Hours after waking up in a strange hotel room and wondering where he was, Jay Cutler arrived at his first Dolphins practice and promptly impressed coaches, teammates, and beat reporters with his big arm and accuracy. It was an impressive turnaround for a player who resigned himself to the announcer’s booth just months earlier.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean much for the Dolphins.
Cutler’s arm strength has only ever been a problem for the executives and scouts who’ve pursued him. His ability to make plays downfield — to fit a perfect spiral into tight windows — is matched by few other quarterbacks in the NFL. His inability to make strong decisions and protect the ball, however, is a big enough deficiency to erase whatever advantage his cannon arm provides.
That tantalizing potential was what led the Bears to send two first-round draft picks and Kyle Orton to the Broncos in exchange for eight up-and-down seasons behind center. Cutler throwing off his back foot, putting the ball in a spot where only a defender can grab it was a typical lowlight from the latter half of his Bears tenure.
At some point, Cutler jumped from hyped Pro Bowl prospect to late-stage Brett Favre without hitting any of the creamy middle for which the Bears once paid handsomely. As a succession of crumbling lines forced him to utilize his oft-underrated mobility, pressure forced him to either make a low-risk, low-reward play — either eating a sack or dumping the ball to his fourth or fifth target — or relying on his prodigious arm strength to force a play downfield. In eight seasons with Chicago, his decisions swung hard toward the latter.
That means early observations like this:
No doubt Jay Cutler is up there in top 3 arms I've ever seen in a Dolphins uniform.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 8, 2017
May just be hollow hope for a Miami team looking to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 16 years.
There is hope for the Dolphins, however. Cutler’s last go-round with head coach Adam Gase, his former offensive coordinator in Chicago, resulted in an interception rate of 2.3 percent — the second-lowest mark of his career. His quarterback rating of 92.3 was the highest he’s ever had. With weapons like Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills at his disposal, he’ll have a more potent lineup than he ever had in Chicago, who went 6-9 in that 2015 season.
Gase noted Cutler had picked up where the pair left off fewer than two seasons ago.
"[He] remembers basically everything with the offense," Gase told reporters after his new quarterback’s first practice with the team. "Basically for him, it's just kind of getting that feel with the rush. It's one thing to throw routes on air and one-on-ones, but to get in there and be able to take some reps with the line in there and to be able to see everything develop and our players' body language and how they run routes, that's the biggest difference for him."
Cutler will once again get a chance to make good on his potential, but at 34 his success will have to be seen to be believed. Of course, if the Dolphins really wanted a risk-averse quarterback to fill in for Ryan Tannehill, there was one option who threw picks at an ultra-efficient 1.2 percent rate last fall.