By Chris Emma–
(CBS) For all the noise and drama surrounding Jay Cutler’s eight years as Bears quarterback, there was a distinct difference between what he was and what he was perceived to be.
Cutler’s complicated tenure in Chicago is now over, with the Bears granting his release Thursday and moving forward with a new direction. Mike Glennon is set to officially sign soon, and another quarterback should arrive from the draft. Cutler’s release had been expected for some time, and it was the right move as the Bears change.
What’s next for Cutler remains to be seen, though a change of scenery can only benefit him after a tumultuous time in Chicago. Through three head coaches, five offensive coordinators, countless receivers and endless critics, Cutler deserved better.
Upon arrival, Cutler wasn’t welcomed by Bears mainstays. His rocky exit from Denver created a poor image right as he walked into Halas Hall in 2009 after being acquired in a blockbuster deal from the Broncos.
Cutler’s tenure started with a revolving door at offensive coordinator, with Ron Turner in 2009, Mike Martz for 2010 and 2011, Mike Tice in 2012 then the tandem of Aaron Kromer and head coach Marc Trestman in 2013 and 2014.
Adam Gase was a great fit in 2015, but he was a rental coming in. Dowell Loggains was preferred for Cutler, but 2016 proved to be his final season.
Over time, Cutler earned a false reputation as a coach killer. In reality, Martz created a poor structure for him, Tice proved to be out of place as a coordinator and the marriage with the overmatched Trestman and Kromer got ugly in a hurry.
The Bears provided Cutler with a revolving door on the offensive line and at receiver during his first three seasons. The arrivals of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in 2012 led to Cutler’s best seasons, but those were coupled with disastrous Bears defenses and the impending Trestman debacle.
Cutler completed just one 16-game season in Chicago, that coming in 2009. He would take a beating but keep getting back up. Cutler constantly tried to play through injuries, right down to his final throw in a Bears uniform in November as he played through a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He would later be placed on injured reserve, effectively ending his career with the team.
Respect for Cutler was clear inside the Bears locker room. He was voted a captain every season in Chicago, with teammates holding admiration for his heart. Offensive lineman Kyle Long tweeted Thursday, “I’d give my leg for this dude.”
“For me, he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever played football with,” tight end Zach Miller once said.
Ultimately, Cutler’s final record as Bears quarterback was fitting — 52 wins, 52 losses, an even .500 mark. He was brought to Chicago with the hopes of bringing playoff victories. He won just one postseason contest, a divisional round victory in January 2011.
He suffered an MCL tear early on in the NFC Championship a week later, with Caleb Hanie stepping in and coming up seven points shy in a loss to the Packers. Cutler watched from the sidelines with his status unclear to the world and the camera constantly on him. He was made into a villain.
Still, Cutler was given a seven-year, $126.7-million deal in January 2014 as then-general manager Phil Emery believed in what he could become. That number made him even more of a target. Ultimately, he would be paid only the $54 million guaranteed.
The Bears’ failures in Cutler’s eight seasons weren’t his fault but more so a byproduct of organizational failures around him. He’s now free to explore possibilities around the league and find a change of scenery.
With the end finally here, the Bears at least owe Cutler a fond farewell. They have certainly owed him more than that.