Cutler was primed to move from the field to the broadcast booth, but the Dolphins persuaded him out of retirement with a one-year, $10 million contract after Ryan Tannehill re-injured his knee during training camp. The 34-year-old thus heads to Miami, where he'll reunite with head coach Adam Gase, who served as the Bears' offensive coordinator in 2015. That season was among the best statistical campaigns of Cutler's career, though his numbers didn't translate into wins for Chicago. This could be the best supporting cast Cutler has played with in his entire career, with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jay Ajayi and Julius Thomas each bringing something unique to the table. The Dolphins also figure to have an offense line that's at least decent, and Gase has an impressive track record as a play caller. Cutler will have to play well to keep the starting job, considering Matt Moore filled in competently late last season and is one of the more highly regarded backups in the league.
Early in the season, with the Bears staggering out to an 0-3 start and Cutler nursing a hamstring injury, it looked like his stint in Chicago could be coming to an end as the club positioned itself to get in on the Jared Goff sweepstakes. Cutler returned after missing just one game and reeled off two straight wins, however, quickly putting to rest any tanking talk. In some ways 2015 was his best campaign, as his 7.6 YPA and 92.3 QB rating were both career highs, yet the 33-year-old's strengths and weaknesses remain the same as they ever were, with his arm strength still excellent and his decision making at times an enigma. Another question mark is Cutler's supporting cast, which will look very different in 2016 despite the return of Alshon Jeffery. Backfield security blanket Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett are both gone, replaced by inferior receiving options Jeremy Langford and Zach Miller, and after the front office focused on defense in the draft the only reinforcement will be second-year wide receiver Kevin White, who missed his entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin. Unless White proves to be a difference-maker on the outside —admittedly a distinct possibility—Cutler could have a hard time matching last year's efficiency.
It's not often a quarterback who has set career highs in touchdowns and completion percentage is benched Week 16 for a journeyman backup. But that was Cutler's fate last season, largely because he couldn't stop turning the ball over. Cutler led the league in turnovers (24) and tied for the lead in interceptions while his YPA dipped to a five-year low. New coach John Fox said Cutler will compete for the starting job with Jimmy Clausen, who hadn't thrown a pass since 2010 until he replaced Cutler late last year. That seems like a simple motivational ploy, as $16.5 million is an awful big investment in a clipboard holder. Cutler still has an abundance of offensive weapons to target, even though Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets. Alshon Jeffery is a prototypical No. 1 receiver coming off consecutive 1,100-yard seasons, Martellus Bennett paced all tight ends with 90 catches last year and Matt Forte set the all-time record for receptions by a running back with 102. Seventh-overall draft pick Kevin White is expected to step in as the No. 2 WR with his exceptional size/speed potential (6-3, 215; 4.35 40), and the team also added Eddie Royal, who totaled 15 touchdowns the last two years in San Diego, to play the slot. Of course, another important question is whether new offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Cutler's fifth in seven years in Chicago, will mesh with the quarterback after some of the game's brightest offensive minds (Mike Martz, Marc Trestman) couldn't make it work.
The arrival of coach Marc Trestman was a good thing for the Chicago passing game in 2013, as Cutler posted a career-high quarterback rating of 89.2 while backup Josh McCown threw 13 touchdowns compared to just one interception. The same two issues as always plagued Cutler once again, however, as he threw too many interceptions and missed five games due to injury. His interception percentage actually increased from 3.2 to 3.4 upon Trestman's arrival, which is confusing in light of McCown's extreme efficiency. Turnover-prone or not, no one is challenging Cutler for snaps in Chicago, and he's poised for a productive season with an elite supporting cast at his side. Coming off a year in which they combined for 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery might be the best receiver duo in the league, and 6-foot-6 tight end Martellus Bennett (759 yards and five touchdowns) provides a third formidable red-zone threat. It seems unlikely that Cutler will play all 16 games – the last time he did so was in 2009 – but the fact that he and McCown combined for 4,450 yards and 32 touchdowns last year means Cutler has significant upside on a per-game basis.
There's no doubt Cutler has a big arm and good mobility, but in his seven-year career, he's thrown for 4,000 yards just once and never completed more than 63.6 percent of his passes. The quarterback's high for passing yards since coming to Chicago is 3,666, and he barely eclipsed 3,000 yards in 2012 with Brandon Marshall back on his side.
