They signed free-agent Jay Cutler to a large, one-year contract that won’t result in more victories than last season -- or even an equal amount (10) -- or a trip to the postseason. The only thing guaranteed by this move is that the Dolphins lost $10 million in cap room for this season -- Jarvis Landry extension, anyone? -- or to roll over into next season with the blind hope that Cutler will lead Miami to the playoffs.
The Dolphins believe they are a playoff team and made a desperation play with Cutler after Ryan Tannehill suffered a left knee injury that likely will sideline him for most or all of this season.
By now you know the connection: Cutler played one year under Adam Gase with the Chicago Bears in 2015. Gase believes in Cutler perhaps more than any coach whom the quarterback has had in his career. Cutler threw for 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in their one season together.
The Bears also went 6-10 that year and ranked 23rd in passing. How much higher is the ceiling in 2017 for Cutler, 34, who is now two years older and coming off a season-ending shoulder injury last season? Add in the fact that Cutler didn’t have an offseason of minicamp, organized team activities and a good portion of training camp, and expectations should be lowered.
Gase is a smart coach with tremendous people skills. He will keep this Cutler experiment from becoming a total disaster. But 8-8 looks like the ceiling for this team with Cutler, who has a career 68-71 record as a starter. Miami should have stayed in-house, rolled the dice with Matt Moore and saved the $10 million to build the roster for 2018. Moore already has the respect of his Miami teammates and coach. That has been an issue with Cutler in the past, and he will need time to earn it.
The Cutler signing is all about selling hope. Despite all his flaws, he has one of the strongest arms in the NFL. But the reality is that too much of Miami’s hope this year rested on the gimpy left knee of Tannehill -- a knee that the team and Tannehill jointly decided not to surgically repair in the offseason. That was the Dolphins’ fatal mistake that can't be masked by this $10 million signing.
No one should blame Cutler for taking that kind of money. The initial reports of Cutler leaning toward staying in television appear now to be a leverage play that worked out in his favor. Cutler decided $10 million was enough to leave his television job and play for a coach that he very much likes.
The Dolphins made it clear since the end of last season that their goal was to catch the New England Patriots and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Countering with Cutler isn’t the answer. This will be an intriguing storyline to watch in Miami this year, but it won’t pay enough dividends in the win column, which is what matters most.