Reporting Dan Bernstein
Jay Cutler was asked directly yesterday if he had ever suffered a concussion before the one he sustained against the Giants.
His answer? “No.”
Cutler is either lying or extremely forgetful, since the Chicago Tribune today cites reports that he suffered three concussions during his college career at Vanderbilt and another as a Denver Bronco in the final game of the 2006 season.
The stakes are higher, now, for every decision the Bears make in the immediate aftermath of concussion #5, as well as for the decisions they already made — to trade for Cutler in the first place, and then to lavish him with a five-year contract worth $50 million.
It is possible, certainly, that the Bears were fully informed of his medical history before deciding to acquire and extend him. One would hope that such due diligence is routine and thorough for a move of franchise-changing magnitude. Or any, really, for that matter.
We must consider, however, the scary chance that some information about him was snarled in the red tape of medical data dating back to his freshman year in 2002. Football teams at all levels have been known to fudge reports and diagnoses to maintain eligibility of key players.
If the Bears indeed knew his brain had been bruised four times, it makes the last-ditch hiring of Mike Martz seem even riskier. Quarterbacks get pummelled as a function of his scheme, even when it is working. His offenses regularly finish at or near the top of the NFL in sacks allowed. Cutler was defiant yesterday, standing firmly behind his aggressive style of play within Martz’s deep-drop vertical passing attack.
Yet his unwillingness to tell the truth about previous injury betrayed the increasing fear shared by NFL players of the tenuousness of their jobs amid the flood of information regarding concussion dangers. Teammate Hunter Hillenmeyer is out for the year after a preseason concussion was followed by another in the opener, and it was noted that his status as both a prominent advocate of concussion-awarneness and respected union rep likely influenced the heavy-handedness of his forced deactivation.
Yesterday, Hillenmeyer was demoted to alternate NFLPA rep of the Bears, replaced by kicker Robbie Gould. I am told that Hillenmeyer’s own uncertainty over his playing future led to his recommendation that he step down.
WBBM’s Tom Thayer recently opined on The Score that the spotlight on NFL concussions would cause players to lie to trainers and doctors. Rather than admit to a damaging blow to the head, he believes, players will claim to have the wind knocked out of them, or come up with a convenient limp to the sideline. It is a brutal game, but it pays exorbitant sums of money to men who see no other way to similarly provide for themselves and their families. Thayer prefers that modern-day gladiators be allowed to destroy each other’s brains, fully aware of the risks they assume.
He has a point, stark though it may be.
On Sunday, Jay Cutler takes the field against Seattle. The Seahawks have one of the worst-ranked pass defenses in the league. The line of men responsible for protecting Cutler — the one that surrendered an all-time-record nine sacks in the first half in New York — now has a left guard playing his first game at the position, a late-round rookie at right tackle, and a scrap-heap waiver claim at right guard.
Appreciate every snap Cutler plays.