Jay Cutler: Misunderstood, Mismanaged & Mister Redemption

Jay Cutler: Misunderstood, Mismanaged & Mister Redemption

MarceJay Cutler arrived to Chicago in 2009, the centerpiece of the biggest Bears trade for a quarterback in franchise history. (The trade for Sid Luckman in 1938, was for a draft pick that George Halas used to select the QB who would lead the Bears to four NFL championships.)

The expectations for Cutler were great. But, up until a few months ago, Cutler had the reputation of being a loser and coach killer. He had become a national punchline for an apathetic athlete. His turnover-prone play was cited over and over as the primary reason behind the Bears lack of success.

What many are learning in the aftermath of a productive 2015 season is that Jay Cutler has been misunderstood and mismanaged. But, he’s now on the verge of being fully redeemed.

[graphiq id=”co41dLKadet” title=”NFCN Barroom – Jay Cutler Overview” width=”640″ height=”548″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/co41dLKadet” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/4650/Jay-Cutler” link_text=”NFCN Barroom – Jay Cutler Overview | PointAfter”]

 

MISUNDERSTOOD

Look at tape of Jay Cutler playing high school sports and a picture of an athlete with superior skills to teammates and competitors emerges.

Incredible!

The talent jumps off the video like Cutler jumped over defenders to dunk basketballs. In his final two varsity years, he averaged 20.0 and 21.0 points per game. On the gridiron, when not playing quarterback, he’s switch to safety, recording 88 tackles and nine interceptions. Cutler made first-team All-State as a senior in football and basketball.

He took his skills to Vanderbilt, a school known more for academics than football. He started all four seasons (after a redshirt rookie year) and broke every school passing record, despite playing with a terrible offensive line and, at best, a mediocre receiving crew.

Cutler’s choice of attending Vandy might not have been his best. If he had attended a school with a stronger football infrastructure he might not have developed the bad habits that plagued him in the NFL.

Cutler is a tough athlete who plays with pain, having withstood a consi

His competitive nature led him to make risky decisions. In his last two seasons he fumbled 25 times. The offensive line was worse than any he had as a Chicago Bear (and that’s saying a lot). The lack of trust in the line created mechanical issues like throwing off his back foot.

Cutler wasn’t a saint in college. As a 19-year old freshman, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to a charge of evading arrest and sentenced to 24 hours of community service. Other charges against him –  vandalizing an emergency telephone, underage drinking and resisting orders to halt, all misdemeanors, were excused under his plea agreement.

Scouts, though, were not turned off by the incident. They saw a gifted athlete who was respected by his teammates. Cutler was voted captain three straight seasons following the arrest. His devotion to his studies resulted in a degree in human and organizational development.

In his senior year, Cutler was voted SEC Offensive Player of the Year as he passed for 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Against the Florida Gators, Vanderbilt scored the second most points ever (42) against, and at, Florida. Around that time, future teammate John Lynch said, “If this guy can take a bunch of future doctors and lawyers and have them competing against the Florida Gators, this guy is a stud.”

Immediately after graduating, Cutler was recognized by Nashville’s legislature for his leadership on and off the football team. The resolution cited his “selflessness… to work with mentally-challenged children through Vanderbilt’s “Best Buddies” program.” (Vanderbilt recently inducted Cutler into their Athletic Hall of Fame.)

Make no mistake, Cutler wasn’t going to win any Mr. Congeniality awards. It’s true that many times he would shun fans and flip the bird to anyone trying to take his picture in public. The intensely private player showed little patience for people invading his space. Nonetheless, Cutler, over and over, showed signs of being a leader.

There was a Jekyll and Hyde quality to Cutler.

After the Denver Broncos selected him with the 11th pick of the 2006 draft, he continued to show signs of being petulant. Despite this, his teammates voted him co-captain before his second full-season as a starter, 2008.

Prior to that season, Cutler’s play for the Broncos was singled out. Mike Sando of ESPN.com surveyed scouts and coaches around the NFL and asked them to compare the league’s young quarterbacks which included Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

jay cutler

And, in fact, Cutler would pass for a Broncos franchise record 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns.

A few months before that season started Cutler revealed that at the age of 25 he had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a serious disease requiring daily injections of insulin. He’d say…

“The toughest part is that it’s there every day, no matter where you go. You wake up with it, you go to sleep with it.” 

