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Jay Cutler belongs with the Jets, but he'd be fine with these other teams

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Ranking Jay Cutler’s possible destinations for 2017, from his perspective.

NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago has expired, as expected.

With a $16 million cap hit in 2017 and just $2 million in dead money left on the seven-year deal he signed back in 2014, it’s no surprise the Bears moved on from their embattled franchise quarterback. The club’s front office publicly declared its intents to reform the roster of a 3-13 team, and the man once hoped to be a franchise savior was among the first to go.

But Cutler, 33 years old, is far from done as a passer. He’s just one year removed from posting the highest QB rating of his career, and though he went 6-9 in 2015, his record has more do to with Chicago’s 25th-ranked defense as it does with its quarterback’s play. If he can return to form from the three seasons preceding his injury-plagued 2016, he’ll be a top-20 quarterback.

He won’t be the only veteran to hit the market.

Tony Romo will likely be released or traded, beefing up a thin list of passers with an All-Pro presence. Any team in search of a veteran passer will likely put Romo atop its list with Cutler second, but the longtime Bear will still attract his share of suitors.

The Bills are out of the running after they retained Tyrod Taylor, and Kirk Cousins is, despite rumors to the contrary, staying in Washington. But there are several quarterback-needy teams this offseason, ranging from the playoff-ready (Broncos, Texans) to sailless boats cast adrift in a sea of mediocrity (Jets, 49ers). Let’s take a look at free agency through Cutler’s point of view and figure out which franchises can offer the veteran bomb-launcher the most next fall.

1. Houston Texans

The Texans should be the top spot on any free-agent quarterback’s wish list this spring. Houston has a strong enough defense to carry the club to the Divisional Round of the playoffs, as proved in 2016, and has a plug-and-play offense just waiting for a competent passer. The franchise bet $72 million that Brock Osweiler would be that guy last spring, but one awful year later, Houston sent him packing to Cleveland.

Cutler would play behind an offensive line with similar sack rate numbers as the one he left behind in Chicago. He’d have a receiving corps headlined by All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins and flanked by second-year speedster Will Fuller. The Texans also have a talented rushing attack led by Lamar Miller. The tools are in place for a playoff run in Houston; the Texans are just missing the final, and most important, piece of the puzzle.

But again, it all depends on what happens with Romo. The Texans are now in a good spot to land him after they dumped Osweiler’s burdensome salary.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

And from there, this list gets depressing for Ol’ Cutty. The rest of the quarterback-hungry teams are all either

a) coming off terrible years, or
b) franchises with which Cutler has an ignominious personal history, or
c) both.

Jacksonville is fresh off a 3-13 season, but the team’s outlook is a bit rosier after firing head coach Gus Bradley — a man whose NFL winning percentage is so low (.226), it couldn’t even make a passable batting average.

The Jaguars can offer Cutler some luxuries, including the league’s No. 11 offensive line (when it comes to sack percentage) and explosive young receivers in Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. However, the team has publicly committed to pick-six purveyor Blake Bortles for at least the start of 2017, so any deal the veteran accepts in Florida would peg him as a Week 1 backup.

3. San Francisco 49ers

Teaming with first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan could be the panacea that cures Cutler’s inefficient ways, but that’s a theory that failed to pan out in the past with coordinators like Mike Martz and Marc Trestman. Still, the 49ers offer a clean slate — and he could reunite with his two backups last year, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.

This would also give him a chance to revive his value as a passer. San Francisco’s roster is relatively bare, but the club has nearly $99 million to spend in free agency this spring and has started revamping its receiving corps, most notably with productive veteran Pierre Garcon. Add in a dynamic young tailback in Carlos Hyde, and you can begin to see the foundation for a revival for one of the league’s storied franchises.

However, Cutler’s chances to land in Santa Clara are slim. The 49ers now have two quarterbacks on the roster and will almost certainly pick up another in the draft.

4. Denver Broncos

The Broncos get high marks on Cutler’s wish list because they’re a team built to win, thanks to a ferocious defense and a cache of talented wide receivers. A deal between the two almost certainly won’t happen because:

a) Denver likely doesn’t want Cutler back after he sulked his way out of town in 2009.
b) Cutler’s recent numbers aren’t that much better than those of Trevor Siemian, who is nine years younger than his potential replacement.

Still, from Cutler’s point of view, a trade back to the place he started his NFL career would make sense from a pragmatic standpoint, if not an emotional one. It’s just unlikely the franchise would feel the same way. If the Broncos want a veteran passer, Romo will be the sole option.

5. Cleveland Browns

Cutler could be the latest quarterback to have his dream of a late-career comeback ruined by the Rube Goldberg machine of despair called the Browns. The franchise is currently deciding whether it should cut or trade Osweiler and is also on the precipice of losing dynamic wideout Terrelle Pryor.

Cleveland entered free agency with more than $105 million to spend this offseason, and has already added Kenny Britt to revamp the league’s 30th-ranked passing offense. The Browns could bring in Cutler to serve the role the since-released Josh McCown held the past two seasons. With all signs pointing toward the Browns selecting a young, developmental passer through the draft, the former Bear could be the next in a long line of seat warmers to patiently wait for Cleveland to dismantle its latest first-round QB.

6. New York Jets

The Jets were a quarterback graveyard in 2016, one where Geno Smith was their most effective passer and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s quest to lead the league in interceptions was only curtailed by his benching. Both are unlikely to return to the team, leaving Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as the team’s top options behind center.

Needless to say, New York will be in the market for a quarterback this offseason. Cutler is already on the team’s short list as it looks for a veteran while developing its younger prospects:

And the feeling is mutual:

But Cutler would also have little to work with in New York. The Jets’ middling offensive line allowed sacks on nearly 6 percent of its snaps last fall and released Nick Mangold and Breno Giacomini in February.

The pickings at the skill positions aren’t much better. Cutler could reunite with Matt Forte, but the dynamic back is now on the wrong side of 30, averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, and set a career low for receptions and receiving yards last year.

Brandon Marshall is now with the Giants, and Eric Decker spent all of the previous season on the injured list. Would Cutler want to throw passes to Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson all season? That seems like a long and winding path toward a late-career revival, but he might not have much of a choice.