MCGRATH: Bears made right call on Jay Cutler
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media January 10, 2014 9:48PM
Jay Cutler might not be one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, but the Bears think he’s plenty good enough to win with. | Nam Y. Huh/AP
Updated: February 13, 2014 6:36AM
I might be afflicted with the very strain of ‘‘whatever’’ apathy that Bears fans find so maddening about Jay Cutler. He has been anointed as your guy for the next four to seven seasons, at a salary approximating the gross national product of Zanzibar, but the debate that preceded the Bears’ hefty commitment to him was as rancorous as anything heard hereabouts since Kennedy-Nixon. Or maybe Lincoln-Douglas.
I couldn’t get that worked up over Ol’ Pouty Face’s future, even as the voices clamoring for Josh McCown sounded eerily similar to those that demanded more Caleb Hanie after a stellar preseason outing a few summers back. Bad idea.
But a look at the eight quarterbacks still standing as the NFL playoffs entered the divisional round Saturday suggests the Bears did the right thing. The most important position on the field is more important than ever in these pass-happy times. Trent Dilfer a Super Bowl quarterback? Not anymore.
Three of the survivors qualify as pro football royalty, game-changing throwers with Hall of Fame presence and five Super Bowl titles among them. Can Cutler play in the same elite league as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady? The Bears just bet $126 million he can.
Four of them represent the new breed of quarterback as athlete. Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick are the prototypes: big guys with big arms, plus enough speed and mobility to be dangerous when they flee the pocket. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are smaller versions but no less effective. And none of them is older than 26.
Cutler, 30, is a bit too old, too gangly and too brittle to take off and run as brazenly as Kaepernick does. But he’s athletic enough to ‘‘keep plays alive with his feet,’’ in the scouts’ parlance.
The eighth playoff quarterback remaining might be a West Coast version of Our Guy. Philip Rivers, 32, has been the Chargers’ starter since 2006, the year Cutler reported for duty with the Broncos. Their AFC West rivalry bred both familiarity and a fair amount of contempt.
Rivers is as animated as a rally monkey on speed, the polar opposite of the detached Cutler as a personality. He has better career numbers than Cutler, including a 3-4 playoff record in four appearances. The Chargers deemed him a better option than Brees and made a commitment to him by letting the sore-shouldered Brees walk as a free agent after the 2005 season. Brees subsequently has won a Super Bowl, an MVP award and off-the-chart marks for citizenship in New Orleans, but the Chargers haven’t second-guessed themselves. Rivers has been nearly as good, if not as celebrated.
Rather than waffle about his worthiness, the Chargers assessed Rivers’ 79-49 record, 96.0 passer rating, 2-to-1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio and 128 consecutive starts within the context of his ebullient style and declared him acceptable. They’ve moved on to assembling a supporting cast that complements his talent, including a three-man running game that provides offensive balance.
After four seasons of treating Cutler like a semi-welcome houseguest, the Bears have made a similar decision. Not only have they made Cutler rich, but they’ve given him a coach who understands him, a line that can protect him and a group of receivers who fulfill him.
Cutler’s critics — and there are many — abhor the move. They’d prefer the Bears get a year or two out of McCown, find his replacement in the draft and let Marc Trestman, the quarterback whisperer, work his magic. It doesn’t have to be a first-round pick; Brees and Kaepernick went in the second round, Wilson in the third and Brady, as the world knows, in the sixth.
But these are the Bears, a team that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman and one that thought Henry Burris, Jonathan Quinn and Hanie were good ideas. They know what they have in Cutler, and they’re going with him. The draft and any remaining resources can be applied to defense, where the needs are more acute. It’s for the best.
If Chicago has a black-hole position to rival Bears quarterback and Republican mayor, it is Cubs third baseman. Aramis Ramirez waved at a few ground balls, didn’t always bust it on the bases and carried himself with a nonchalance that could be as irritating as Cutler’s perceived apathy.
The Cubs won three division titles with Ramirez as a middle-of-the-order anchor in their lineup. You didn’t miss him until you had to watch Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters and Cody Ransom play third.
Cutler would leave a deeper hole.