Jay Cutler picked a pretty damn Jay Cutler way to leave football Friday, turning down lukewarm interest from multiple quarterbackless NFL teams to take a TV gig while citing a Henry Rollins quote about ambivalence. The only way it could’ve been more Cutty would’ve been if Kristin Cavallari posted an Instagram photo where he’d written DON’T on one buttcheek and CAAAAAAAAARE on the other, with a pile of unsigned contract offers in the background.
Cutler was never the quarterback Bears fans wanted him to be. He came to Chicago a year after making the Pro Bowl in his third season with the Broncos. The Bears assumed they were getting a franchise player. They were right, as Cutler has been the defining player of their team since then, although not in the way they hoped. In eight years, the Bears went 51–51 with Cutler. He never made another Pro Bowl, and Chicago made the playoffs only once, in 2010. Of course, the Bears went 1–1 and Cutler completed 21 of 42 passing attempts in those two playoff games. Twice, he led the league in interceptions. As Chase Stuart wrote at Football Perspective, Cutler is the definition of an average quarterback, averaging 0.03 adjusted net yards per attempt more than the league average for his career. For this, the Bears paid him $97 million.
Cutler additionally drew criticism for his personality. He isn’t a big smiler, and people hate his body language. He would walk away from coaches when they tried to give him advice and criticize teammates. He flipped off people who saw him walking his tiny puppy. He wasn’t a winner, he seemed like a jerk, and many assumed those two things were related.
But, in any given year, there should be roughly 16 teams that would be better off if they had an average quarterback. That Cutler was able to be an average passer for so long is something few humans on earth can claim; the ones that can are all megamillionaires. Yes, Cutler won only one playoff game, but 13 teams have longer postseason victory droughts and 18 teams haven’t made a conference championship game since Cutler’s Bears did it in the 2010 season. And he wasn’t always an interception machine: In 2015, he finished tied for 15th in interceptions; in 2013, tied for 13th; in 2012, tied for 12th. What’s more normal — the many seasons he threw a reasonable amount of interceptions, or the two he threw a ton?
And as for Cutler’s personality, his teammates — the ones who know him in person and not just through TV cameras — are fiercely loyal and have good things to say. He might be known for his indifference, but he’s got a track record of attempting to play through injuries; he was criticized for leaving the NFC championship game, but his teammates all insisted he tried to play even as his knee was sprained. The meme monument to his indifference, the Smokin’ Jay Cutler moniker and Photoshop craze, is fictional: Jay Cutler does not smoke, he just has a face that makes it look like he might smoke.
Cutler could have continued playing, but I don’t see any reason he should have. Any team that wanted him likely would have been bad, and he’s already rich. Is he apathetic for not wanting to keep going or smart enough to realize that another average season wouldn’t change the way anybody thinks about him? I look forward to Cutler the commentator: He’s a wry dude, and after a decade-plus of people casting their opinions on Cutler, he finally gets to cast his opinion on others.
As Jay Cutler leaves the NFL behind as an unloved Chicago nonlegend, I ask Bears fans this: Are you ready for Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky?