Yeah, Jay Cutler’s Contract Is Too Much Money

Per (and dozens of media outlets), Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has re-signed on a seven-year deal worth $126 million overall, averaging $18 million a season with $54 million guaranteed. Quarterback is the most expensive position, and Cutler is good, certainly “good enough to win a Super Bowl”.1 The Bears offense really has looked good this season, and it makes sense to keep a good thing going between Cutler, Marshall, and Jeffery. Ultimately though, the Bears’ shaky offensive line, Cutler’s health, and his marginal value added make this a bad deal.

From 2007-2009, Cutler did not miss a start. But 2009 was the last season that would be the case. Since then, he has missed 13 of a possible 64 starts, 20 percent. He turns 31 years old in April. The Bears’ offensive line improved some this year, but it is still bad, and most of its improvement came in the running game. Pro Football Focus has them graded 29th in the league in pass protection. An older quarterback, with documented injury history, behind a terrible offensive line, uh… it might not be something to spend $54 million dollars on, right upfront. It is easy to see poor Cutler going out for the season in Week 1 or 2 next fall. Then the Bears would be left to wait until he was 32, and had gone through yet another injury, to start seeing a return on their investment. Not so good.

Of course, given that Chicago’s receivers are so great, and backup Josh McCown looked like one of the better quarterbacks in the league with them this season, might the Bears still have hope? Sure, especially if they can resign McCown, who might retire. But the front office’s eagerness to re-sign the veteran makes it seem that they also considered the nightmare scenario outlined above…and chose to pay Cutler $18 million a year anyway. Hm.

Forgetting the injury concerns, is Cutler worth it? Here are some highlights of his PFF statistics back through 2008, relative to his peers. The numbers include his performance grade, quarterback rating (flawed but conventional statistic alert!), and yards per attempt.

  • 2008 (among 37 QBs): Grade 17.1 (4th); QB Rating 86 (18th); YPA 7.3 (12th)
  • 2009 (40 QBs): -12.2 (28th); 76.8 (24th); 6.6 (22nd)
  • 2010 (37 QBs): -2.7 (22nd); 86.5 (18th); 7.6 (8th)
  • 2011 (38 QBs): 3.1 (16th); 85.7 (13th); 7.4 (14th)
  • 2012 (38 QBs): 8.7 (16th); 81.3 (23rd); 7.0 (18th)
  • 2013 (42 QBs): 13.5 (10th): 89.2 (13th); 7.4 (13th)

2008 was Cutler’s last season in Denver, and this season, in six fewer games, Josh McCown earned a PFF grade of 16.6 (5th), quarterback rating of 109 (3rd), and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt (5th).2  Even ignoring the injury issues, Cutler’s play does not merit this much money. And even if his play was a little better, he hardly seems irreplaceable. In 2010 Josh McCown played for the Hartfield Colonials in the United Football League; he came cheap ($865 thousand a year), and did an excellent job. And now the Bears are going to pay Cutler more than $1 million a game (even assuming he starts them all), when at his best he has looked like a borderline top-10 quarterback? That is not smart.

A nifty roster move would have been to sign McCown to a two-or-three-year deal, giving Trestman time to find and groom a kid he likes while providing plenty of competency at the position in the mean time. Or, if the Bears could have gotten Cutler at less money, say $12 million annually, that might have been okay. Instead, they took the 44th highest-paid player in the league and made him the 6th highest-paid. The soon to be 32-year-old. Taking snaps behind perpetually awful pass protection. Good luck, Chicago. Likely, you will need it.3

  1. “Good enough to win a Super Bowl” is seemingly an expression reserved for quarterbacks who have already won a Super Bowl, applied dubiously to young quarterbacks, and applied rather doubtfully to really good quarterbacks who have yet to win one. If Trent Dilfer was good enough to win a Super Bowl, so are Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, and other decent quarterbacks who have never won one. 
  2. It is pretty sad that McCown turns 35 this July. He seems to have found the right fit at last. 
  3. Before this deal, Devin Hester actually made more than Cutler. He currently rakes in $10.244 million a season. The sort-of-used-to-be-corner-back-now-wide-receiver who is really, really good at returning kicks, and, uh, not much else. Oh dear.