Jay Cutler is 33. Over 136 games, Cutler has attempted 4400 passes. That places him ninth among active players and 39th among all passers in the record books. How many passes is that? Kurt Warner retired after 4070 pass attempts, and Jim Harbaugh, Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Namath didn't even break 4,000 before their careers were over. If Cutler doesn't throw another pass in an NFL game, Cam Newton would need four years to catch him. The man's arm might be a little tired.
However, passes are not the only thing that might wear on a quarterback. How about rush attempts? Cutler puts his body in harm's way a lot, and he doesn't slide as often as he probably should. Among the eleven active quarterbacks with at least 4,000 passes who are starters in the NFL, the average rate per game is right around 33 pass attempts and 2 rushing attempts. Cutler instead averages around 32.5 pass attempts and about 2.5 rushes per game. Maybe he takes slightly more wear and tear from those extra rushes, but it's not likely to be a decisive factor. The way he rushes is a different matter, of course. Still, so far it seems as if there is some reason to think he might have some football left in him. Much more telling, really, should be the rate at which he has been sacked.
Not pressured. Not hit. Actually sacked. Cutler takes 2.16 sacks per game (the average among this group is 1.9 sacks per game). To put this number into context, across 266 games, Peyton Manning was sacked only 303 times. In more than a hundred fewer games, Cutler has already been sacked 293 times. At the current rate, it will not take all of five games for Cutler to pass Manning in the number of sacks absorbed (on that note, go check out Sackwatch - one of the best Xs and Os features on the web). Only seven active starters have been sacked more than Cutler. Admittedly, he's a long way away from the 400+ sacks absorbed by Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady (Roethlisberger and Rodgers are actually the only active starting quarterbacks who take sacks at a higher rate than Jay, as well). Still, the man has taken a lot of punishment. Fran Tarkenton, Bernie Kosar, and Dan Marino all hung up their cleats before being sacked as often as Jay has been.
However, there is a flip side to this. Yes, he has thrown a lot of passes, and yes, he has taken a lot of hits. On the other hand, six passers in the NFL have more than 5,000 passes on their stat sheets, and two dozen players in NFL history have hit that mark. At his current rate, Jay has at least 17 more games to go before he reaches that level. Likewise, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all have taken at least a full season of "sacks" more than Jay. All of these quarterbacks have the kind of hard mileage that should make a rational person contemplate retirement.
Perhaps Jay should get out now. The thing is, Cutler has football left in him. I cannot say for a fact whether or not Cutler will play for the Bears next year. I don't even know if he'll find a starting job if he gets cut (although he should get chance--thanks NPI). I do know that if Cutler wants to play, someone should write him a check. By almost any reasonable measure, he has at least a season (or two) of football left. And it will be good football.
Of the 11 players in the 4,000-pass club (including such icons as Brady and Rodgers), the average rate of a pass going for a first down is 36%. Cutler's rate is 35%, and at that he's better than Flacco and Manning (34%) and Palmer (31%). Give the man the ball and he will get a set of first downs at basically the same rate as the other veteran passers, and that's with the average being skewed by "locks" for the Hall of Fame (like Drew Brees and Tom Brady, both at 37%). They don't need to retire, and neither does he.
People talk about needing a player to spark an offense. Cutler has led 21 fourth-quarter comebacks in 136 games (or 7th among active quarterbacks). If a team needs to find a player who can pick a team up and carry it to a victory, there are only six players currently in the NFL who have done it more often than Chicago's #6.
I cannot say what will happen with Cutler's thumb. I cannot say whether or not Pace will try to move on. However, there is still some football left in Jay Cutler, and he still has the ability to get a team (regardless of which team it is) down the field. Ideally, that team would be the Bears, with Cutler holding things together while his replacement is drafted and given a chance to learn the ropes. One way or another, though, there's a lot of evidence to think that if Cutler wants to keep playing, someone should give him a helmet and a ball. And, maybe, a decent offensive line.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics used in this article come from Pro Football Reference.