CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears throws a pass during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bears defeated the Browns 38-31. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Updated: September 1, 2014 8:08AM
BOURBONNAIS — Can quarterback Jay Cutler be the NFL’s most valuable player? Such a notion would have been ridiculed as absurd just a year or two ago. Now, it’s an argument among fans at a bar.
Star receiver Brandon Marshall seems to think so.
“Absolutely, with coach [Marc] Trestman and [offensive coordinator Aaron] Kromer and our offense,” Marshall said after practice Wednesday at Olivet Nazerene University. “Our offensive linemen are studs; they work together. And we have a special group at the skill positions with Matt Forte, Alshon [Jeffery], Martellus [Bennett] and [Marquess Wilson]. I think, absolutely.”
Marshall initiated the talk during an interview with NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin.
“I said, ‘That’s high praise right there. You’re just gonna take Peyton [Manning] right off that top,’ ’’ Irvin said.
So that said, is Cutler really an MVP candidate?
That Brandon Marshall. He sure knows how to say all the right things about the guy who holds the key to his success and happiness on the football field.
The only surprise is that it took Marshall until the fifth practice of training camp to inform the world that Jay Cutler could win the NFL’s most valuable player award this season. What was so pressing that he couldn’t have gushed about his quarterback on Day 1?
Marshall did not give MVP love to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery or running back Matt Forte, both exceptional players, or even to himself, a man who has had seven consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He gave it to the person who ultimately decides where the football should go on pass plays. That would be the quarterback.
Now, Marshall might very well believe that Cutler has a chance to be the best player in the league. But wide receivers have been known to compliment their quarterbacks at every turn, hoping that every pass comes their way. Marshall has never bitten the throwing hand that feeds him. Smart guy.
Jay Cutler should be a Pro Bowl quarterback if he plays a full season or close to it. He’s surrounded by Pro Bowl players, he has an offensive line and coaches he has faith in and he’s in Year 2 of an offensive system that led the NFC in points in 2013.
Cutler’s and Josh McCown’s combined numbers last season were Pro Bowl-caliber: a 64.4 completion percentage, 4,450 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes, 13 interceptions and a 96.9 passer rating.
Now, 12 of those interceptions were Cutler’s, but by all accounts at training camp, he’s doing all the right things to improve his efficiency in his second year in Marc Trestman’s offense.
He’s also showing that he has some intangible leadership qualities about him, too.
But league MVP?
The past three MVPs have had monstrous seasons: Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in 2013 (5,477 passing yards, 55 touchdown passes), Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in 2012 (2,097 rushing yards, 13 totals TDs) and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2011 (4,643 passing yards, 45 TD passes).
Cutler should have a strong season — it would be a disappointment if he didn’t have his best season ever — but those modern-day, MVP numbers may remain out of reach for him.
If Marc Trestman can make a millionaire out of Josh McCown, he can make an MVP out of Jay Cutler.
The trick is as simple and as daunting as turning a thrower into a pitcher, a direction in which Cutler already is headed under Trestman. If you took Cutler’s 16 most prolific games of his career, he wouldn’t be close to MVP numbers — 61.2 completion percentage and 5,471 yards, but with 29 touchdowns and 25 interceptions for an 85.7 passer rating. But if you take his 16 most efficient games, you’ve got something — 68.4 completion percentage, 4,382 yards, 44 touchdowns and four interceptions for a 124.1 rating.
That’s where the Trestman effect — a higher completion percentage, fewer mistakes and fewer bad games — could turn Cutler into an MVP candidate. An efficient Cutler is an elite quarterback. In his 16 most prolific games — all 300 yards or more — he’s 7-9. In his 16 most efficient games — ratings of 108.3 or higher — he’s 14-2. Under Trestman, Cutler had a career-best passer rating last season (89.2). With Trestman calling the shots — as he did for Rich Gannon with the Raiders and Anthony Calvillo twice with the Alouettes — a refined Cutler is more than capable of having one of those years.
Jay Cutler can have the best year of his life.
He can throw for 5,000 yards and swing a trade for a Cubs’ No. 1 starter and reopen Hot Doug’s — only with no lines! — and not win the MVP award.
Forget for a moment that, on an offense with a galaxy of stars — Perhaps none is more steady or undervalued as Matt Forte — Cutler might not even be the MVP of his own team. Or that winning the MVP generally requires playing all 16 games.
The award rewards wins.
The last 10 MVP winners played on teams that won an average of 13.3 games per season.
One team went 16-0, another 15-1 and three more 14-2.
Only one player during that span lost more than four. That was Adrian Peterson in 2012, and all he did was finish nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 rushing yards in a season, the most sacred number in the NFL.
The question, then, isn’t whether Cutler could win the MVP.
It’s whether the Bears can go 13-3 — if not 15-1 or 14-2.
I’ll answer both with a question of my own: “Have you SEEN their schedule?”