You know that trope, surely, repeated through the fight game’s history of pugilists going on too long? Of the old warhorse lured out of a comfortable retirement by the bright lights—and the dollar, too, and that one final promise of late-career glory…
Yeah, so, let’s talk about Jay Cutler and how said trope applies to NFL quarterbacks, too. Cutler was the major casualty of the Miami Dolphins’ horrible 30-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. The 34-year-old was taken out of the game at halftime and has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol, according to NFL.com. Cutler, who was replaced by Matt Moore, had already thrown three interceptions and completed six of 12 passes for 83 yards when he was withdrawn.
A reminder that Cutler doesn’t have to do any of this, whether that’s throwing picks or getting his brain beaten around behind a leaky offensive line, or attempting to compensate, however ineptly, for a defense that cannot hold up its end of the bargain by staying off the field for any length of time. He could have been surveying the field from a broadcast booth as part of a three-person Fox Sports broadcast team alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis. Cutler only signed up to be an NFL color commentator in May, after he was released by the Bears. Then Ryan Tannehill broke and the Dolphins came calling with a fully guaranteed $10 million contract, plus incentives, and the chance to work with Adam Gase again and, well, it must have seemed a good idea at the time…
That the Dolphins have been icky isn’t all Cutler’s fault. It seemed the front office was planning for next season already when it traded Jay Ajayi, the Pro Bowl running back, to the Eagles at the end of October for a fourth-round draft pick. (Ajayi had a big day in the Eagles’ blowout of the Cowboys on Sunday, including a career-long run of 71 yards). It isn’t Cutler’s fault that only Ndamukong Suh on the Dolphins’ defense seems to be playing up to his talent level.
Still, Cutler hasn’t been "good," or even good enough to justify giving up the relative comfiness of the broadcast booth. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns against nine interceptions for a total QBR of 36.4, according to the statistics and metrics ESPN compiles. That’s good enough for 27th in the league among starting quarterbacks, above Joe Flacco, C.J. Beathard, Brian Hoyer, Trevor Siemian and DeShone Kizer. Flacco apart—and he hasn’t really been all that good since the Ravens won a Super Bowl in 2013—those really aren’t names you want to be competing with for futility.
If Cutler were hoping that this season might burnish a legacy that flits awkwardly between unfulfilled and mediocre then it hasn’t gone to plan. It also seems unfortunate that up in the CBS broadcast booth, Tony Romo continues to be one of the best surprises of this year so far. Romo was also, pretty inarguably, a better quarterback than Cutler. Heck, he would almost certainly do a better job for a team now if he came out of retirement.
But then, Romo always was a pretty good decision-maker on the field. As Cutler contemplates a recovery from concussion, maybe there is a gentle lesson in Romo’s new career in learning how to stay retired.
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