Many football fans regard Jay Cutler as a talented quarterback who never quite lived up to his potential. Occasional signs of greatness led some to believe that Cutler might one day be one of the greats of the game, but these hopes never materialized. Although Jay’s yearlong return to the game in 2017 (and the possibility that he may make yet another comeback down the line) does leave the question of his NFL legacy up in the air, many football fans feel that he is a prime example of the over-hyped player. This is a type of player that the National Football League seems to have in abundance.
Naturally, the question of Jay Cutler’s legacy, especially his legacy with the Chicago Bears, where he played eight seasons, will depend somewhat on which team(s) you root for. For many Bears fans, Jay Cutler never became the torch bearer they had hoped for when he left the Denver Broncos to join the Bears franchise for the 2009 season.
Cutler averaged just a .500 win-loss percentage in his eight seasons with the Bears, with his best season arguably coming in 2012, when he set franchise records in completions and passing. Although Cutler may have actually finished his 12-year career with the Miami Dolphins, that tenure will have to be evaluated mostly for his performance throughout those eight years with the Chicago Bears organization.
About Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler is an interesting player to analyze. He is one of those big-name football quarterbacks that may look great "on paper" but never manage to lead their teams to many wins. When Cutler left the Broncos after three seasons, he was certainly viewed as a quarterback to watch, and maybe even a Brady or Manning in the making. That Jay Cutler never quite made it to those heights is clear, but the final verdict on him as a quarterback who played 12 NFL seasons is not black-and-white.
Jay Cutler’s years before he made it to the NFL present a complicated picture of success and, well, not always total success. The argument can be made that he has been one of those players that NFL fans, pundits, influencers and decision-makers tried to will to greatness even though that talent level was never present. We don't see that a fair position because Cutler did have early success and showed occasional displays of brilliance. At the very least, his name deserves some honor for the years he the Bears on the field.
Cutler's Roots & Early Years
Cutler’s early years in the game showed tremendous promise for great things to come. A native of Indiana, Cutler led his Heritage Hills High School team to its first ever 3A championship over rival Zionsville. He started three years on his high school squad and finished his senior season with a perfect 15-0 record. A Chicago Bears fan as a young man, Cutler will be remembered in the town of Lincoln City, Indiana, as one of its hometown heroes regardless of his NFL legacy. After all, he went on the NFL and played QB for the Chicago Bears.
Mixed Success at Vanderbilt
During Cutler’s college years at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the stars did not quite seem to align. Although Cutler stands out as one of the best players statistically to have ever played on the Vanderbilt University Commodores football team, he finished at the school with a record of 11 wins against 35 losses. How much of that dismal record can be laid at Cutler’s feet is up in the air, as he did set school records for touchdowns and led the SEC in QB rushing as a freshman.
In what may have swung some NFL scouts and coaches his way, Cutler capped his college career with a huge win over Tennessee, a program that Vanderbilt had not beaten since 1982. That 2005 win over Tennessee led Cutler to a nomination for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the country’s best quarterback and a selection as a first-team All-SEC pick. During his final season with the Commodores, Cutler led the SEC in total offensive yards with 3,288 yards.
On to the NFL
Strangely, the lack of wins in Cutler’s college career may have been the prediction that no one paid attention to back when he entered the 2006 draft. Cutler was clearly a talented player, but this talent did not seem to be enough to raise his team above its place at the bottom of the SEC.
Clearly a standout player, Cutler was ranked as one of the top three quarterbacks in his year of the NFL Draft. The strength of his talent on the field and the feeling that he was merely waiting for the right circumstances to shine led to Cutler being drafted relatively high by the Denver Broncos. Cutler’s standing at this early stage in his career may have also led to his lasting 12 seasons in the league, since many continued to cling to that tremendous potential years afterward. The loyalty of fans of the Chicago Bears, the team for which he played most of his time in the NFL, had something to do with that longevity, too.
Jay Cutler was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft with the 11th overall pick. He was drafted to the Denver Broncos, who were dealing with their own troubles with quarterback Jake Plummer. Denver signed Cutler to a six-year contract worth $48 million. Cutler played five games that season, ending with two wins and three losses. Once again, although this team failed to emerge as a winner, Cutler showed himself capable as a quarterback by establishing a record in passing rating for the Denver Broncos organization.
On the strength of his personal performance that season, Jay Cutler found himself the starting quarterback in 2007. He would play another two seasons with the Broncos. The 2008 season, his last with the Broncos, was his personal best to that point (and arguably in his entire career). He passed for 4526 yards with an average of 282.9 yards per game. He set several Broncos franchise records that season and was ranked first in the AFC in completions (and third overall in the National Football League). In April 2009, Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears.
The Chicago Years
In spite of the highs of his 2008 season with the Broncos, Cutler is best known for his time with the Bears. Again, it is with this organization that the verdict on his football legacy lies. That 2009 season with the Bears was filled with highs and lows, with Cutler being a standout both in terms of touchdowns and interceptions. This had also been a pattern with the Broncos. During his next seven seasons with the Bears, interceptions and overall inconsistent performance would be persistent issues for Cutler. His 27 interceptions in the 2009 season, his first with Chicago, made a lasting impression on many.
During his eight seasons with the Bears, Cutler would be praised when the Bears did well, as in the early weeks of the 2010 season, and criticized when they did poorly. Perhaps this always is the lot of the quarterback in the National Football League, and it is fortunate that their compensation packages must make up for carrying that load.
In spite of the Bears experiencing some pretty deep lows during their years with Jay Cutler as a quarterback, including a 5-10 season in 2014, the team stuck with Jay for the long haul. In typical Cutler fashion, Jay continued to display his talent as a quarterback even in the face of mounting losses and criticism. He set numerous franchise records, including the most wins for a Chicago Bears quarterback at 51.
A Look Back at Jay Cutler's Legacy
During his time with the Broncos and the Bears, Jay Cutler would deal with health problems and the frequent whispers that he was being paid like a top quarterback but seldom playing like one. Cutler was diagnosed with Type I diabetes back in 2008, and the accomplishment of continuing to play at a high level with a serious illness is worth noting.
The question of Jay Cutler’s legacy is complex because he has repeatedly shown himself to be a talented quarterback, but he has never quite managed to find the consistency or success that other top quarterbacks (and the organizations that pay them) expect. In a way, he resembles the great U.S. track athlete who sets world records and then gets to the Olympics and stumbles. With Jay, it may have been an issue of inability to blend his talent with others on his offense to lead his teams to victory. Yet a man cannot be great by himself in a team sport... and this may be the real legacy of Jay Cutler.
So what is Jay Cutler's football legacy? There is no question that Cutler had a great arm and all the raw talent to be great, but he just never seemed to be able to connect the dots. Though he may be considered by many industry outsiders to be a flop, with over a dozen Chicago Bears franchise records, there is no question that Jay Cutler stands as a memorable player in the Bears organization.