Most people are unaware that diabetes can severely impact the behavior of its victims. According to diapedia.org, a website dedicated to providing a knowledge base for all things about diabetes, sufferers of the disease are susceptible to “angry statements, impulsive actions, and anxious behaviors (nervous, worried, upset, difficulty relaxing). These behavior issues are especially possible when an individual first learns he or she has contacted the disease.

Less than a year after learning of his diabetic condition Cutler learned that new Broncos head coach (former, and current, Patriots offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels was trying to trade for ex-quarterback, Matt Cassel. Cutler, who had just led the Denver offense to the second highest ranking of the year, fumed. That started a tumultuous, short-lived relationship between Cutler and McDaniels leading to a “he said-he said,” riff in the media.

Cutler told ESPN.com that a meeting he hoped would be a detente between the two was instead tense, “”I thought he was antagonizing me and that was disappointing because I was ready to move on, committed as a Bronco. Really, I figured we’d hash things out, shake hands, laugh a little and move forward.” McDaniels recalled things differently, “I don’t think anything that happened [at the meeting] was out of the ordinary.”

One thing is indisputable, Cutler was angry. He felt the new coach disrespected him when he allegedly told him there were never any trade talks to acquire Cassel. The truth is, according to several sources, that there were trade talks. “How can I trust him now?” Cutler wondered. The quarterback did not return calls from team executives and demanded a trade.

Whether Cutler’s diabetic condition precipitated his behavior during this period no one has publicly said. But, it isn’t a reach to say that, less than 12 months into beginning a journey of coping with a life threatening disease and undergoing monumental life-style changes, Cutler’s anger towards McDaniels might have easily, and understandably, been triggered, in part, by his condition.

For whatever it’s worth, McDaniels didn’t last long as a head coach – less than two full seasons. In fact, people in Denver recall his behavior as boorish and uncooperative. He was also fined by the NFL for failing to report a Broncos’ employee video-taping an opponent’s practice.

Cutler left Denver and Broncos fans were not exactly distressed. One fan wrote to the New York Times to express his discontent with Cutler’s (lack of) attitude:

“Not only did he act like a spoiled brat in Denver but he lied to us as fans by saying he wanted to be a Bronco and then requesting a trade and then all but demanding it by ignoring the repeated phone calls from one of the most respected owners in all of sports.”  DMA

This fan complained about Cutler’s inconsistency… and attitude.

“… a couple of years watching him play made me see he wasn’t the answer to winning a Super Bowl. His inconsistent play, highlighted by his poor attitude, was a recipe for disaster in Denver…Bears fans will have a hard time swallowing Jay’s decisions, as well as his bad attitude.” Daniel Sanchez

Bears fans weren’t listening to any complaints about their new franchise quarterback. At his first training camp, record number crowds came to see him. Kyle Orton’s (a part of the Cutler trade) dink-and-dunk passing style was replaced by Cutler’s bullets-and-bombs and the crowds at Bourbonnais were in awe.

But, over the years, many Bears fans began to reiterate what Broncos fans complained about. And, Cutler’s imperfections as a quarterback were amplified by his inability to beat the team’s chief rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

What Broncos’ and Bears’ fans fail to account for were the factors contributing to Cutler’s mistakes on the football field. A league worst defense at Denver and in Chicago (under Marc Trestman) compelled Cutler back to his old gunslinging ways from Vanderbilt. And, just like his high school days, Cutler was, mostly, surrounded by inferior ballplayers.

Mishandled

Before Trestman, and under the leadership of general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith, Cutler had the defense to win games. And, he did win. In four seasons Cutler’s won-loss record reached  35-23 record, including two playoff starts. But, he did not have the offensive weapons to generate a top-notch attack. Not only did Angelo/Lovie saddle Cutler without a true number one wide receiver, but the team assembled an offensive line that made Cutler a human piñata for opposing defenses.

Cutler’s number one receiver in his first year with the Bears was a player who had ten catches in his three years of college football, was drafted by the Bears as a cornerback and was converted to wide receiver two years before the QB arrived. Devin Hester was Lovie Smith’s bold, brash experiment. It failed. Hester could surely run with the ball, but it was widely known he struggled with learning the playbook and mastering the nuances of playing wide receiver.

In 2010, Cutler’s best shot at leading the Bears to the Super Bowl, second year wide receiver Johnny Knox was his best pass catching threat. Knox, in his second-season was a speedy, under-sized receiver who had almost 19 yards per catch. Cutler loved his big play ability and compared him to (then) Philadelphia Eagles big play threat DeSean Jackson. But, the truth was that Knox was still raw. Scouts routinely noted that he played inconsistently and lacked a sophisticated knowledge of the position after a college career at Division II Abilene Christian. Pointing out Knox’s unpolished play is simply done to underscore the lack of grade-A receivers on the roster.

