The sounds you’re hearing in South Florida are likely guffaws, snarky comments, and tongue-in-cheek wishes of good luck coming out of Chicago regarding how the Miami Dolphins will fare with their former quarterback running the show. As the starter in Chicago for nine seasons, Jay Cutler ’s efforts generated one playoff appearance, a number of major disappointments, and more turnovers than anyone cares to count. However, the minute incumbent Ryan Tannehill was ruled out for the season and Cutler signed a 1 year $10 million contract with $5 million guaranteed, it was apparent that if the Dolphins are to return to the playoffs, it’ll depend on the play of the 34-year-old out of Vanderbilt.
Reasons for Concern
In addition to the overall mediocrity of Cutler’s career, his health is a major reason for concern. Injuries derailed a few of Cutler’s more promising moments in Chicago. Everyone remembers his knee injury in the 2010 championship game vs. Green Bay, and in the subsequent season, the Bears were on a roll until Cutler went down for the year with a broken thumb. The team went winless the rest of the way and missed the playoffs. More recently, Cutler played in only 5 games in 2016 due to injury. The most serious of which was a torn labrum that again, rendered him unable to complete the season.
This is significant as Cutler has always relied on his arm strength to carry him. In baseball, a pitcher returning from a torn labrum frequently faces a loss of velocity. As a throw it off his back foot, fit it into a tight space type of player, a weaker arm will mean even more pics for a QB already prone to them. With the way he was flinging it during the preseason, it appears that he’s fully healed, but it’ll be interesting to see if it manifests itself in regular season game action.
Reasons for Optimism
If the injury concerns are indeed answered, then nearly everyone agrees Jay Cutler has the physical tools to be an outstanding quarterback. Throughout his career, he has made throws that only a handful of quarterbacks could accomplish. The issue is that they resulted in a positive outcome far too infrequently.
Cutler enjoyed one of the best years of his career with the Bears in 2015 when Miami head coach Adam Gase served as his offensive coordinator. That season he threw for 3, 659 yards with a 64.4 completion percentage to go with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. This resulted in a career-high quarterback rating of 92.3. They also developed a strong rapport. Gase successfully lobbied for Cutler to come to South Beach after Tannehill was lost for the season. The pair hopes to recapture that black magic and in limited preseason action, it looks like a strong possibility.
Cutler has a tendency to lock onto one receiver. During his tenure in Chicago, he leaned on Greg Olsen, Earl Bennett, and Brandon Marshall . Having success with each of them despite different skill sets. In Miami, he’ll have more weapons at his disposal, so which one will be his main target is yet to be determined. He’ll have plenty to choose from in DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, and deep-threat Kenny Stills to go along with tight end Julius Thomas.
Although that receiving corps may have taken a hit this week as Landry is under investigation by the Broward County State Attorney’s Office and the NFL, for a domestic violence incident that took place in April. The talented slot receiver’s availability is out of team control pending the findings.
The Dolphins won’t be completely reliant on Cutler’s surgically-repaired right arm to provide offense. Running back Jay Ajayi had a stellar 2016 campaign and the offensive line is solid starting three former first round picks.
Defense Still Solid
The defense turned in a solid performance in 2016 and is projected to do the same for 2017. As most NFL defenses, its success comes from power up front with Cameron Wake and his 11.5 sacks in 2016 and longtime NFL standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
It’s hoped that linebacker Lawrence Timmons imported this offseason from the Pittsburgh Steelers can add some bite. They often play with only two on the field, so the lack of depth at the position may not be an issue.
The secondary is anchored by pro bowl safety Reshad Jones. Limited to six games last year due to injury, he hopes to replicate his 2015 form in which he intercepted five passes and made 106 tackles. Cornerback Xavien Howard is expected to improve on his past performance. That he does so is imperative as the starter on the opposite side of the field, Byron Maxwell struggled in the preseason and is being pushed for a starting spot by Alterraun Verner.
Given that the only significant change from the 2016 team that went 10-6 en route to the playoffs is a quarterback that was set to embark on a broadcast career, it’s hard to predict another playoff run. But, if Gase can work his voodoo and elicit a performance from Jay Cutler similar to the one they experienced two years ago that is likely to happen.
With a quality offensive line, potent offensive weaponry, a solid defense, and the proper coaching in place the team should be insulated from Cutler’s limitations. Whether they are able to better the 2016 drubbing they took in the playoffs at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers is another question. Given Cutler’s limited playoff pedigree, coupled with the questions surrounding Jarvis Landry a deeper playoff run would be a surprise.
Photo Credits: USA Today FTW