The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. That's evidenced by the handful of mega-deals that signal-callers such as Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons have signed in the offseason.
However, at least one NFL quarterback not only didn't get an extension this year, but will also effectively be playing for his job all season long, hopeful that his new head coach can work some quarterback magic yet again.
The head coach is Marc Trestman, who has done everything from propelling Rich Gannon to an MVP season to making Scott Mitchell look like a competent NFL passer. Well, mostly competent anyway.
Much has been made of Trestman's arrival in the Windy City and the effect it will have on Cutler after an up-and-down four years with the Bears.
As Michael C. Wright of ESPN reports, there has already been talk of Cutler's improved mechanics in training camp so far, as he is reportedly "zipping spirals all over the place."
Trestman has liked what he's seen so far, but he also cautioned Wright that nothing is guaranteed at this point with Cutler.
Is there a guarantee? We don’t know. Nobody knows. But we’ve made a commitment to try to get this done. It’s not only myself, it’s Matt Cavanaugh. We’ll work together to try to focus on the things that we think we can change, but to not inhibit him from playing at a loose and free level to where he can do his job.
If Trestman wants to win over a great many fans in Chicago very quickly, then turning Cutler into the quarterback the Bears thought they were getting back in 2009 would be an excellent start.
At the time, Cutler was coming off a season in which he threw for over 4,500 yards and completed over 60 percent of his passes for the Denver Broncos.
Unfortunately, things haven't gone quite so well since he joined the Bears. Yes, he threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes in 2009, but a career-high 26 interceptions knocked much of the luster from that year.
That's been Cutler in a nutshell. He makes you smile, then makes you wince. Great performances are followed with abysmal ones.
So the Bears have turned to Trestman, who has an extensive history working with quarterbacks who run the gamut from Hall of Famer to journeyman.
However, for all the talk of Trestman's expertise, it's worth mentioning that he is not, in fact, a miracle worker.
Yes, Trestman has coaxed good seasons out of a number of quarterbacks. However, the only truly eye-popping season of the bunch was Gannon's MVP campaign, and it's not like the likes of Bernie Kosar and Steve Young didn't have even better years without Trestman's guidance.
The good news is, Trestman doesn't need to work miracles with Cutler, whose numbers don't look terrible compared to most of Trestman's NFL quarterbacks.
Talent isn't an issue with Cutler. Neither is arm strength. One look at this laser to Alshon Jeffery last year shows that he has plenty of both. His problems are consistency and decision-making.
When pressured, Cutler has a distressing tendency to try to shoehorn the ball into places it just shouldn't go. For example, in this play against the Green Bay Packers, he is forced from the pocket, then throws the ball back across his body into coverage. The result is hardly a surprise.
Granted, part of this isn't Cutler's fault. For most of his tenure in Chicago, the offensive line has varied somewhere between average and awful. Any quarterback is going to make mistakes if they're constantly running for their lives.
The problem then becomes the "footsteps" that such a quarterback starts hearing every time they drop back to pass. They leave the pocket before it's even begun to break down. In their fear that the other shoe will drop, they force throws.
The additions of Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long in the offseason should help to solidify that line, at which point, it will fall to Cutler to trust it. Rather than always being ready to bail, sometimes you have to have faith in your blockers and step into the rush.
Not all of Cutler's issues lie with his offensive linemen, however. The 30-year-old has also been known to make terrible decisions with the football even when not pressured.
Take this interception from a matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. The pass protection is fine. Cutler simply tries to thread the needle with a pass that never should have been thrown.
Yes, the Bears were down big in this game, but throws like that dig those holes to begin with.
Remember, even on the best of days, Jay Cutler has a tendency to turn the ball over too much. He's averaged more than 14 interceptions per year over his career.
This decision-making, both while under pressure and not, has been Cutler's biggest issue the past few years, and it can't really be fixed in practice. Until he faces a pass rush in live game action, there's no telling if he will revert to bad habits.
Trestman admitted as much to Wright, while pointing out that there's no one-size-fits-all system for "fixing" every quarterback.
They’re all different. (Montreal Alouettes quarterback) Anthony (Calvillo, the CFL’s all-time passing leader), we really had to start over with him. It was different. He picked it up very quickly. But I’ve fallen into situations like with (Rich) Gannon (who won the NFL’s most valuable player award in 2002 while working with Trestman) and there wasn’t that much to do. Steve Young, there wasn’t much to do. It was just basically reminding them to keep doing what they were doing. There are some I don’t even remember. But just to give you a few, you see that everybody is different.
It's that fact that makes the Bears' approach with Cutler a prudent one. With the new CBA, it's become much more attractive for teams to roll the dice with a young quarterback as opposed to a mid-level veteran. The former may command $4-5 million a year in his rookie deal. The latter will run $15 million a season or more.
That puts the ball squarely in Jay Cutler's court. If he takes Trestman's teachings to heart, trusts his line and plays within the system, then the turnovers should come down and he'll get his extension.
Or, Cutler can get happy feet, revert to "gunslinger" mode, throw 15-plus interceptions for the third time in five years and force his way out of Chicago. It's his choice.
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