Jay Cutler is probably the most universally hated quarterback of an era. For as many people as you can find that hate Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Big Ben, Peyton Manning, etc. you can find others that love them. That’s almost universally untrue of Jay Cutler. Part of it is because he hasn’t transcended to the level of play of the other quarterbacks’s mentioned. Part of it is because no matter how infuriating he was to a fan base, teams still found it difficult to replace him.
The real reason Cutler is the most hated quarterback in the modern era? Media Narrative.
Denver Broncos 2006 NFL Draft No. 11 Overall
Let’s rewind and look back with our Hindsight 20/20 Vision on for a moment... Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler. Those are the 2006 first round QB’s. This was when he helped Brandon Marshall to set records, before the trade that would send the WR to Miami. Cutler even earned himself a Pro Bowl selection in 2008. Then Josh McDaniels happened in Denver. There were rumors McDaniels was trying to bring in Matt Cassel... and Cutler wanted out.
More than a few teams were in on the negotiations for a trade. Chicago, the eventual winners, beat out teams like the: Buccaneers, Lions, Redskins and Titans. So, it wasn’t like teams didn’t want him. In fact, the Bears ended up giving up 2 1st round picks, and a 3rd in exchange for Cutler and a 5th. Here is what Bears former GM Jerry Anglo had to say about Cutler at the time, “We felt that [Cutler] is a very good person, a good leader. He had some things that happened in Denver. We recognized those, but we treated them as just speed bumps, part of the growing process. He's highly competitive, he's highly emotional. That just comes with the territory.”
Now I want you, The Phinsider community, to read that again. Yes, that’s right. For the first few years of Jay’s career he was derided as too emotional. He was the guy yelling at his teammates. It’s why he and BMarsh got along back then. He cared... too much.
Chicago Bears, Lovie Smith & the 2010 NFC Championship Game
Alright, so Cutler gets his trade and the Bears get what will become their all time leading passer. No really, true story, Jay Cutler is the Chicago Bears all time leading passer. And that’s how he was shown the door? Ouch.
So how did he get from Knight in Shining Armor to the Scapegoat? The 2010 NFC Championship Game happened against the NFC North rival Packers. The Bears were behind at halftime, and Cutler was injured. Except, no one in the Bears front office staff decided to inform the media. So there is Jay Cutler on the sidelines, injured, and no one knows why... That’s when all hell broke loose for Jay. Players took to social media to blast his toughness, even Mike Ditka was quoted as deriding Cutler’s character. It wasn’t until the post game press conferences that it was revealed he had been pulled from the game by the coaching and medical staff.
An MRI later revealed a Tier 2 MCL tear. Yet that was not enough for some reporters. Particularly, Jason Whitlock made it a personal crusade to question Cutler’s commitment and toughness on a constant and regular basis. Leading to one of the top reporter-athlete feuds of all time, according to some. This is where the script was flipped. This is how Jay Cutler goes from emotional, borderline angry, gunslinger on the rise in a promising career to, well... The most universally hated QB of an era. All of the sudden everything was about his lack of toughness, or his laziness or whatever...
Smoking Jay, Diabetes, Injuries, and the Twitter Generation of Sports Journalism
There was a point when Jay Cutler memes were literally everywhere. Smoking Jay was a social media presence and website that has existed for much of Jay’s career in Chicago; for sole purpose of mocking him. Yeah, that happens in almost every fan base, rarely are they so good at it as to catch “viral status” on a national level. And as funny as we all found/find them (come on, they’re good), they only drove the narrative surrounding his laziness, lack of toughness and his lack of commitment.
Another interesting aspect about Jay that is always misconstrued is his “resting pout face”. Or I have seen it described: lazy, uninterested, and bored. He looks like a man with diabetes who still pushes himself to be a professional athlete because WANTS IT! Honestly, Cutler was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008, after he had played the entire 2007 season undiagnosed as he lost 33 lbs. in the process.
Diabetics can often show signs of weariness on their face if the patient simply does not have enough sugar. Not only can diabetes fatigue come on occasionally, it can also leave the person looking older or tired all the time. So, try to remember this the next time someone says Jay looks disinterested. (PS, Cutler has a diabetic athletes scholarship he funds.)
None of this discredits his listing as “injury prone”. Which, I do admit, is a something of a worrisome trait. However, even the media narrative around this is being skewed against him. He hasn’t played a full season since 2009, true, but 4 of the 7 seasons in question he played 15 games. Two of those remaining seasons he played in 10+ games. Only 2016, in a highly irregular situation, did he miss all but 5 games.
Interesting to note, his other two “significant” injuries happened in 2014 and 2012. So, when they create the “He only played 20 games in the last 32” or “45 of the last 64” or “56 of the last 80”... they are cherry picking those particular years in order to make the gap seem as large as possible. If there is anything I hate in modern journalism it is the purposeful creation of statistics to support a narrative. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”- Benjamin Disraeli
Journalism, especially sports journalism, takes place more and more in the twitterverse, or in social media in general. There is more opportunity for a beat reporter with a vendetta, ala Jason Whitlock, or a parody fan-site, ala SmokinJayCutler, to inform the national media narrative. For better or for worse, media is being crowdsourced. I’m not sure any athlete, except maybe Lebron James (totally different conversation), understands how fully these new media tools can inform the country’s perception of a celebrity-athlete.
I mean, look at the spin that is being put on his press conference... “His wife had to convince him”... Yeah, just skip over that thorough response about how good of a coach Gase is, the talent level present on the team, and this being the best landing spot he could have hoped for, etc. Just ignore all of that, and take the sentence that was a clear joke as a way to make him seem uncommitted. (I won’t even give that article enough credit to link you all to it...just gross.)
Will the Real Jay Cutler Please Stand Up?
Well, beyond the scholarship that was previously mentioned above, he also started and helps run the Jay Cutler Foundation which focuses on underprivileged youth and kids with Type 1 Diabetes, as well as invest in community projects. He doesn’t stop there either, he regularly works with Kids Wish Network, a lesser known entity similar to Make a Wish Foundation. He is even known to participate in charity events for his alma mater, Vanderbilt. Jay teamed up with Philly WR, and fellow Vanderbilt alumni, Jordan Matthews for a charity basketball game this summer. Cutler was the Bear’s 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year Nominee, and that was when they were firing Marc Trestman. Maybe, just maybe, Jay Cutler isn’t a baby stealing monster after all?
For now I am going back to the mantra many have adopted since mid-way through last season, In Gase We Trust. Until proven otherwise, I will believe when Gase tells us he knows Cutler as a fiery competitor who is intelligent and knows how to the play the game of football. That’s what we saw in Denver and leading up to that 2010 NFC Championship Game, before the spin. Is it possible Jay Cutler never changed, only the things that were being said about him did? That seems to be Adam Gase’s answer.