By: JACOB BARTELSON – firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on Twitter @JakeBartelson
We didn’t need a nationally-televised “Decision” interview to learn Jay Cutler is taking his talents to South Beach.
He obviously won’t earn the fanfare of LeBron James, but the Dolphins announced to the league they still have every intention of returning to the playoffs, despite quarterback Ryan Tannehill facing uncertainty on his 2017 availability following a knee injury sustained in training camp earlier this week.
Tannehill’s status is still undetermined, facing decisions of possible season-ending surgery or substantial rehab. But barring any unforeseen setbacks, it is all-but-official one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in recent league memory will be signing a one-year, $10 million contract with incentives, per ESPN.
The move, of course, dawns a new era in Cutler’s rollercoaster NFL tenure, slamming the brakes on his widely-anticipated debut as a Fox NFL commentator in the coming weeks.
The 34-year-old will be reuniting with Adam Gase, who as then-offensive coordinator with the Bears in 2015, guided Cutler to one of his most fruitful seasons in the NFL – totaling his career-best quarterback rating (92.3) and second-highest completion percentage (64.4).
Without being privvy to the Dolphins’ internal discussions, at least from an outside view, it’s no real surprise Cutler got the call over the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III or other options considering Cutler’s obvious familiarity with Gase’s system and past success.
The regular season begins in a little over a month. Time is of the essence, and Cutler buys them a whole lot of it — No matter what happens with Tannehill.
The debate over Kaepernick’s NFL future as it relates to his decision to protest the National Anthem last season still wages on. Whether or not he is being passed over by teams in response to his actions, and the fairness of these decisions, is an assertion I’ll let someone else make.
It appears the Dolphins are comfortable with backup quarterback Matt Moore, but their flirtation with Cutler signals their confidence in maintaining playoff aspirations with Moore — alone — at the helm wasn’t attractive.
Yes, Moore led the Dolphins to two crucial late-season wins, which catapulted them into the wildcard last season. But, if Moore goes down, Brandon Doughty and David Fales currently round out the Dolphins’ depth chart at quarterback — a combined one career regular season appearance with five passing attempts – all coming from Fales.
An offense armed with an ascending aerial attack led by 2015 first-round wideout DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry, along with 2016 fourth-leading league rusher in Jay Ajayi, can’t rely on quarterback inexperience with a playoff-ready roster.
Gase’s quarterback track record is undeniable, but the Dolphins clearly agreed.
Enter Cutler, widely-debated as he is, plugging into an familiar coaching equation that also features attractive offensive line pieces, headlined by Laremy Tunsil, and a relatively low sack total in 2016 (30). For reference, Miami ranked 23rd in sacks allowed last season — Chicago, directly behind them with 28.
Stable, familiar coaching and an offense expected to make a leap arguably made Cutler’s decision to return easier, though we’ll have to hear from him to see the big picture — which could include, barring health and play, a longer NFL stay. In Miami or not.
He reportedly wouldn’t delay his next career venture unless he was signed for starter money and was afforded the starting job for the whole season. I wouldn’t be shocked if Cutler’s debut is somewhat delayed, however. Even he needs time to acclimate.
Cutler didn’t appear to have many suiters in free agency, but now he has the chance to silence his loudest critics and rekindle a career appearing to stale amid mounting injuries — and a Chicago fanbase ready to embrace another possible franchise quarterback.
Much was written in March upon his release a Swan Song of sorts — reminiscing on his dazzling arm talent and unquestionable toughness displayed on the field. Yet, injury-riddled seasons, coupled with overall lack of postseason success only partially tell the tale of Cutler’s tenure in Chicago.
Six offensive coordinators, a perpetual revolving door of offensive talent and mounting injuries help explain Cutler’s shortcomings, but that’s where the excuses for Cutler have to be halted. Despite the tens of millions invested and no genuine push for his starting role from backups, Cutler’s Bears didn’t win enough.
Not even leaving as the franchise’s all-time passer with 23,443 yards and 154 touchdowns could save him.
But that was then. This is now.
The Dolphins are rolling the dice Cutler will be healthy enough to sustain a team that is built to compete immediately with the AFC powerhouses — setting the stage for a hot fading summer in Miami.
Jay Cutler is back, ladies and gentlemen.
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