It wasn’t long ago the New York Jets were kicking the tires on briefly-retired quarterback Jay Cutler. Instead, the Miami Dolphins are the ones taking the risk on Cutler, whom the Jets wound up turning down.
Cutler and the Dolphins are finalizing a one-year deal worth $10 million three months after the veteran quarterback decided to retire and joined FOX Sports as a broadcast analyst. If anyone should feel fleeced, it’s FOX, by the way.
The Jets showed interest in Cutler back in March when the team was still seeking out a veteran quarterback to serve as a placeholder. But the stars didn’t align, as Cutler puts it, and the Jets wound up signing journeyman Josh McCown to a one-year deal worth only $6 million.
In other words, the Dolphins were willing to shell out more money for Cutler’s mercurial services than the Jets were. But the Dolphins might have been more desperate after starter Ryan Tannehill suffered a potentially season-ending left knee injury last week.
Now, Miami will hope for the best with Cutler while preparing for what could be a bumpy ride. The good news is Cutler has rapport with Dolphins coach Adam Gase, as the two worked together for one season in Chicago during the 2015 campaign.
Many hailed that performance as one of the best of Cutler’s career. He threw for 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 starts, but the Bears still went 6-9 in those games despite Cutler’s efforts. His 2.3 interception percentage was the lowest in any season during which he started at least 11 games. Cutler’s 2015 numbers were slightly better than Tannehill’s 2016 production, but they’re pretty average by NFL standards. Cutler is also two years older now and hasn’t thrown a pass since November.
The Dolphins signed Cutler as a form of preserving their playoff hopes in 2017. He’s likely an upgrade over reliable backup Matt Moore, but it’s bold to assume Cutler will keep Miami in the playoff conversation and stay healthy over the course of a 16-game season.
Anything can happen if Cutler limits his turnovers (and that’s always a lot to ask for). But it’s also important to keep in mind the Dolphins were probably one of the bigger flukes in the NFL last season.
It’s quickly forgotten that the Dolphins were a mess through the first month of the season. They were 1-4 and their lone win came against the lowly Browns in overtime. The Dolphins finished the season winning nine of their next 11 games, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about that impressive run.
The Dolphins beat only one playoff team during that run (Pittsburgh). The other wins came against the Jets and Bills twice each, the Chargers, the Rams, the 49ers and the Cardinals. So the Dolphins didn’t exactly play a schedule of world-beaters last season. Eight of those wins came by single-digit margins, so a natural regression appears likely.
Sure, Cutler probably presents a higher upside than Moore, but there’s also a higher risk of disaster with him under center. It’s a risk the Jets didn’t view as worth taking, especially for a $10 million price tag.
We’ll get a strong indication of whether the Dolphins are for real with Cutler when they come to MetLife Stadium for New York’s 2017 home opener. That matchup should feature a battle of former Bears teammates and could serve as a barometer gauging what’s to come for the Dolphins in 2017.