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Think about the last month or so in the life of Jay Cutler. When July turned to August, he was still preparing for a new television career. There were no indications he would ever play football again. He was settling into his new life. And then, everything changed with one phone call.
Adam Gase needed a quarterback and Cutler needed a team. “It was the perfect marriage,” said former NFL GM Charley Casserly.
How many 34 year-old quarterbacks get a chance to start over? How many get to be reunited with their former coach? How many walk into a situation with a ready-made team, fresh off a playoff appearance, loaded with offensive options?
So a little more than a month ago, Cutler put his television career on hold to be the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins and this Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers in Southern California, he’ll begin a journey that could ultimately help define his career.
You watch him practice, you listen to him talk, you see how he has embraced this opportunity, and it is clear Jay Cutler realizes how fortunate he is, just as the Dolphins now realize how fortunate they are to have him.
Who knows where this season could have gone when Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury early in camp? No doubt Matt Moore is an excellent back up and proved many times over his career that he capable of leading this team. But Gase simply couldn’t turn down the chance to sign a player he was so familiar with in Cutler, a player who had started 139 games in his previous 11 seasons, first with the Broncos and then with the Bears.
And so the most unlikely series of events have led to where we are right now, the Dolphins beginning a season Sunday, albeit one week late, with so much of their fate resting in the hands of one Jay Christopher Cutler.
Only the next four months can tell us how smart a move this was, whether the positives we have seen in the preseason can carry over when the scores count for real. But as this chapter begins to unfold, as this team rallies around a player they hardly knew a month or so ago, there are all sorts of reasons why this player on this team at this precise moment has a chance to turn into one of the league’s most compelling storylines.
Foremost, you need to understand Jay Cutler came here to win. This wasn’t about ego, this wasn’t about money and this wasn’t about what went right or wrong in his eight seasons with the Bears. This was about a player with a career record of 68-71 who so much wanted to experience the joy of success and felt the ingredients were in place here to accomplish that.
But it’s more than just that. Cutler wants to prove that he can still play, that the speed bumps in Chicago did not define who he is. He wants to prove it to himself and those around him. From the day he first showed up at Dolphins camp, he has embraced his teammates, his coaches, certainly this opportunity.
“He’s a stud,” said wide receiver Jarvis Landry of Cutler. “Just watch him throw.”
Watch him we have. There was a day at practice early last week when a couple of deep post patterns found the intended receiver in full stride. That arm strength and the ability to quickly determine which way to go might be Cutler’s finest attributes.
“We watch some of those passes,” said Landry, “and it gets so many of us excited.”
What I see in Cutler is a player who fits nicely into this offense and just as nicely in this locker room, a player who has a chance, a real chance, to resurrect his career just when he thought it could be over. You don’t get an opportunity like this very often. With a star running back behind you, a Pro Bowl center in front of you and so many game-breakers around you.
I fully expect Cutler to play well this season. He’s got a coach he trusts, a team that needs him and a fan base that has greeted him with loud cheers and open arms. We saw signs in the preseason of how special he could be. But now, against the Chargers, comes the real test.
“I’m excited,” Cutler says. “Coming to work with these guys and with Adam, it’s been a lot of fun. Every day is a new challenge and every day is exciting and I’m just enjoying it. There is something to be said about having a fresh start.”
And that’s exactly what this is for Jay Cutler. A chance to finish his career with a flourish. A chance to work again with Gase. A chance to take over a team that has clear visions of a second straight playoff appearance. It’s all there for the taking beginning this Sunday afternoon.
There are a lot of great stories each year in this league, stories that capture our attention, stories about getting a second chance and doing something with it. Why can’t Jay Cutler be one of those stories? We’re about to find out if he can.