Whether it was part of a grand and calculating masterplan or as a result of dumb luck, things worked out perfectly for Jay Cutler. The longtime Chicago Bears quarterback agreed to $10 million deal with the Miami Dolphins over the weekend, opting to compete for a starting job with Matt Moore over sharing a Fox booth with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis.
The 34-year-old was unimpressive in five 2016 games, posting a 33.2 QBR and looking far more like a once-viable star in serious decline than a guy with much left in the tank. Whether the Dolphins made the correct choice in spending big for a briefly retired signal-caller remains to be seen. Does Cutler make more sense than rolling with Matt Moore, who has proven to be serviceable? Is he a better choice than Colin Kaepernick or, uh, Tim Tebow?
What’s clearer is how much this move makes sense for Cutler. And what’s impressive is how masterfully he negotiated his short retirement. He wasted no time scoring a major gig with Fox Sports, slotting into the No. 2 broadcast team despite a dearth of experience.
Having such a high-profile job did two things. First, it afforded him to be more discerning. Cutler passed on an opportunity to join the New York Jets, which many consider to be a suicide mission as another woeful season looms. It allowed him the chance to wait for a better situation, like the one in Miami.
Secondly, and more importantly, it increased his leverage. Interested teams knew Cutler had a very prominent and lucrative post-playing career in tow. They knew that he was willing to never play again and turn the page to the next chapter of his NFL life. Broadcasting is unique in that it assures a former player will be around the game and have the competitive juices flowing on gamedays.
No one knows exactly what was in Cutler’s mind but his outward actions suggested “I don’t need this anymore.” This is not always the case with quarterbacks in the twilight of their playing days. Sometimes an outsider can feel the desire and, oftentimes, desperation to hang on for a few more years.
To be clear, I’m not accusing Cutler of doing anything disingenuous. There’s no reason not to believe he wasn’t gung-ho about becoming an analyst and moving on. At the same time, the end result is the same for Fox, which devoted time and resources to training him and are now left with a hole at the position.
And we shouldn’t feel sorry for the decision-makers at Fox, who had to know exactly what they were getting into. There was always a chance the call of another season on the field would cause Cutler to depart. CBS is going to go through the same uncertainty this year with Tony Romo, who replaced Phil Simms next to Jim Nantz in the top booth. The inherent risk of giving a marquee slot to a still-viable NFL quarterback in a league desperate for competency at the position is self-evident.
So that leads us to wonder if Cutler just provided the blueprint for the future. We’re on the cusp of a giant influx of media-friendly quarterbacks retiring and looking for greenish pastures behind a microphone. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer will all be exiting into that good night in the near future. Networks have shown a willingness to elevate broadcasting neophytes into the most visible roles.
A cynic imagines a future where such gigs are secured with only one foot on the ground as the other hovers over the most appealing training camp. Players and agents are smart and know that their bargaining power is increased when there’s competition — whether it be amongst teams or television booths.
Welcome to the future.