Newly unretired Jay Cutler stands apart from the crowd for a few reasons as he begins his Miami Dolphins career.
He is believed to be the one of the few NFL quarterbacks to be photographed totally nude, from the backside, casually luxuriating on a vacation balcony in a social media post disseminated by his actress-wife — a picture not easily unseen, by the way.
He also likely is the only football star with a website inexplicably devoted to photoshopped pictures, gifs and memes of Cutler rakishly smoking a cigarette, something absolutely wonderful in its sheer absurdity.
He is this, too: the biggest-name, biggest-star QB the Dolphins have had this century, since Dan Marino retired in 1999.
Cutler arrived at the Dolphins’ Davie HQ on Monday morning, fully clothed thanks, to commence the process of taking over for injured Ryan Tannehill, likely out for the season with another left knee injury.
If there is any pretense of open competition between Cutler and incumbent backup Matt Moore, picture it conveyed with a wink.
“He didn’t come out of retirement to stand on a sideline,” as coach Adam Gase put it Monday.
Much has been made gravely of Tannehill’s erasure, but here’s the thing. The 2017 outlook for the Dolphins has not changed in the past week. Cutler heroically riding in on a white steed should neither imbue Dolfans with added hope nor dread. You should feel the same today as you would had Tannehill not been injured. Or if it was Colin Kaepernick being introduced instead. Or if the backup Moore was taking over.
No matter who is taking snaps, the Dolphins remain the second-best team in the AFC East, still a playoff contender but far from automatic, still a team whose fortunes will swing in the usual seven-to-10 wins range.
“A situation like this doesn’t come along very often,” Cutler said, and what he then described is there no matter the QB. “They’re a playoff team with a lot of really, really good players. A very, very talented roster.”
This is not the Patriots trying to replace Tom Brady or the Packers losing Aaron Rodgers. Those would be season-altering calamities because the drop-off in talent would be so jarringly steep.
With Tannehill? This fan base is six years into still wondering and debating how good he is (or isn’t), so let’s not retrofit his sudden erasure into some dire crisis.
I have heard and read his injury described as “disastrous” and a “catastrophe.” Please. Save those words for death and destruction, please. Truth is, Tannehill is not the team’s most important, valuable or irreplaceable player the way many QBs are. Losing Jay Ajayi or Ndamukong Suh for the season would be costlier.
Is Tannehill better than Cutler? Probably. Maybe. It’s arguable.
A Sporting News ranking of NFL starting QBs this month slotted Tannehill 21st of 32. That might be low, but not egregiously. He’s an average starter. Not bad. Better than the dregs. Pretty good on a good day. And with just enough flashes of really good to keep you hoping. That’s all.
Cutler, 34, can be that for a season, playing for a coach he worked with in Chicago and really likes, in an offensive system he’s comfy with.
He shook off a suggestion of rust or lack of shape from his brief retirement.
“It’ll come back to me quickly,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”
Cutler being handed the job over the popular Moore without a fight might not sit well with some in the locker room; that was a concern conveyed to Gase by owner Stephen Ross.
Monday — this was before Cutler had officially signed — receiver Kenny Stills was still saying, “We got our guy in Matt Moore.”
Moore is the right guy to prevent any discord.
“I get it. I understand,” he said of Miami bringing in Cutler.
Those who know Cutler best, starting with Gase, foresee no problem. Listen to offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, a Bears teammate from 2013 to 2015: “I know this guy. I spent time with him. Saw him in the huddle. Saw him in the locker room. What you hear about him is not what I saw. He’s a smart player. Tough. And he’s excited to be back on the field.”
Miami hauling Cutler out of retirement and away from the broadcast booth was predictable as today’s humidity. In the NFL it’s who you know, what’s safe. It is why Kaepernick is still unemployed. It is why a guy like Cutler gets recycled as a known quantity. Kaepernick would have been more of a risk-signing, less because of the controversy attached to him than from a football vantage. August would have been a crash course in integrating Kaepernick into a foreign offense, whereas Cutler slips into familiarity.
With Cutler you get a pricey one-season rental before he eases back into retirement and TV.
With Kaepernick the Dolphins could have had a shot at their future at quarterback, which could be a consideration after this coming season as Miami weighs whether it might want to move on from an incumbent QB with a twice-injured left knee.
But that’s for later. For now, as the football hands off from Tannehill to Cutler, the Dolphins are still looking exactly like what they have been all offseason and as training camp began, no more, no less:
A pretty good team with a shot at the playoffs.