Well, things have certainly changed over the past few days; on Thursday morning, Ryan Tannehill was the undisputed leader of the team and face of the franchise. On Sunday afternoon, the Miami Dolphins signed former first round pick of the Denver Broncos and former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to a one-year contract. Cutler will almost certainly be Miami's starting quarterback for most, if not all, of the 2017 season.
Before we get into why the Dolphins had to make this move, let's take a quick look at Cutler's career to this point. Selected by the Broncos out of Vanderbilt University with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 draft, Cutler would quickly demonstrate that he, not Vince Young or Matt Leinart, should have been the first quarterback selected that year. He set a Broncos franchise rookie record for QB efficiency in '06, at 88.5. Put another way, that rating was higher than John Elway's in 1983 and a full two points higher than Ryan Tannehill's rating over his entire five year career.
Cutler played well during his time in Denver, but everything changed, both for he and for the Broncos, when former and current New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was named head coach of the team in 2009. Barely a month into McDaniels' tenure with Denver, it was reported that he wanted to trade Cutler and bring in backup Patriots QB Matt Cassel to lead the team. The trade ultimately fell through, but the damage was done. Cutler smartly refused to play for McDaniels, put his house up for sale and sat back and waited for the team to trade him. When the Chicago Bears offered two first round picks and quarterback Kyle Orton for Cutler, Jay packed his bags and headed for the Windy City.
As was the case in Denver, Cutler played well in Chicago, and the Bears advanced to the NFC Championship game in January 2011, facing off against their longtime divisional rivals, the Green Bay Packers, at Soldier Field. As he usually does, Aaron Rodgers came out smoking on that cold winter's day, and the Bears were down 14-0 by the second quarter. Just before halftime, Cutler fell awkwardly and twisted his knee, and had to come out of the game. When he didn't return for the second half, and cameras showed him standing on the sidelines watching the action, without any crutches or bandages on his leg, many fans assumed, incorrectly, that Jay didn't want to play. With a Super Bowl berth on the line, this was an unforgivable sin by a Bears QB. Never mind that it was later revealed that Chicago's coaching staff had pulled Cutler from the game; the perception that Cutler was a quitter was all but sealed in the minds of many Bears fans, and they would never let him live down the events that unfolded that day, as the Packers won the game and, then the Super Bowl, two weeks later.
Now, with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill presumably out for the year after re-injuring the same left knee that knocked him out of action last season, Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum simply had to make this move. First and foremost, the Fins want to win now, this season. They made the playoffs a year ago and believe the team has what it takes to qualify for the postseason once again. But that's only part of the equation; think back to all the high draft picks and free agents that Miami has brought in to try and advance Tannehill's career with the Dolphins: Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Ju 'Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil. All but three of those guys, plus former first round pick Mike Pouncey and stud running back Jay Ajayi, are still on the roster. If you invested your life's savings in a Formula 1 or Indy racing car, and your driver was incapacitated or no longer available to drive that car, would you simply shrug your shoulders and let your backup driver race for you ? Probably not; like the Dolphins, you would want to cast a net far and wide to get the very best driver on the planet who was available, to drive that car. Jay Cutler checks all the boxes: a strong arm, playoff experience and had his best season under Adam Gase. Unlike Tannehill, Cutler has also been voted to the Pro Bowl by his peers.
It's hard to imagine any Dolphin fan being against this move. For one thing, Miami got Cutler on the cheap -- $10 million, with a maximum of $13 million, with incentives. They also didn't have to give up any draft capital for Cutler; they were able to simply sign him off the street, since the Bears cut him three months ago. Think Cutler might have a chip on his shoulder, after the way he was treated in Chicago? Uh, yeah. As a guy who has already made millions of dollars, is 34 years old, a diabetic, and who already had a lucrative broadcasting gig with Fox Sports in his pocket, Cutler is coming to Miami with something to prove, and there is every reason to believe that he emphatically will prove it. You've got to love a guy with that kind of motivation. Re-signing stud receiver Jarvis Landry becomes more, not less, likely, with the acquisition of Jay Cutler. What Cutler potentially can do for the Dolphins is to be a 'bridge' quarterback for two or three years, while the team grooms a younger guy, possibly from the QB rich 2018 draft, for the future. By no means is this an indication that Tannehill has played his last game for the Dolphins; what it does mean is that the team now has two things it didn't have at the end of last week: a starting quarterback who can lead them to the playoffs this season and options for the future. Before you criticize this move, think about the Arizona Cardinals, with head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer. They're widely regarded as Super Bowl contenders these days. You know who Adam Gase and Jay Cutler are? Younger, healthier versions of Arians and Palmer, that's who. Looking ahead to 2018, there are four guys the Dolphins are going to have consider, in terms of big money and the salary cap: Tannehill, Cutler, Suh and Landry. At least one of those guys isn't going to be with the team after this season. Who goes and who stays ? We shall see. It's an exciting time to be a Dolphins fan.