By Jason Keidel
At the risk of sounding painfully neutral, the Miami Dolphins just did the right and wrong thing all at the same time.
By signing Jay Cutler, yanking him from the broadcast both, swapping a microphone for a face mask for at least one more year, the Dolphins either saved their season or just accelerated a lost season.
Because there’s no true clarity with Jay Cutler, the man with the golden arm who can throw a football through zip codes yet also play with abject apathy.
We know the template logic behind the signing. Cutler is not only gifted but also can parachute into Miami and speak the offense’s language without an NFL version of Rosetta Stone. Cutler had arguably his best season in 2015, when Adam Gase was the Bears’ offensive coordinator. Indeed, two years ago Cutler had his best TD-to-INT radio (21/11), and his highest passer rating (92.3).
And now that Gase is the big boss of the Dolphins, the optics are obvious. Some may even argue that Cutler is a better option than Ryan Tannehill, the incumbent QB who injured the same knee that sidelined him last year. In fact, a locker room poll may very well give the nod to Matt Moore, the seven-year vet who’s easily one of the three best backups in the league and has been a first-rate teammate through all the turbulence in Miami. But Gase’s voice is the one that counts.
Before you board the Colin Kaepernick train, consider Cutler’s historical fusion with Gase’s system, plus Kaepernick’s selfie while wearing that t-shirt bearing Fidel Castro’s visage. Not a good look to the locals, about 35 percent of whom are of Cuban descent. Doesn’t make the signing impossible, but surely problematic. And, when juxtaposed with Cutler’s muted persona and arm talent, it’s not a hard choice. Perhaps Miami is the lone club which had a need but also a very valid reason not to sign Kaepernick.
Some consider Cutler the quintessential tease, this generation’s Jeff George, who was born and blessed with otherworldly talent but without the inherent hunger that separates good players from great players. Cutler went to Vanderbilt, a very fine school and hardly a football behemoth, so brain cells aren’t the issue. Neither is his health.
But even his maiden Miami presser was such a microcosm of Cutler the QB and person. Musing over his life at the moment, and how his wife talked him into his current gig. Then he glibly confessed that he’s not in the best shape of his life, while taking comfort in the fact that playing quarterback doesn’t require epic cardiovascular conditioning.
The best players don’t have to be the most vocal. But leaders tend to be, particularly quarterbacks, by dint of their dominance of the ball. Like Dan Marino, the iconic QB Miami has tried to replace for 17 years, burning through 18 quarterbacks since Marino retired in 2000. Only the Cleveland Browns have started more QBs over the same period.
The position is not generally suited for someone of Cutler’s disposition, his low-key regularity that seems to border on indifference, if not contempt. But he can also spin the pigskin 60 yards, through three defenders, and render both sidelines slack-jawed.
The hard-throwing, hard-charging, fist-pumping Jay Cutler is the one that made him a first-round option, the No. 11 pick in the 2006 draft by the Denver Broncos. His attitude made the Broncos trade him to Chicago (right after being selected to the Pro Bowl). His talent made the Bears trade for him, and sign him to a $50.37 million deal in 2009, then $126.7 million in 2014. But there’s a reason he didn’t come close to completing that last, seven-year deal in Chicago.
And there’s a reason Miami was so quick to call Cutler, and pay him $10 million, when they lost their starting QB. Which Cutler will the Dolphins get? The motivated man with the divine arm and sublime skills who can throw the ball harder and farther than almost any QB in the sport? Or the bright yet brooding Cutler who sulks at the first scent of adversity? The high-octane, fist-pumping pirouette, or head-down stroll back to the locker room after another head-scratching interception that cost his club the game?
Chances are they just got all the above. Maybe it won’t be worth $10 million to Miami, but it will be more than worth it for the rest of us.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.