Posts Tagged ‘sports;nfl;jay cutler’

A Moment Inside the Mind of Jay Cutler: A Fan’s Perspective

March 18, 2009
Cutler as quarterback at Vanderbilt


You can’t browse the sports pages, the blogosphere, or any of the major sports networks today without getting an earful about Jay Cutler, Jay Cutler, and um, Jay Cutler. In fact, the NFL Network is now all Jay, all the time. Of course, there’s also an occasional disparaging mention of some “rookie” named Josh McDaniels. But we’ll get to McD later.

Cutler, the face of the franchise for the Denver Broncos and one of the brightest young talents in professional football, is unhappy. He’s not merely disappointed over a 2008 season that saw the Broncos start strong and finish weak, once again missing the playoffs. Or the fact that Denver fired future Hall of Fame Coach Mike Shanahan, and then the team’s offensive coordinator, and then even Jeremy Bates, the quarterbacks coach that Jay reportedly personally asked the team to keep.

No, Jay wants out of Denver because in February, just as he was basking in the glow of his first Pro Bowl appearance after starting just two seasons in the NFL, the team ripped his heart out. Cutler learned that his new coach, 32-year old relative unknown and former New England Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels, was secretly trying to trade his star quarterback for his former Patriots protégé, Matt Cassel.

cutler-with-family-on-draft-day1

Of course, trading one professional athlete for another is nothing new. Whether a player has been unproductive, plagued with injuries or excessive off-the-field drama, or simply needs to be discarded due to salary cap concerns, it happens. But before you chime in that Jay shouldn’t be upset, that it’s just business, look a bit more closely at the situation through Jay’s eyes. Imagine you’re him.

You’re a young superstar. You’re not completely sold on all of the trappings of fame, but you love to play and you’ll do anything you can to take your team to the next level, even if it means strapping it to your back and dragging it down the field with you. Now, the Broncos can’t seem to keep any running backs healthy, and the defense is MIA on a regular basis, but gosh darn it, you’re going to do the best you can on your side of the ball. You throw for over 4500 yards and 25 touchdowns, and you lead one of the best offenses in the country. And even though hungry pass rushers drool over the chance to maul you once they realize you’ve got no running game to fall back on, you take only 11 sacks — largely because you won’t hesitate to haul your cookies down the field to make the first down yourself if you have to. You want to win, and you want to win bad.

That’s why you’re so disappointed when the season ends. You’ve missed the playoffs. Your coach, the one who traded up in the draft to claim you, is fired despite his Super Bowl jewelry, his future Hall of Fame status, and his friend/owner’s promise that he would remain the Broncos coach “for life.” A new rookie coach comes in to take his place. You don’t know this guy, and he’s never been a head coach before.

jay-autograph-signing1You’re no dummy. You expect to lose some of your favorite teammates, guys you consider friends, both on the field and off. But then a silver lining appears. In recognition of your outstanding individual performance, you’re invited to the Pro Bowl at the tender age of 25. Combine this with the fact that you’ve got three years left on your contract, and are unilaterally regarded as one of the few bright spots on the team, and you have to believe your job is safe. But you are wrong.

When you get the news that you might be traded to, God forbid, Detroit, or even Tampa, with its own set of rebuilding challenges and player loyalty issues (just ask Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, or Warrick Dunn), you are devastated. Why is your name even being considered in trade talks? It’s not like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady suddenly became available, after all. This just doesn’t make any sense. You are, in your own words, “shocked.”

You’re also angry, and rightly so. Anyone who says they wouldn’t be mad in this situation is completely full of it. Even though the trade falls apart, you remain suspicious of the new management and its intentions. You just can’t see the logic in their decision-making. With your entire world now spinning off its axis, you remember that you’ve been criticized for being a bit too blunt in the past, a hair too honest, so you stay quiet and “lie low” until you’ve had a chance to cool off.

You finally agree to a conference call with the coach and team owner in an attempt to patch things up. During the call, McD tells you he’s not planning to trade you, although he won’t admit that he really wanted Cassel just a few short weeks ago. You’re annoyed by the lie, but you tell yourself maybe it was just a one-time thing, a fluke by a rookie head coach who’s still getting his bearings. You’re relieved. Coach doesn’t want to trade you after all. You’re still the man in Denver.

jay-cutler-madden-09But then Mickey D drops the bomb on you. He suddenly morphs into Bill Belichek, the most hated man in the NFL, and coincidentally Mickey’s mentor. He reminds you that although he’s not planning to trade you, he’s still the boss, and any player can be traded at any time, contract notwithstanding. Now you don’t know what to think. Are you in Denver for the next three years or not? You’ve got a house in Denver. Hell, you’ve even moved your parents to Denver. The charity work you do to help keep kids out of gangs, and your work with children struggling with diabetes – that’s based in Denver, too. You weren’t expecting to leave anytime soon, and your stellar play and existing contract should have made this a non-issue, right? “Trade bait” and your name should not be appearing in the same sentence. What is going on?

Confused but still “committed to being a Bronco,” you later fly out to Denver for voluntary camp and the team’s first meeting with Coach Mickey. You meet personally with young Josh to clear the air and eliminate the distraction of this drama before the team reunites. You later acknowledge that you entered this meeting thinking that you’d straighten things out, shake hands, and laugh a little once it was over. But that’s not what happens.

McDaniels now admits that he wanted Cassell over you because he’s familiar with him, and he’s not at all sorry about that, either. Rather than try to instill confidence in his young star and reassure you of your job security, he further antagonizes you by demanding to know if you still have a problem. Stunned, you and your agent leave the meeting convinced that the coach can’t be trusted, that he’s not loyal to you, and clearly plans to move in another direction, to “go with his own guy.”

Jay enjoying the gameNot being one to wait for the door to kick you in your hindquarters, you surrender. All you wanted to do was play the game you love. You busted your butt for this team, and you never used your recent diabetes diagnosis as an excuse for any mistakes you made. You feel like you have no options. The writing is on the wall. You tell your agent you want a trade out of this town.

There’s no question Cutler knows how good he is. He’s cocky. And he’s by no means perfect. He’s young still, and he needs to learn to acknowledge when the play just isn’t there and to take the punt rather than risk turning the ball over. But love him or hate him, there’s no denying his talent. Anyone who knows anything about football need only watch him for a little while to see that Jay has the type of talent that could lead him to the Hall of Fame one day. Whether that happens in Denver, Detroit, or some other city, this fan is ready to see Jay go. Because Belichek’s clone doesn’t deserve you.