to be optimistic about the Gase-Cutler reunion.

Just be patient. And reasonable.

[Dolphins can’t wait. They need to add a free agent quarterback yesterday.]

[Miami Dolphins react to Ryan Tannehill’s “sickening” knee injury]

[Dolphins backup QB Matt Moore unflinching as he takes over starting job]

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