That said, new coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Cromer (formerly of the Saints) plan to install a faster-paced offense, and the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett and potential development of second-year man Alshon Jeffery give Cutler better weapons than he's had with the Bears. Perhaps more importantly, the Bears re-tooled their offensive line this offseason, signing free agent tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson and drafting guard Kyle Long with the 20th overall pick. Cutler's had to run for his life the last three years – and he's missed eight games over that span.
If the Bears weren’t a team that just allowed their quarterback to get sacked 105 times the last two years, Cutler would probably be ranked a bit higher. That’s because for the first time since arriving in Chicago he will have talented wide receivers to throw to in 2012. The biggest addition is fellow former Bronco Brandon Marshall, who caught 206 passes for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns in Cutler’s final two seasons in Denver. Cutler gets another significant wideout upgrade with the addition of second-round pick Alshon Jeffery, who at 6-3, 216, is a powerful receiver with big hands and an explosive ability to highpoint the ball in traffic. Marshall will be far and away the best receiver Cutler has had in Chicago, while Jeffery could eventually be the second best. Expect noticeable improvement in Cutler’s passing efficiency after he produced at a per-game rate the last three years that projects to 3,613 yards and 25 touchdowns over 16 games. Considering the Bears failed to improve their offensive line, however, Cutler might fall short of 16 games for the third time in four years.
While the Mike Martz offense didn’t result in a bonanza of passing stats for Cutler last year, Cutler still showed significant improvement from his disappointing 2009 season, increasing his quarterback rating from 76.8 to 86.3. Despite that, it seems Cutler’s fantasy stock is generally lower than it was a year ago, mostly because of a lackluster supporting cast and increasing durability concerns. The wideout trio of Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett was mediocre at best, and the Chicago offensive line allowed a league-high 56 sacks, including 52 at Cutler’s expense. Those sacks were costly, as Cutler missed time in the regular season with a concussion, reportedly the fifth he’s suffered since college, and he was knocked out of the NFC Championship with an MCL tear. The addition of first-round tackle Gabe Carimi is great news, but he’s only one upgrade on a line that could use two or three more. Cutler still brings a huge arm and some running ability to the table, but his supporting cast limits his ceiling.
Cutler was a huge disappointment in leagues that subtract for picks. In more liberal scoring formats, he was an asset. But he’s the most intriguing middle-round guy on the board in 2010. Mike Martz is calling the plays now in Chicago and is a virtual guarantee to transform the Bears into an explosive passing offense. Martz likes wideouts who can get on the safety in a flash and he has two of the fastest in football in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. He also has a top tight end in Greg Olsen. Hester and Knox will open underneath routes for Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu. After turning guys like Shaun Hill and Jon Kitna into serviceable fantasy starters, it strains the imagination to conceive of what Martz will do with Cutler. He projects for 28-30 TD passes.
It’s absolutely stunning how the Broncos basically washed their hands of a QB who was on the road to greatness. Cutler had only just passed through the entry tolls, yes, but most never even get that far. Cutler has not showed that he lacks any essential quality for stardom. His skin is thin. But when you put your life on the line every snap facing 11 guys who want to see you slaughtered, you should demand some unconditional love from the coaches entrusted to protect you.
We understand that Cutler struggled last year in the red zone (under 50 percent completions) and didn’t even shine in our functional arm strength test – 73.9 QB rating on 156 passes, an impressive 25.3 percent of attempts. But he made plays and gave a team with a horrendous defense a chance to make the playoffs into the season’s final week.
The Bears are not as strong on paper as the Broncos at wide receiver. But how much of Denver’s success in developing those targets was due to Cutler’s ability to put secondaries on their heels and find very small windows with that howitzer?
Devin Hester will run under more than a few Cutler rainbows after showing excellent progress last year as a receiver. Hester is far from a novelty act now and a legitimate, every down, outside weapon. Greg Olsen is a TE who can control the seam and thus will provide some comfort for Cutler. RB Matt Forte looked Brian Westbrook-like as a wide receiver at times last year and recalls the great Chuck Foreman as a pass-catching back. Yes, the team lacks a suitable, traditional possession receiver and may opt for fourth-round rookie Juaquin Iglesias or last year’s third rounder Earl Bennett (who played with Cutler at Vanderbilt) if either has a strong summer. Otherwise, the Bears will be scouring the waiver wires for the kind of veteran who’s a dime a dozen when you have a QB of Cutler’s quality.
