NOTE: For those following along at home, this one's about football, so...um...bear with me. There's a larger thing I'm working towards here. So, it turns out the Chicago Bears aren't really a great team this year. That's surprised a lot of people whose job it is to care about that stuff, but even more surprising than the team's play on the field has been the great levels of dysfunction off the field that have crept into the public eye.
I'll let you Google what I'm referring to, but the peak of the franchise's ongoing meltdown happened this past week when it was announced the team was benching quarterback Jay Cutler, a player they signed to a 7-year $126 million deal before the season.
The popular opinion is that Cutler has certainly not lived up to the expectations of that deal (fair, as I'll go into later), however this is still a strange decision. Well, unless you're a friend of mine whose name rhymes with Blacho.
Blacho's not the only Cutler-hater around. They are numerous and they are loud. "Sucks" is a common word found after the quarterback's name. Well, at least on Facebook and Twitter - which we all know are the places people go to discuss things in a civil, well-reasoned manner (yeah, or not that).
Now, I'm pretty indifferent when it comes to Cutler and the Bears, really. I have been known to debate his critics in bar conversations on occasion, but that's been less about defending the man, and more about defending rational thinking. That's what I'm trying to do here. And, here we go.
Everybody Hates Jay-mond?
A lot of the negativity directed toward Cutler has to do with his personality. He's criticized for being aloof, a poor leader, generally unlikeable and disinterested.
Sure. I don't have anything to say about that, because those are subjective arguments, and well, a lot of players across sports have been unlikeable over the years. Chicago, remember Dennis Rodman? Though it absolutely helps if we like athletes, we don't need them to be likable. We need them to play well. We pay money for tickets to games to watch sports-ball players play well and win sports-ball games.
So that brings me to the other argument the Jay-ters often make: Jay Cutler isn't a good/winning quarterback. Sorry, Blacho et al. You're wrong. Factually, statistically wrong.
Here's a look at Cutler's stats as a Chicago Bear. These stats come from NFL.com, and I'm not manipulating them to make a statement or anything. Just showing raw statistics.
|Year||G||Comp||Att||Pct||Yds||TD||Int||QB Rating||League Average||Worst|
The third to last column there shows QB Rating, an imperfect, but commonly cited metric when grading quarterbacks as it takes into account a variety of statistics in its formula. As you can see, during his career as a Chicago Bear, Cutler comes just under the league average for QB rating, and that's really dragged down by one year (2009).
Out of 6 years as a starter, Cutler finished at or above the league average in QBR 4 of those years. What's more, this year, the year of his benching, he's actually having his best season looking at those stats.
Jay's criticized for being a "turnover machine" but he's never actually thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. "But what about fumbles, Coate? Cutler currently leads the NFL in turnovers!"
Okay, so that looks like this, adding fumbles lost, but also rushing TDs since that also wasn't originally included:
|Year||Pass TD||Rush TD||Int||Fum Lost||TDs||Turnovers|
Yes. Cutler does turn the ball over a lot. Factually. Never more than he scores, however.
Also, many of Cutler's failures may have something to do with the poor support systems he's had around him. Bears receivers have combined to have the 4th most drops since 2009, accounting for over 15% of Cutler's incompletions in that timeframe. SOURCE: SportingCharts.
Also the game situations have had something to do with his interception rate. Pete Prisco, a Senior NFL Columnist, dug through some data and figured out that in 2014 alone, Cutler threw 332 passes when his team has been behind, "a clear indicator that he's usually in scramble mode, which can make it tough to play quarterback in the NFL." That's fair. If you're under duress, you tend to panic. Professional athlete or not, that's a normal human emotional reaction to stress.
Why Does This Matter, Coate?
Let's pause for a moment.
None of the data above, and none of the mountains of data about Cutler's Bears career does anything to justify his pay grade.
When you combine all the various stats Cutler has compiled in his Bears career compared to the rest of the league in those various seasons, Cutler ranks exactly 15. There are 32 NFL teams, which places Cutler at exactly barely above average.
