The Dolphins’ signing of Jay Cutler to a one-year, $10 million deal (with incentives that could push it to $13 million) sets up as one of the more interesting storylines of 2017. And—potentially—of 2018.
To be clear, the move is about giving a good roster the best chance to compete over the next five months. This doesn’t happen without (1) Ryan Tannehill going down, and (2) Cutler knowing he’s going to be in position to actually play for an extended period of time, and for a coach he knows in a system that he was running in November.
Year 1 of the Adam Gase/Tannehill partnership went swimmingly. But things change fast in the NFL, and the logistics ahead make this situation a fascinating one. Before we get to next year, let’s lay out a few facts.
1. Cutler was no hot commodity in free agency. The Jets chose Josh McCown over him, and there wasn’t much interest elsewhere. Perception of him is what it is, and teams looking for quarterbacks didn’t see him fitting in as a stopgap/mentor to younger players. So his retirement, as was the case with Tony Romo, wasn’t exactly a ride off into the sunset.
2. Cutler and Gase left on great terms in Chicago, and have known each other going back to a short overlap in Denver in 2009. By the end of the 2015 season, Gase had helped Cutler curtail his turnover issues, and Cutler was proficient enough in the scheme to consistently check out of bad plays on the fly. Remember, the Bears didn’t have to bring Cutler back for 2016. They were encouraged enough by his ’15 performance to do it, even with Gase on the way out.
3. If you take Nos. 1 and 2, add them together, and project a solid year out of Cutler, consider this: Carson Palmer retired at 31, worn out by his years in Cincinnati. Then, he got traded, got with the right coach (Hue Jackson), and his interest in playing was rekindled. Two years after that, another trade paired him with Bruce Arians. At 37, he’s headed into his fifth year in Arizona. Cutler doesn’t turn 35 until next April.
4. The remaining fully guaranteed cash on Tannehill’s deal: $0. He has, as a practical matter, team options for 2018, ’19 and ’20 ahead. He turns 30 next summer. Now, Dolphins coaches believed—based on what they’d seen the last few months—that Tannehill was poised for a huge 2017. But the Dolphins do have financial flexibility at the position starting next year.
5. That said, given where the quarterback market has gone, Tannehill’s cash figures for the next three years: $17.5 million, $18.75 million and $19.52 million. He would be a bargain if he regains the form that led to the optimism of the last few months.
All that considered, it’s really not too difficult to envision a scenario where Cutler decides, a la Palmer, that he wants to extend his career. As it stands now, he’d be just the eighth oldest starting quarterback in the NFL this season, and guys at that position now last longer than ever.
It’s a longshot that he’d do enough to convince Miami to move on from Tannehill, a quarterback they like who’s on a very reasonable long-term deal. But could Cutler do enough to be an intriguing Band-aid for someone in 2018? Sure, he could.
And so you can throw him into the mix with the others. We went over this in the GamePlan last week—Kirk Cousins has a prohibitively costly franchise tag for 2018 in Washington, and through the terms of his contract Drew Brees can’t be franchise-tagged in New Orleans. The Patriots could tag Jimmy Garoppolo, but that could force a raise for Tom Brady and make the situation fiscally (and otherwise) awkward in Foxboro. Meanwhile, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are in contract years in Minnesota. And if things break right, a college quarterback class headlined by USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen could be the best in a decade.
Before Sunday, all of that was shaping up to create an unprecedented situation in the modern NFL, an offseason where quarterback supply would outpace demand.
Now? Just throw another (potential) log on the fire.
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