When Jay Cutler was announced as the newest member of the FOX Sports NFL broadcast team in May, something about his career on the gridiron felt unfinished.
Was Cutler’s retirement at age 34 particularly unexpected? No. Did he walk away in the prime of his career? No. Did it seem like he had a burning desire to take any quarterback job offered to him? No.
However, it did seem like we never got to see the very best of Cutler and his ridiculous arm, and he walked away with a reputation as the talent-wasting quarterback known for not caring enough.
He has no one else to blame for his questionable decision-making, lowlight-reel turnovers, and lack of discipline. But that doesn’t mean he can’t learn from his mistakes, nor does it mean he can’t be a success in his reported return from retirement with the Miami Dolphins. In fact, Gase and the Dolphins offer the one-time Pro Bowler a tailor-made opportunity to totally change the way he’s perceived – if he can take advantage of the situation and admit his former approach didn’t work.
Cutler’s career has been defined by his (lack of) accomplishments instead of his obvious skill. Football fans and media banged their heads against the wall watching Cutler toggle between making truly elite throws and carelessly turning the ball over. For every fan who argues that Cutler has top-quarterback talent, it seems like there’s a video clip that makes the claim hard to believe.
In Miami, reuniting with Adam Gase gives Cutler a chance to be remembered as the guardian angel of the Dolphins’ 2017 season, not a disappointment. The former Bears offensive coordinator introduced a new system as Dolphins head coach last season, and it could be the ideal way to get the most out of Cutler’s exceptional arm strength while limiting his turnovers, as long as the 34-year-old is willing to adapt.
Gase minimized Ryan Tannehill’s role last year with an offense that averaged less than 30 throws per contest, provided simple reads, and leaned on Jay Ajayi and the run game. That approach should work for Cutler too, provided that he’s realized his gun-slinging, carefree style of passing will only provoke laughter and disapproval. He needs to harness his arm strength and execute the plays that are called.
And he’ll have some exciting targets to work with in the process. Cutler had pretty solid offensive weapons in Chicago – namely the trio of Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and Alshon Jeffery – but Miami’s group is impressive in its own right. Ajayi averaged over 100 yards per start last year. The combination of the Dolphins’ three young receivers and the arrival of Gase’s former starting tight end, Julius Thomas, gives Cutler one of the most balanced passing attacks in the league.
(Stats from 2016 season)
It helps that Cutler’s familiarity with Gase makes Miami one of very few teams he could join at this point and learn the offense by season’s start.
Defensively, the Dolphins should be better than they were a year ago. Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones returns from injury, Lawrence Timmons was added to be a leader in the middle of the defense, and the team’s first three draft picks were defensive players. Miami made the playoffs last year with the 18th-ranked scoring defense in the league, and can surely improve that mark with this upgraded personnel.
If Cutler can stick to his coach’s script and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, there’s no reason the Dolphins can’t continue to progress under Gase and take another stab at the playoffs. That would be huge for Cutler’s reputation.
Instead of being remembered as Smokin’ Jay – a man whose fans study more tape than he does – Cutler would become a savior: the man who came out of retirement to keep the Dolphins on track after their own quarterback was lost.
Of course, it’s a long shot, as the Dolphins are well aware, but what Cutler wants out of the opportunity will largely determine what he gets. If he just wants to delay his broadcast career and pick up a few extra million for a rainy day, it’ll be a long, painful season for the team and the quarterback. And if he wants to prove there was nothing wrong with his game all along, he’s in for a rude awakening. But if Cutler wants to take a different – more focused – approach, he’s in position to make up for a lot of bad with just one season of good.
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