Jay Cutler leaves memorable legacy in Chicago, but not for right reasons

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CHICAGO -- The legacy Jay Cutler leaves after eight seasons in Chicago is complicated.

Cutler departs as the Bears’ all-time leader in virtually every passing category that matters, yet he is Chicago’s most maligned professional athlete.

Before Cutler, the Bears’ quarterback drought dated all the way back to Sid Luckman in the 1940s. Jim McMahon led Chicago to its celebrated victory in Super Bowl XX, but injuries robbed McMahon -- and the city -- of much of his prime. After the great Bears teams of the 1980s and early 1990s disbanded, Chicago entered the dark ages at quarterback. Erik Kramer (1995), Jim Miller (2001), Rex Grossman (2006) and Kyle Orton (2008) offered brief reprieves, but the Bears were always a quarterback away -- and often much more -- from respectability.

The narrative changed when the Bears traded for Cutler in April 2009.

Cutler, then 25 years old, represented the organization’s first true franchise quarterback -- or so we thought. Cutler had everything: size, speed, arm strength and athleticism. He was coming off a Pro Bowl season during which he passed for 4,526 yards for the Denver Broncos. The sky appeared to be the limit.

But it never panned out.

That’s why Cutler’s release on Thursday was met with a collective shrug.

The writing was on the wall for months. Cutler simply did not fit in Chicago’s plans, no matter how the Bears attempted to spin it publicly. The Bears have been in complete rebuild mode, and Cutler was the last link to the old -- and more successful -- days.

To Cutler’s credit, he enjoyed a renaissance season under former offensive coordinator Adam Gase in 2015, but he played in just five games last year because of shoulder and thumb injuries. All of those hits over the years took their toll. Cutler’s durability is a major question mark going forward. And that’s not good for a soon-to-be-34-year-old quarterback. He hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since that first year in Chicago.

And of course, there are the turnovers. Cutler’s story cannot be told without mentioning his ball security issues. As a Bear, Cutler had 109 interceptions in 102 regular-season contests. He also lost too many fumbles to remember.

Look, Cutler provided the Bears with plenty of good moments, too. The guy is tough. Any suggestion that Cutler is soft is uninformed nonsense. Off the field, Cutler transformed his public image beginning in 2015. Believe it or not, Cutler’s weekly news conferences represented the most thoughtful and genuine material to emanate from Halas Hall under the current regime.

But the club reached the postseason just one time (2010) during Cutler’s tenure.

Chicago also cycled through six different offensive coordinators since 2009. You can’t pin that all on Cutler, but you can’t exactly absolve him, either. Why was it necessary to change coaches so frequently?

The Cutler stories -- pre-Gase -- are legendary.

From throwing four picks to DeAngelo Hall in one game (and then saying he’d throw at him again!), to being caught on a hot mic during a prime-time game cursing about former OC Mike Martz, to blowing off Mike Tice on the sideline in Dallas, to being publicly betrayed by an assistant coach (who admitted being the source of a quote saying the Bears had buyer's remorse about Cutler) and then losing his job the following week to Jimmy Clausen, Cutler kept it interesting.

That’s perhaps Cutler’s greatest achievement. Good or bad, there was never a dull moment in Chicago when No. 6 hit the field. The drama will be tough to replicate. Say what you want about Cutler, Chicago will never forget him, even if it moved on from him long ago.