Miami Dolphins’ Jay Cutler must be more than a mercenary

Jay Cutler has an opportunity to lead a talented Miami Dolphins offense. But it is important he be a leader? Is there even time for that? (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The noted Chicago columnist, Rick Telander, once selected these words in describing Jay Cutler:

An immature, self-centered, non-communicative, unconcerned-with-you loner.

Now that may seem particularly harsh. And surely most Miami Dolphins players and coaches as well as any media members who have never met Cutler will try to allow time to make their own judgement.

Of course, there isn’t much time.

The Dolphins’ first preseason game is in four days. And if Cutler is, as expected, installed as Miami’s starter from the moment his flight from Nashville arrives in South Florida, there will be some things Cutler has to work through.

Even though he’s intimately familiar with coach Adam Gase’s offense (and Gase is surely his advocate and the catalyst for this transaction) Cutler will need to ingratiate himself into a winning locker room quickly.

And he’ll need to do so knowing he has a reputation that precedes itself.

Does Cutler care?

Well, he’d better.

Some may perceive Cutler as a mercenary who doesn’t need to fit into anything.

Look at his arm!

Look at that cannon!

Look at how far he can throw that football to Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry!

And perhaps if in Miami’s second or third preseason game, Cutler, in the twilight of his career (hadn’t it just ended?) shows flashes of vintage Brett Favre, it won’t matter to the fans.

How quickly they may forget Ryan Tannehill, who for all his admirable strides was viewed by some as a tad too robotic. Even Gase has marveled at how in Chicago he’d call a self-described terrible play for Cutler, who would then improvise a big-gainer by just throwing one up for an uber-talented Bears receiver.

For sure the glittery talents on Miami’s offense contributed to Cutler’s choice to pause a career in sportscasting before it ever began. And so, in a best-case scenario, Cutler tops the career-high in passing he accomplished under Gase in 2015 and there are questions about if his one-year deal should be extended by one or two more.

Now there are reasons Cutler had not been signed by any NFL team before August, including the hapless, tanking Jets. Cutler is assuredly past his prime and did have a shoulder injury last season (I’m told he’s been “working out” although I can’t say with certainty where).

But one of the biggest reasons is probably Cutler’s reputation as a guy who didn’t care enough. As in, didn’t really care if you did or didn’t really care if he didn’t really care.

There is some danger in any possibility Gase may have talked Cutler into this, since caring and loving the game and loving the idea of being a good teammate are generally concepts conducive to winning, which Miami actually did last season.

Matt Moore, the veteran backup, who will remain the backup it appears, is nothing but the consummate professional. He is popular in the locker room because he does not complain and because he had prepared himself to fill in, effectively, when Tannehill went down at the end of last season.

So that’s another obstacle which Cutler should care about.

There will surely be some Dolphins who feel Moore should have been promoted, since he knows the offense even better than Cutler and because he has developed rhythm and chemistry with the Dolphins.

And because since he’s been around, he knows all their names.

When former Bear Devin Hester arrived in Atlanta, he spoke about how effective a communicator Matt Ryan was, in comparison to his experience with Cutler.

One time in Chicago, Cutler shoved and cursed at an offensive lineman during a game. Another time, Cutler was recorded cursing about a coach on the field.

Some people who have been around Cutler have told me in recent days that there has been some maturation since those moments. But those same people acknowledge Cutler doesn’t seem the type to trust many outside a small circle or to see great significance in establishing interpersonal relationships.

Clearly, Gase (who has a knack for connecting with individuals from all backgrounds and with all personalities) has vouched for Cutler. Clearly Gase believes he has an interpersonal connection with Cutler.

It is possible that it won’t matter if Cutler is liked by his new teammates. It is possible it won’t matter if he has enough time to earn enough respect to emerge as a team leader.

Miami’s offense has some fairly entrenched leaders in Mike Pouncey (provided he stay healthy) and Jarvis Landry (provided his unresolved contract status doesn’t get him down) and even Jermon Bushrod, a former teammate of Cutler’s who will now be his right guard.

Last year, before he had any clue Cutler would be joining the Dolphins in 2017, Bushrod told me of his time with Cutler: “I liked playing with Jay. I like Jay as a person. I like his family. On the football field I saw him do things to earn my respect. He’s tough as nails.”

There has been a lot written about Cutler’s demeanor. Yes, at times, it has appeared he is aloof or disinterested.

Many times, Cutler has been criticized for what appears to be poor on-field body language.

The Dolphins didn’t plan on any of this, of course. So it is fair to assess Cutler as a hired gun.

But the Miami Dolphins turned a corner as a franchise in 2016, winning 10 games and making the playoffs under Gase, who changed the culture. The locker room was upbeat. The players had positive mindsets. The players grew to trust each other and play for each other and play harder and more consistently.

The Dolphins are trusting Gases’ judgement that Cutler, with the franchise in an unforeseen bind, can rely on Cutler to not only deliver deep passes, but to be an overall asset, as opposed to detriment.

There isn’t much time. But in order for this to work, it would be in Cutler’s best interests to work not only on rhythm and timing with his teammates, but on earning their trust and respect.

It’s really important that it be really important to Cutler.

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