Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Quarterback as Chick Flick

Were I an NFL general manager, which perish forfend, I'd never trade a first or any other round draft choice for estranged Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. Who wants someone around you always worry about hurting their feelings with a cross word, or look?

Cutler is simply too sensitive a soul for his chosen profession. Upon hearing that his old coach Mike Shanahan was fired, Cutler wanted to leave the Broncos. Upon hearing that his new coach Josh McDaniels was considering trading for another quarterback, Cutler demanded to leave the Broncos. He won't answer owner Pat Bowlen's phone calls. He is presumably holding his breath till his face is the same shade as his helmet.

Cutler says the Broncos lied to him about their interest in another QB. Your boss lied to you? Welcome to the human race, Jay.

Pouting is unappealing behavior in a child. In a quarterback getting paid millions to lead, it's disgusting. It will also lead many franchises to conclude they'd just as soon let someone else pay those millions.

Someone will. Optimism and desperation blend seamlessly into poor front office decisions. One insufficiently recognized element of the Patriots' success is that while the franchise has made its share of choices that didn't work out, it has avoided unforced errors. Trading a first round draft pick for a quarterback who's an injustice collector is a double foot-fault of an unforced error.

It's not that Cutler is without ability. He's played 37 games in three seasons and has 54 touchdown passes. That's good. But it hardly justifies the widespread opinion that the Broncos are throwing away a Super Bowl ticket if they dump him.

Contrary to accepted wisdom, truly great NFL quarterbacks do NOT necessarily develop slowly, sitting on the bench for a few seasons while they marinate in the game's mysteries. Three years in, many of history's keepers had already demonstrated why they would be kept.

After three seasons as a pro, Tom Brady had won a Super Bowl. So had Joe Montana. Johnny Unitas had won an NFL title. Terry Bradshaw had led the Steelers to their first playoff berth in history. Dan Marino had been to a Super Bowl and had his own page in the passing record book. Peyton Manning had been to the playoffs and thrown 85 touchdown passes.

Against that, Cutler can offer his 54 TDs and a Pro Bowl berth. Whoopee! Kerry Collins has been to several Pro Bowls.

Accuracy requires the note that there have been relatively late bloomers among the NFL's top quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Steve Young being names that spring to mind. Oddly enough, one other Hall of Famer who didn't do much his first three seasons (although he came on in his fourth) was John Elway. You know, the guy to whom Cutler compared himself favorably.

Elway is near the root of Cutler's issues. Mike Shanahan spent three seasons telling Cutler that he was going to be as great as Elway. Shanahan said the same thing about Jake Plummer, but apparently Cutler doesn't know that, because he believes it. At least, he's acting like he believes it. It's quite an accomplishment when Terrell Owens takes actually being released unexpectedly in a more mature fashion than your reaction to the suggestion you could be replaced.

Perhaps Cutler is one of the late bloomers, and like Favre, a change of scene is all he needs to get a grip and start justifying his high opinion of himself. Perhaps. But the old cliche for quarterback is "field general." When I think of Cutler, the word "shavetail" comes to mind.

McDaniels may have misjudged Cutler completely. If so, he'll be fired, disgraced, and earn a life sentence in assistantville in due course. The coach surely would have been more prudent if he'd actually acquired a replacement before alienating the delicate flower of Invesco Field.

The longer this story goes on, however, the more it seems to me that McDaniels had his reasons.


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