At some point today, we are going to find out just how badly Jay Cutler's right thumb, banged up in Monday night's ugly 29-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, is hurt. It's possible he'll be fine for next week's game against Dallas. It's also possible that he'll be out for a month or two. But you know what the funny part is? Chicago Bears fans probably don't mind either way. Take your time, Jay. Don't rush back.
Even his teammates aren't sad to see him go.
I do not think it is an overstatement to say that Cutler is the most universally derided quarterback of my lifetime. There are quarterbacks that were mocked as much as Cutler, sure, but for a much shorter timespan; usually, when we get after quarterbacks as much as we do Cutler, they lose their starting jobs before we can much get used to them. (Robert Griffin III, Ryan Leaf, Rex Grossman.) But Cutler has been a starting quarterback in the NFL for more than a decade. Since 2007, Cutler has started all but 15 games for the Broncos and the Bears. Only six active quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer -- have started more games than he has in his career. Cutler has been a constant in the NFL for more than a decade.
And I think he's been despised every single year of his career. This is a player who:
- Is the Bears' all-time passing yards leader.
- Has the 39th-most all-time passing yards in NFL history, ahead of Randall Cunningham, Terry Bradshaw, Ken Stabler, Joe Namath and Roger Staubach.
- Brought the Bears within one game of the Super Bowl in 2010, a game they might have won had he not been hurt.
- Has never thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns in his career.
- Has, after 99 games as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, a winning record.
Yet every time his name is mentioned, people snarl. And not just Bears fans! Every game he plays on national television, we all converge to mock him and high five each other afterward. Stephen A. Smith called him the "worst quarterback in the NFL" and went on a typical rant over it.
Cutler has, by almost any relative measure, been an overwhelming success as a quarterback: He has started 136 NFL games! That's a ton of games! And he's won almost half of them! But people treat him like he's Akili Smith's talent crossed with Milton Bradley's social skills. Why?
Let's take a look at the main reasons people hate Cutler and see if they hold up.
1. His contract. Last year, ESPN's Mike Sando ranked the contracts of every quarterback in the NFL. Cutler finished dead last. Sando's quote: "Coaches brought in to help Cutler keep getting fired. Meanwhile, Cutler keeps cashing fat checks. Although the true guarantees in his deal were reasonable on paper, the Bears became accountable for another $25 million after Cutler remained on the roster long enough for injury-only guarantees to become fully guaranteed." It's strange that we, as a culture, tend to get angrier at the men who are paid millions of dollars rather than the men who made the decision to pay them that money, but whatever. That Cutler is being paid so much, and has a contract that's not easy to walk away from, has led Bears fans to growl at him almost out of principle. But don't pretend you wouldn't have signed the contract just like he did.
2. He's a coach killer. Cutler has developed a reputation as someone who is always getting coaches fired, but that's not really fair. He has had four in his career: Mike Shanahan, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox. There are only two coaches on that list who lost their jobs with Cutler as their quarterback. Trestman was pretty much mocked in Chicago from the time of his hiring, and besides, his issues were more on the defensive side of the ball. Smith, maybe you have a case. But did Cutler get Smith fired in Tampa Bay too?
3. He doesn't play hurt. The guy has missed only 15 starts in 11 years, but this still sticks to him, in large part because he didn't play in the second half of that NFC Championship Game. That caused Mike Ditka to pop off, saying, "Myself, I would have had to have been paralyzed to come out of the game. I don't want to say that word. I would have had to be completely knocked out to come out of that football game." It turned out that Cutler had a sprained MCL, but you know how football people are: Some Bears fans haven't considered him "tough enough" since.
4. He won't go away. Four years ago, after Lovie Smith was fired, everyone assumed that Trestman would find a way to get rid of Cutler. (From an NFL.com story: "It could be the quarterback's turn to exit stage left.") That was four years ago. Every year it feels like the Bears are going to trade or cut Cutler, and every year they realize he's still their best option. People have been thinking this is Cutler's last year as starter for longer than Von Miller's career has been going on.
5. He chokes. My least favorite word in sports, "choker", has always being slapped on Cutler, presumably because he's thought to throw a lot of fourth-quarter interceptions. And he has thrown more interceptions in the fourth quarter (42) than any other quarter. Other players who have done that: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers.
6. The reality star wife. Cutler is married to Kristin Cavallari, a reality show star who is so mocked by gossip wags that the late, lamented Gawker once ran a daily post mocking her called "500 Days of Kristin". Because she is a reality show star, Cutler has to be a part of that world, occasionally showing up on her shows and even having his "parenting techniques" critiqued on gossip shows.
It's natural that the dislike people have for Cavallari would cross over to Cutler.
7. He doesn't vaccinate his children. This is a completely justifiable reason for hating Cutler, maybe the best one.
8. He has a bad attitude. Nobody quite has the pout that Cutler does when something goes wrong: He has Resting Pout Face. This one might be my favorite:
9. He looks like he doesn't care. The now-defunct site Smokin' Jay Cutler made a habit of showing a Photoshopped Cutler smoking cigarettes, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else in the world than on a football field, and that's the general consensus on Cutler. (Even Brandon Marshall has called him out for not caring enough.) Though, all told, everyone in the NFL is pretty insane. They're way too intense, about everything. Maybe with the reality show wife always dragging him into television conversations he wants nothing to do with, and fans always booing him, and teammates and coaches always blaming him for everything that goes wrong … maybe the only logical response is to shrug, you know? JK Livin'!
10. We just love to love quarterbacks, or hate quarterbacks. There is no in-between. Either you're a hero like Tom Brady -- which makes people both love and despise you -- or you're a bum like Ryan Leaf. There just isn't a lot of room in the football conversation for a quarterback like Cutler, who has been a slightly above-average quarterback -- a quarterback who you start because you don't have anybody better, not because you feel particularly inspired -- for more than a decade. In baseball, he'd be an old starting pitcher who just gives you 180 innings with a 4.40 ERA. In the NBA, he'd be an old point guard who doesn't win you any games but will hold down the fort until you can find someone who does. These are attractive qualities in other sports, and other positions. But at quarterback: You're either the best, or you're nobody.
Cutler is a perfectly average quarterback and has been so for a very long time. This is an amazing accomplishment, one that millions of people have dreamed of pulling off and only he and a handful of others have. He was blessed with a rocket arm and has made millions from it. He has won more games in Chicago than he has lost and might be the best quarterback that franchise has ever had. What an asshole.