DAVIE—Expectations are everything.
When Jay Cutler arrived in South Florida, groggy from an early flight, he did so as a hero. Days earlier, the Dolphins’ season was thrown into crisis when Ryan Tannehill reinjured his knee, but now there was hope. More than hope, really. In some circles, there was belief that Miami had actually upgraded at quarterback.
That theory burgeoned as Cutler showed off his rocket right arm in practices and looked good in brief preseason appearances and played well in the season opener. That was the high point thus far: A 24-for-33, 230-yard performance that included one touchdown pass and was barely enough to get past the Chargers, who remain winless to this day.
Less than one month later, Cutler goes into today’s home game against the Titans under heavy questioning. But is he really any different than he’s ever been? Would there be this kind of letdown if he hadn’t been perceived as a star riding in to take the Dolphins farther than Tannehill ever could?
Try recasting it another way. Forget that Miami coach Adam Gase, who knows Cutler as well as anyone, decided in March he preferred to stay with Matt Moore as his backup quarterback than even broach the subject with Cutler. If the Dolphins had tried to rehabilitate Cutler, a 34-year-old coming off a bad season and drawing minimal interest in free agency, as Tannehill’s backup there would be much more measured expectations.
If both players were healthy, it’s hard to imagine Cutler threatening Tannehill’s job. As much history as Gase has with Cutler, he’d rather have a healthy Tannehill.
The Jets seemed to have their pick of Cutler or 38-year-old Josh McCown and went with McCown. Right now, McCown’s got a higher completion percentage, more yardage, and more touchdowns. He’s doing that with skill players that are clearly a tier below Miami’s.
The fact is Cutler’s never actually been a star. He made one Pro Bowl, which was all the way back in his final year with Denver. He was on one playoff team in the 11 seasons prior to joining Miami and has a career record of 69-73. The only year in which he topped a 90 passer rating was in 2015 with Gase in his ear. He posted a 92.3 that season, a shade below Tannehill’s 2014 and ’16 marks.
Getting past Cutler’s elite arm strength, the fact that he was the best quarterback in his draft class and his fame as a meme, he’s just a guy. The same could be said of Tannehill, but at least he had the upside of being 29 and possibly just hitting his prime.
One reason Cutler so easily shrugs off the last two games, when he combined to go 46 of 72 with 384 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, is because he’s had those before. He’s had a passer rating under 80 in about 40 percent of his career starts. Last week’s pathetic passing total of 164 yards? He’s had 24 games that were quieter.
Cutler’s eventually going to have a day where he puts up 300-something yards and a few touchdowns. He might even have a few of those. He’ll probably follow with some stinkers. It’s always been a wild ride for any franchise that ties itself to him, and now it’s the Miami Dolphins’ turn.
And, by the way, that’s fine.
It’s time to accept that this isn’t a disappointment. This is who he is—and he’s a 34-year-old version of whatever he used to be. As Gase pointed out this week, it’s harder to compensate for some of his glitches at this age than it was at 25. Don’t play yourself by thinking this is comparable to the Vikings picking up Brett Favre at the end or the Broncos bringing in Peyton Manning. He’s closer in stature to Trent Green or Chad Pennington.
Cutler was still the right pick at the time and he’s still the right pick going forward. He’s not a bad option when the starter goes down in August, and right now there’s no worthwhile move to make with him—not that Gase would even consider it. So get used to Cutler and, for your own sake, be realistic about him.
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