He looks like the complete package, still
young and developing but already performing
above the median in all our key stats. His FAS
in a solid 89.8, not surprising given that he probably has the best conventional arm strength in
football. His overall YPA was 7.5, which is right
in that sweet area where we expect closer to 30
TD tosses. And he was efficient throughout the
red zone. Most impressive were his five TD passes
on 28 throws from the plus-20 to the plus-11
yard lines. The six picks and just two TDs on those 158 attempts were likely a fluke. Remember, too, that Cutler did this last year despite being ravaged by diabetes, undiagnosed
at the time, which caused him to lose 35
pounds and feel very lethargic. Now he's getting
insulin and the proper diet to deal with the condition in a way that should allow him to perform up to his capabilities. Discount the condition completely when drafting.
Javon Walker is gone and Brandon Marshall
lost a battle with a McDonalds bag and fell
through a TV screen (whatever you say, Brandon),
causing such severe damage that his status
for training camp was in question. But he should
recover fully by September. And he’s a stud when
healthy. The rest of the Broncos receiving corps
is a hodgepodge – Brandon Stokley returns, and
he’s joined by free agents Keary Colbert, Samie
Parker and Darrell Jackson. Whoever plays will
perform because of Cutler, not vice vesa. QBs
like him who can find the tight spaces turn runof-
the-mill NFL receivers into stars.
Cutler is largely unknown, of course, but has one of the most brilliant offensive minds in NFL history directing his attack. Yes, Mike Shanahan is that good, a fact fantasy footballers conveniently forget at times with all the obsession over how fickle he’s been with the running back position since the departure of Terrell Davis.
The receiving corps is in transition, with Daniel Graham imported to man the tight end position and Rod Smith being moved into a complementary role where he’ll share looks with intriguing second-year man Brandon Marshall. Javon Walker is still there and seemed to regain his explosiveness last year in returning from torn ACL suffered in 2005. Walker is a perfect complement for the strong-armed Cutler. Marshall has wide receiver speed and tight end size, which he utilized to mightily impress Champ Bailey in Bronco practices last summer.
The Broncos’ playcalling tendencies from last year aren’t particularly relevant as Cutler was a rookie. And prior to his ascension as starter, Shanahan had lost all confidence in Jake Plummer. Shanahan traded up for Cutler, and there are reports that he was their top-rated QB in a very solid QB class. Even when the running game is rolling, Shanahan provides a fantasy-friendly environment for a QB. Expect aggressiveness from Shanahan, as Cutler demonstrated flashes of supreme arm strength and did not cower as a rookie, with a solid 88.5 QB rating and 9-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio. We don’t like 20 percent poor throws, third worst, right behind Plummer. But the YPA was solid because he was effective throwing the ball downfield, with nearly 60 percent of his passing yards in the air (in the 80th percentile of those rankings).
And his functional arm strength was just as good as advertised, with a top-notch 113 QB rating on throws 11-to-20 yards from scrimmage (small sample size, however). Expect Cutler’s percentage of attempts this distance to rise from just below average (19 percent) to well above it (about 25 percent or so). This could reasonably get Cutler’s YPA up from the low to high sevens. And a YPA in that range is the rainbow that often leads to a pot full of TD passes, which, of course, are fantasy gold.
Cutler has impressed everybody in summer minicamps, prompting some to project Cutler as possibly the best pro quarterback prospect in the 2006 draft class. The media has been persistent in hyping the idea that Cutler could push Plummer for the starting QB position, but don't expect that to happen anytime soon, especially this year. While Cutler certainly is the QB of the future in Denver, the Broncos are perfectly content to let Cutler watch and learn from the sidelines as he continues to develop. While Cutler currently sits third on the depth chart behind Jake Plummer and Bradlee Van Pelt, it wouldn't be surprising to see Cutler pass Van Pelt should something happen to Plummer. As long as Plummer stays healthy, however, Cutler will remain on the sidelines.