Reports are circulating that the Chicago Bears are desperately attempting to trade quarterback Jay Cutler rather than waiving him next month. The Bears are ready to move on from the often-troublesome signal-caller. The current cries from all corners of the internet are from fans and writers exclaiming hope. Hope that their team’s roster is not the next one upon which Cutler lands on. I find these cries to be short-sighted and emotionally-charged rather than logical.
Cutler is an enigmatic quarterback that will lose his team games with sloppy play and win games with his fantastic toolset. He has less upside than Tyrod Taylor, but he is a stop-gap in terms of finding someone to man the helm. Cutler is someone who can potentially help the rest of the roster develop over the next three-to-four seasons.
Aptitude & value
Cutler’s whiny attitude has led him to be decried in the national press more than his statistics say is fair. He is not a quarterback such as Drew Brees or Tom Brady who can lift up those around him to new heights, but he is one who can help make the talent on the roster thrive. A normal season for Cutler has been above a 60% passer with a QBrating just below 90 and a QBR around 60. The double-digit AV (approximate value from pro-football-reference) has only been achieved in a season by 2007 Derek Anderson since the Browns came back in 1999. Furthermore, Cutler has improved with age as his 2013-2015 seasons were the most efficient passing of his career.
There should be no doubt that Cutler has been better than anyone currently residing on the Browns roster.
Cutler is in a strange place in his contract. Only two million dollars remain on the Bears dead cap from his signing bonus, and he has no more guaranteed salary. Normally, a player might seek a new deal with some guarantees to ensure more leverage of remaining on a roster, but Cutler is unlikely to achieve the dollar amounts owed through that method. He might be best served keeping his current contract and betting on himself to remain on the roster.
He technically has roster bonuses and base salary over the next four seasons, but the bonuses are broken apart for each week of the regular season (treated the same as his base salary). It is more instructive to note that Cutler is owed $15 million, $16 million, $20 million, and $21.7 million over the next four years. In the crazy world of the NFL, those numbers make him a below average paid quarterback for at least the next two seasons. If at any time a team acquiring Cutler wishes to cut bait, the remainder of his contract would be torn up with no money owed to him. There is value in both of those items.
There are major risks with Cutler that might prove he is not someone worth obtaining. He suffered both a thumb injury and a torn shoulder labrum during the 2016 season. The extent of his labrum injury and his current health status are unknown. Any team even thinking of discussing a trade for Cutler (or signing him if he is waived) would have to demand a thorough look through his medical reports and put him through an extensive medical examination.
The other risk is one of motivation. Cutler would have to embrace the role of mentor to a young team. He would have to help Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman learn their roles at wide receiver, while leading the quarterback room with Cody Kessler. He might even need to train his replacement should the Browns draft a quarterback high in the NFL Draft. Given his history, there is some doubt he would be willing.
Why it doesn’t matter
Initial reports are that the Browns are not interested, and Cutler wants to spend his final seasons playing for a competitive team (the Bears ripped up their roster to become one of the NFL’s youngest). As such, the Browns and Cutler are not a match. The Browns should still do their due diligence and see if a seventh-round pick might be enough to acquire Cutler because if he is willing to be a mentor for the final phase of his NFL career, then he would help the Browns. As long as his shoulder is healthy, he has a resume that suggests he is capable of being a starting quarterback. Far more than other options such as Jimmy Garoppolo, and for a far cheaper price than the No. 12 overall pick.