The Dolphins offered Jay Cutler $10 million guaranteed to end his brief retirement this summer. It’s a move both sides may wish they could take back.
The veteran quarterback, eternally trapped in a cycle of inflated hype and limited substance, has not been the panacea Miami needed after losing Ryan Tannehill to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. Cutler was handed the strongest receiving corps he’s ever had to work with and reunited with the offensive coordinator — now Dolphins head coach — who guided him to the most efficient season of his career. Instead of a renaissance, he’s been stuck cosplaying Brock Osweiler.
Cutler’s struggles were on full display Sunday, his fourth game with the team. The veteran, now with two months to acquaint himself with a familiar playbook, outdueled Matt Cassel in one of the budding season’s most depressing games. Together, the pair combined for 3.4 yards per pass — with Cassel doing much of the heavy lifting.
Cutler completed just 12 of his 26 passes; none went longer than 17 yards. A 14-yard sack absorbed in the fourth quarter gave a significant chunk of that right back to the Titans. His passer rating was only 12.5 points higher than teammate MarQueis Gray, a tight end who threw an incomplete pass on a gimmick play.
At halftime, a frustrated home crowd made its presence felt. “We want more,” they shouted from the stands.
No, wait. That was “We want Moore.”
Miami’s backup and prospective started in the two days between the diagnosis of Tannehill’s injury and the team’s signing of Cutler. Moore, to his credit, started three games for the Dolphins last fall and went 2-1 in the regular season with an 8:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 105.6 passer rating.
Through four regular season games, Cutler is 2-2 with wins over a hobbled Titans team and a 1-4 Chargers squad. He’s thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating is 68.4. That’s roughly the equal of Brian Hoyer, the journeyman passer who outplayed Cutler when both were with the Bears in 2016.
The good news is it’s not too late for the Dolphins to make a change. A soft schedule and some luck (Mariota’s injury) has Miami at 2-2 in a division where the Patriots suddenly look mortal and the top spot in the standings is a three-way tie at 3-2.
Moore is an option, though not an ideal one. At 33 years old, he’s hit his ceiling and it’s not unreasonable to think last year’s small sample size — a stretch in which he played above and beyond his career averages — is an unsustainable level of performance. Keep in mind the teams he faced were 7-9 Buffalo, the 5-11 New York Jets, and a New England team eager to limit its starters in Week 17.
There are options on the free agent and trade markets, most notably, the one player many Dolphins fans may be sick of hearing about — Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick recently told CBS’s Jason La Canfora he plans on playing football this fall and has been working out six hours a day in preparation for his next shot in the NFL. There’s no guarantee a rusty Kaepernick would be able to provide more than Cutler has, but a comparison of their 2016 stats suggest a clear on-field edge for the former 49er.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Jay Cutler, 2016 stats
Each team had gruesome receiving corps and supporting casts. Cutler was a bit more prolific in his passing, but Kaepernick found the end zone more often while turning the ball over less. The San Francisco quarterback scored 1.5 touchdowns per game behind his bad offense. Cutler averages 0.8. For a Dolphins team that’s scoring 10.3 points per game this fall — the worst mark in the NFL — those extra points are significant.
Behind Kaepernick, the prospects get grim. Backups like Jimmy Garoppolo and Brett Hundley have high ceilings, but are a) unproven and b) costly to acquire via trade. The rest of the quarterbacks on the current market include Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley, Thad Lewis, and Matt McGloin. None of those players seems like he’d offer anything Cutler or Moore couldn’t.
The Dolphins are reaching a point of no return. Their upcoming schedule includes games against the Falcons, Raiders, Panthers, Buccaneers, and Patriots all before December. Those are all games an offense barely averaging double-digit final scores will lose. Moore may not be the answer. Same with Kaepernick, who hasn’t played a snap of organized football since last January.
But after four games, one thing is clear — Jay Cutler is not the stopgap solution the Dolphins hoped he could be.