Bears WR stats 2010

Making matters worse was an offensive line that had Frank Omyale at left tackle, Chris Williams at left guard, Olin Kruetz at center, Roberto Garza at right guard, and J’Marcus Webb at right tackle. Pro Football Focus graded Webb as the worst tackle in football. Omyale was close to last; two spots away (78 tackles were graded). Williams was graded 66th of 82 guards. Garza was 61st. Center Olin Kruetz was graded 33rd out of 34 centers.

Cutler’s offensive line was shockingly bad for a team reaching the NFC Championship game.

That Championship game began the descent of Cutler’s reputation among many Bears fans, players around the league and local and national media. Cutler was harassed by the Packers. Sacked twice and hurried multiple times, he could only complete six passes on 14 attempts for 80 yards by halftime. On a play right before the half, Cutler hurt his knee. When he came out after halftime, he went one series and could not continue. Twitter exploded with attacks. It’s expected that fans would react unknowingly, but when players and former players attacked Cutler without knowing the seriousness of his injury it became absurd.

Tweetsd bout Cutler

Jay Cutler was sacked a NFL high 52 times in 2010. The courage he displayed throughout the year should have given him the benefit of the doubt. Yet, the irresponsbile reaction to Cutler was akin to cyber-bullying. Inspiring the vitriol may had been Cutler’s reaction and body language. He demonstrated his disappointment by sitting on the bench apart from teammates. He wore a glum face and was never captured by cameras talking to teammates. Coaches had not cultivated an environment for Cutler to participate on the sidelines. And, unfortunately, he didn’t take it upon himself.

However, after the game, teammates like Brian Urlacher came to his defense. But, the damage was done.

The sportswriters, swarming like vultures on social media, swooped in the following day and eviscerated Cutler.

Whitlock on Cutty

It was the equivalent of the Salem witch trials and burning at the stake… without the trial.

Lost on all was the faulty play-calling by Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The so-called genius of the Greatest Show on Turf (Martz was offensive coordinator during the Rams record-breaking offensive seasons of 1999, 2000 and 2001) could not configure effective protection schemes for Cutler, continually called deep pass drops exposing the QB to hits and after the Packers took a 14 to zero lead early in the second quarter, he abandoned the run game. The list of coaching miscues (not just Martz) for the game (and the season) was long and infuriating.

Martz was fired after the 2011 season and offensive line coach Mike Tice was promoted to offensive coordinator.

Deciphering why Lovie Smith thought Tice was capable of being an NFL offensive coordinator really isn’t head-scratching once you realize the head coach knew nothing about how to build an NFL offense. Smith had a long run of developing successful defenses with his Cover-2 defense as the centerpiece. In Chicago, he was fortunate to have an almost perfect cast of players to execute that D. There was no better NFL middle linebacker to play Smith’s defense than Urlacher, who played safety in college, and essentially acted as a third safety for Lovie. Derrick Brooks clone Lance Briggs and physical corner, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, were tailor made for Lovie.

But, it appeared Lovie’s disdain for opposing quarterbacks was matched by an apathy for providing his own quarterbacks the resources needed to succeed. It’s as if he wanted his own defense to wallop the Bears offense in practice so he did little to develop the unit.

Besides not providing playmakers and an NFL capable offensive line to help realize Cutler’s vast potential, Lovie never partnered the QB with an offensive coordinator suited to Cutler’s skills. Defensive coaches in the NFL had long figured out Martz’s offense and the stubborn coach would not adapt. After he was fired as the St. Louis Rams head coach, he took a job in 2006 as the Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator. While he had some success with his vertical passing attack, Lions quarterbacks were sacked 63 times (second most in the league). The following year, with expectations for the playoffs high, the passing game made incremental improvements, but the Lions were again among the league leaders in sacks allowed with 54 (3rd place).

Players complained about Martz’s no run, pass-happy offense and soon he was fired.

A year later he was hired as offensive coordinator to salvage the career of the San Francisco 49ers number one draft pick, Alex Smith. The Niners lost Smith to injury before taking a snap in the regular season and when Martz’s hand-picked quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan failed miserably. He was fired just a year into his two year contract.

