The Dolphins signed Jay Cutler, cruelly denying us the chance to hear his surly demeanor echo from the broadcast booth doing color commentary for each week’s second- or third-best games. But at least we’ve got Jay Cutler memes again, which started Monday afternoon at his amazing, give no f**ks introductory press conference.
"The good thing is I play quarterback, so I don't have to be in that great of cardiovascular shape," -- Jay Cutler.— Conor Orr (@ConorOrr) August 7, 2017
Now that we’re going to have to settle for whomever else Fox rolls out to replace Cutler, the Dolphins’ move leaves us with a few questions starting with ...
Are the Dolphins better now?
Maybe a better way to think of this question is whether or not the Dolphins are better with Cutler than they were with Ryan Tannehill. In my mind, there’s no question that they are.
Head coach Adam Gase’s success with Tannehill was relative, resting on the coach’s ability to remove the liability from his quarterback. Tannehill threw the ball an average of 30 times per game, a career low, and the Dolphins had the second fewest pass attempts per game as any team in the NFL. Gase was so committed to the run, that his Dolphins kept doing it even when they trailed on the scoreboard, which might have a lot to do with the fact that they were 8-2 in games decided by seven points or less.
Tannehill wasn’t much of a deep thrower. Only 9.8 percent of his passes were targeted 20 yards or more downfield, as Evan Silva points at Rotoworld. That’s an area where the team should be much better off with Cutler, who likes to throw to receivers down the field. And the Dolphins have a good trio of receivers with Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker.
Based on Gase’s last go ‘round with Cutler in Chicago the season before last, you can expect more passing in this Dolphins offense.
And they’ll need to throw it with the kind of schedule they have. Not only do they get two games against the Patriots, they have to play a tough AFC West, a surprisingly difficult NFC South as well as the Titans and Ravens.
Beating the Patriots is a tall order and probably a fantasy. Making the playoffs is a possibility, but that schedule, especially the AFC West part of it, makes it an uphill climb.
What happens to Ryan Tannehill?
Right now, there’s no guarantee that Cutler will be in Miami beyond this season. It’s just a one-year deal. He’s only 34, which feels young in this age of 40-year-old quarterbacks. But how willing will he be to come back if the Dolphins don’t at least sniff the playoffs?
There’s no more guaranteed money left to pay Tannehill. The contract he signed in 2015 carries a cap hit of $19.8 million next year, $21 million the year after that and $19.5 million in 2020, the last year of the deal. That’s relatively cheap, especially with the cap going up about $10 million every year. So it’s not prohibitive to keep him.
It’s also easy to cut him. The Dolphins could part ways next year with less than $5 million in dead money counting on their cap.
Initially, I felt like this deal would definitely spell the end for Tannehill in Miami. After all, he’s the quarterback Gase inherited. But until they find a more viable replacement, that’s harder to see.
Gase did a lot for Cutler’s career that season they spent together in Chicago. He made Cutler a more deliberate passer — one less prone to mistakes. The 2.3 percent interception rate was the lowest of Cutler’s career. In fact, Cutler was good enough that year that it forced the Bears to bring him back for 2016, even without Gase and even though they might have been better off without him, at least from a rebuilding standpoint.
Sorry, Bears fans.
The connection between Gase and Cutler is the thing here. That and not having to try to follow up a 10-6 season with Matt Moore as the starter.
Miami did consider other options, if Cutler hadn’t been available, including Colin Kaepernick. While I would’ve gone with Kaepernick, I get the logic behind taking Cutler in this situation.
At least Cutler’s a better option than Tannehill. However, the Dolphins are more than just a quarterback away from edging the Patriots for the division title. And now, they’ve created a situation where they’ll have to rethink the quarterback position in the near-term future.
But at least for this year, signing Cutler bodes well for the Dolphins trying to get back to the playoffs for the second year in a row, something they haven’t done since 2001.