So, statistically, Jay Cutler has not been as poor as generalized ("average" does not equal "sucks"), however there's a larger problem, here. The Chicago Bears organization and its fans expected Cutler to be a Top 10 and maybe even Top 5 quarterback. They expected him to be elite. After all, he's paid like it. His contract makes him the 7th-highest paid QB in the NFL.
It's then fair to say, Jay Cutler has greatly underperformed compared to expectations.
The Truth Hurts.
But, here's my question, and the heart of this whole thing. What were you expecting, Chicago?
Cutler arrived via trade to the Chicago in 2009 to much fanfare. In the 24 seasons in between the 1985 Bears Super Bowl victory and Cutler's acquisition, Chicago had trotted out 27 different starting quarterbacks - most of them other team's castoffs or career backups.
With Cutler, Chicago fans would finally have a "real" quarterback - a guy with tremendous natural talent and a huge arm. This was the guy that would return the Bears to their former glory.
I now ask, what gave them any indication that would be the case?
Look back at the very first chart I posted above, and now look at this one:
|Year||G||Comp||Att||Pct||Yds||TD||Int||QB Rating||League Average|
These stats are from his two years as a starter with the Denver Broncos prior to going to Chicago. Cutler's 62.95 completion % is barely above his 61.15% with the Bears. His touchdown-to-interception ration with the Bears isn't much different than with the Broncos. His QB rating with the Broncos was higher than the league average, but not significantly. He averaged a QBR of 87 in those two years with the Broncos.
Let's say he kept that as an average with the Bears. He'd still finish barely above the NFL average QBR.
Are you sensing a theme?
Cutler has always been barely above average. The Bears traded for a barely above average QB and have gotten exactly that same QB...they just haven't gotten what they paid for.
Why Blame Jay?
How is that Jay Cutler's fault? HINT: It's not.
We live in a capitalist society. Cutler apparently has a really, really good agent. Just because he was paid as a top QB, doesn't mean he should have been a top QB. There wasn't anything in his prior career (other than "potential") that showed he would become a Top 5 option.
Especially when you consider he was traded to a traditionally defense-and-run-grame-focused organization, and to be Top 5 he'd have to best QBs like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and even Ben Roethlisberger, Donovan McNabb, Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning. Most of those QBs have led high scoring offenses in the past decade and a few of them are sure-fire Hall-of-Famers.
The guy (potential for more aside) gave a consistent effort all these years. This, while playing under 4 different offensive coordinators in 6 years with the Bears.
Football is a team sport, and like any team sport it takes more than one player to be great. It seems fair to me that Cutler, the man who holds 14 franchise records as a quarterback - is really just a scapegoat (link goes to another post with even further evidence that Cutler hasn't been the largest problem in Chicago).
Blame These People Instead.
Those people in that picture are the owners of the Chicago Bears. They brought Cutler to Chicago, and well, not much else. These are the people that have been absolutely OK with average.
Since the Chicago Bears won their last Super Bowl in 1985, the team has gone 239-222. That's a .520 winning percentage. With Jay Cutler as a starter, the Chicago Bears went 45-36. That's a .556 winning percentage - which, is higher.
They’ve gone to the playoffs just 10 seasons out of the past 29. 5 of those 10 came between 1986-1991 when they still had some guy named Mike Singletary (Hall of Fame) at Middle Linebacker and Mike Ditka (DITKA) coaching.
Since Ditka left in 1992, the Bears have played in just 9 playoffs games, winning 4 (Jay Cutler played in two of them, winning one).
Blacho and others - it's time to come to a sad realization - the Chicago Bears organization is mediocre and has been for a long, long time. Jay Cutler was just another mediocre player among many brought in. Actually, as proved above, he was slightly above mediocre. The Bears were better because of him. Not much, but still.
Jay Cutler's tenure with the Bears is likely over. The Bears' tenure as a mediocre team won't end with him. Not until the ownership and management figure out how to put a good TEAM on the field.