Now, before I get proverbially jumped on, this is not meant to be another 'attack' on the Bears quarterback by yours truly. But I don't think we have ever really seen the best of Jay Cutler, and am beginning to doubt whether we ever will. At least as long as he remains in Chicago.
Bears general manager, Phil Emery recently came out in support of Cutler, saying:
"I'll say the same thing that I said this summer: I see Jay as a franchise quarterback. We've got to build around him. That's been the goal from the beginning, to build around Jay and to build our team towards championships."
So, it seems that the organization still has a lot of faith in Culter, and perhaps with good reason.
He is undoubtedly a very talented quarterback, with great arm strength and a toughness that can keep a team competitive in many games. This year saw the rest of the league realise what many around here have known for a while - he can run the ball pretty effectively when he has to, and this adds another dimension to his game. But as far as I am concerned, this coming season could see Cutler in the same situation Lovie Smith found himself in - win or go home.
As he enters the final year of his contract, it's time for him to prove that he deserves an big time deal. I think he is realistic in accepting that he can't get Tom Brady type money when he doesn't play Tom Brady type football. Cutler has made reference to the fact that he doesn't want to "break the bank", when negotiating a new deal. But if this turns out to be his last year, he will forever have an excuse (or a reason, if you are feeling especially kind-hearted) as to why he didn't live up to his full potential with the Chicago Bears.
Reason number one would have to be the offensive line. Since joining the Bears in 2009, he has been sacked a lot. And that's putting it mildly. He has never been afforded the type of protection he, or any other QB in the league, requires to be effective. Cutler makes mistakes when he has defenders in his face, and this has been the case throughout his time with the Bears.
I know that I am always on edge each and every time Cutler drops back to pass the ball. I never feel confident that the line will do their job, and give him time to make the play. Imagine how Cutler feels!
In his relatively short time in the windy city, Cutler has played under three offensive coordinators. Players, especially QBs need continuity with their coaches. It's kind of like any job really. You get a new boss, and you get used to the way they do things; start to build a good working relationship with them and then they get fired or leave and you have to start all over again.
Cutler himself said:
"It's hard for an offense and as a quarterback to get to where you want to be and be consistent on a weekly basis if you're changing coordinators every couple of years. That's a reality. I think it's an overlooked fact."
Until this year, Cutler has never really been surrounded by the type of talent at the wide receiver position that would enable him to spearhead a dynamic, high scoring offense. This season saw the welcome addition of Brandon Marshall, who played as well as anyone could have hoped, but even that wasn't enough to get the Bears to the playoffs.
My annoyance with Cutler's and the Bears over-reliance on Marshall has been stated enough times; suffice to say that one man (or two in this case) cannot get the job done on their own.
Whoever the new head coach turns out to be, he needs to find a way to make the offense more balanced. Get Forte more involved in the passing game again, find a way to give Devin Hester a role that maximises his talent, unless that ship has already sailed. Cutler has just never had the real talent to throw the ball too.
Do you see why Cutler will always have an excuse? Would we have seen a different level of production from him if he was on a different team. A team with a balanced offensive, good receivers and a strong offensive line? I think we would have witnessed more consistency from him, at least. If everything else is in place, all Cutler needs to be effective is time to throw the ball. It should be simple, right?
All of this is what makes it hard for even me to stay mad at Cutler for very long. He hasn't been in the best of environments for the last few years. At least in terms of being able to show everyone how good he can be.
Right now, Cutler still offers the Bears the best chance to be successful. I'm just not sure everyone will feel the same if the Bears find themselves without a playoff berth for the third straight year. For now, Cutler still has an excuse, but surely time is running out for the Bears quarterback.