Lovie Smith, who had worked with Martz in St.Louis, was known for saying, “We get off the bus running the football.” Why then would he hire the pass-happy Martz? Why would Jerry Angelo approve the hire knowing he had drafted a pass-catching tight end with his first round pick two years earlier (Greg Olson) and the one person who does not catch passes in a Mike Martz offense is the tight end? It’s because Smith and Angelo were clueless on how to build an efficient offense.

Jay CutlerThe Tice promotion was further proof that Smith and Angelo lacked the ability to build an offense around their franchise quarterback. Promoted from his job as the offensive line coach, Tice at least knew the importance of keeping the quarterback upright, but there was no ingenuity to his pass attack and he allowed the players too much authority in shaping the playbook.

When new general manager Phil Emery fired Smith, there was hope he’d finally bring in a braintrust skillful at developing quarterbacks and offenses. In fact, that’s what Emery professed he’d do. But, when Emery chose Canadian Football League coach Marc Trestman over NFL proven Bruce Arians foreheads furrowed with frustration. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, irritated by the decision to choose Trestman over Arians, abruptly resigned, despite management wanting him to stay.

Trestman did bring with him a vast amount of quarterbacking knowledge. His NFL coaching career, although that of a vagabond (nine jobs in ten years), saw success as a tutor to quarterbacks. He was a disciple of the West Coast offense – quick drops for the quarterback, horizontal passing attack to set up the run game and control the football as long as possible. Under his watch quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar, Steve Young and Rich Gannon saw some of their best success.

As head coach of the CFL’s  Montreal Alouettes he led the team to back-to-back Grey Cups and his QB, Anthony Calvillo, won back-to-back MVP awards in 2009 and 2010. Trestman espoused the importance of the quarterback position and preached protecting him at all costs.

And, in fact, Trestman’s first season as Bears head coach, saw a marked improvement in the Bears offense. The numbers were off the charts for a franchise unaccustomed to throwing the ball with regular success. Emery helped by trading for Cutler’s favorite wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, drafting Alshon Jeffery, and signing tight end Martellus Bennett. Even the offensive line saw some slight improvement, although most of its success was the result of Cutler learning to get rid of the ball quickly – a tenet of Trestman’s offense.

But, there was something Trestman didn’t possess… leadership skills. He tried. During his time away from the NFL he took leadership classes. But, what he learned were leadership skills better served in a corporate environment and not an NFL locker room.

The remnants of Lovie Smith’s defense never bought into Trestman’s toolbox of concepts. That much was apparent from day one. They hated that he coddled the quarterback after years of being loved by Lovie.

In year two of Trestman’s reign things fell like a drunk guy face-planting onto a pile of shit. Too focused on the details of the offense, Trestman never realized that his defense was poisoning the team through lack of leadership, ineffective personnel and horrendous play. Back-to-back 50-point beatdowns to the New England Patriots and Packers still, somehow, led back to Cutler. He was too blame for not keeping up with the opposing team’s blitzkrieg of points.

in year two of trestman's reign

Trestman, who had preached the importance of being a leader, failed at being one. Before a nationally televised game on ESPN, he threw his quarterback under the bus by disclosing some of Cutler’s “problems,” to TV analyst, Jon Gruden, his former coaching partner (Gruden hired Trestman back in 2001 as a senior assistant with the Oakland Raiders). During the Monday Night Football broadcast, Gruden eviscerated Cutler. Everything wrong with the offense seemed to be his fault. The seven sacks he suffered that night, the three interceptions and the fumble… all were Cutler’s fault.

By talking to Gruden, Trestman was trying to save his long-cherished NFL head coaching job. And, Gruden was helping him.

Gruden did mention that Trestman’s own offensive coordinator, Aaron Kromer, had, days earlier tearfully confessed that he was the culprit who privately criticized Cutler to an NFL Network reporter. The criticism made  national headlines. Kromer apologized because he was about to be publicly outed by another reporter. Yet, Kromer wasn’t fired for the heinous offense of talking to a reporter or the heinous offense he was responsible for on the field.

Gruden, sympathetic, to his old coaching pal was on a mission to make Trestman look good and Cutler bad.

It was a shameful bit of “analysis” by a professional broadcaster.

During the broadcast, Gruden suggested that Trestman should bench Cutler for the week 15 game. That’s what Trestman did. It reeked of a desperate attempt by Trestman to save his job. It didn’t work.

Mr. Redemption

Trestman and Emery were fired just hours after the 2014 season ended for the Bears. And, the media immediately blamed Cutler, the so-called “coach killer.” Yes, Cutler is not totally blameless for his performance on the football field and his behavior off it. him. National television cameras capturing him shoving a teammate, sitting by himself on the sidelines and telling a coach to “fuck off,” branded him a pariah.

A more mature Cutler admits his mistakes. In a revealing interview with the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh in January, he spoke about how he’s matured and become better at dealing with adversity. He reflected about the end of the Trestman era and the uncertainly that await him as a new general manager and head coach would decide his fate with the Bears. He agreed that in the past, he might not have been rational enough to handle the scrutiny awaiting him.

“No doubt. That’s valid. We all become a little wiser. Now I take a little more time to process things. In Denver, when it went down and I (asked for a trade), it was more of a reaction instead of thinking about it and saying, ‘Do I really want to go through with this and pit myself versus (former Broncos coach) Josh (McDaniels) and Denver?’ If I was in that situation now, it might play out differently. But as you get older and having Kristin (his wife) and the boys (Camden and Jaxon) and now a daughter (Saylor), there’s a lot more to think about. It’s not just you. Having kids helps you realize how selfish you can be as a person, rather quickly. These have all been things I haven’t mastered, but I’m definitely more aware of.”

The introspective Cutler has learned from his mistakes. And, now, I sense more and more media members, and fans, are learning from their own misunderstandings about Cutler.

It is rare when a quarterback can overcome the debilitating circumstances that have surrounded Cutler throughout his career. Just like he had nothing to do with contracting diabetes, Cutler had nothing to do with the selection of misfit coaches plaguing his career. (One of the myths about him is that he helped to choose Marc Trestman as the Bears coach. While it is true that GM Emery asked Cutler to talk with the coaching candidates, Cutler never advocated for one coach over another. At the request of his general manager he spoke with coaching candidates. The decision to hire Trestman was solely that of Emery.)

I’ve always compared Cutler to Brett Favre, a gunslinging, rouge-type quarterback. But, Favre had the tutoring of Mike Holmgren who harnessed Favre’s rogue ways. The two of them made each other better. Cutler has never been fortunate to have a Holmgren, until 2015, when John Fox arrived and brought him with offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

This trinity of coaches was a godsend to Cutler. They brought with them the knowledge of how to get the most out of Cutler’s skills as a quarterback and a leader.

In Cutler’s interview with Haugh, he spoke about the improvements of 2015 and the coaches, specifically Gase and Loggains.

“I would consider this more like 2007, my second year in Denver. We were trending up. We still made some mistakes, but you could see growth in the offense. In 2008, we were clicking on all cylinders and had some really good coaches. That could possibly happen next year if we get some guys back and the second year in the system you definitely get better.

“This year was good though. Knowing Adam (Gase) and Dowell (Loggains) sped up the process because they knew me as a player. I knew them as a person. I was all-in on them. I definitely agreed with all their philosophies, how they approached football. The system was very agreeable. There was never a situation where I thought, ‘This is awful, I can’t do this.’ Adam put together a real friendly system for quarterbacks that’s highly effective. He doesn’t call many bad plays at all. Even the bad plays turn out to be efficient. There are a lot of things that happened this year that came together for us to have some success.”

Now in 2016, Cutler is forced to build on the success of last year without Gase. But, there’s a high level of confidence that Cutler will succeed. Just a few months ago, Cutler’s future with the Bears was doubtful. Now, there’s growing confidence that he could play out the duration of his contract, which goes through the end of the 2020 season when he’s 36.

When tight end Zach Miller cited Jay Cutler for his desire to re-sign with the Bears, the Chicago media took note that the narrative of Cutler being a poor leader was history. Cutler is now bringing people together.

There’s hope in Chicago. That hope is born out of Jay Cutler’s hard work, the good fortune of finally being partnered with coaches that understand him and know how to lead, and a general manger dedicated to surrounding the quarterback with playmakers and pass protectors.

Jay Cutler is redeeming himself. It’s time for his critics to shut up.

NFC North Quarterback Features

Links to features on NFCN’s starting quarterbacks.

Teddy Bridgewater

Matthew Stafford

(This is our second feature on NFC North quarterbacks. Make sure you read our feature on Teddy Bridgewater)

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Aldo Gandia

Aldo Gandia

Among my career highlights I have produced two films while in high school that received nationwide attention; leaned out of a helicopter over the Gulf of Suez at the age of 20 to shoot movies of oil rigs; won an Emmy award for a sports special and another for a kid's fitness show; and led a team of very talented creative professionals to produce break-through corporate communications.



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