With Ryan Tannehill potentially lost to injury the Dolphins have turned towards Jay Cutler to see if there is interest in taking over for the season. Cutler was released by the Bears this offseason and garnered little interest on the free agent market before deciding to go into a career in broadcasting. He has a history with Miami’s head coach, but it’s a move that I don’t think I would make unless the cost is very cheap.
The cost aspect is hard to judge. In free agency we can usually find many comparable situations but I’m not sure I can come up with a comparable in this case. The two most logical comparisons are Sam Bradford last year being traded to the Vikings and Chad Pennington way back in 2008 signing with the Dolphins during the summer.
However neither was unemployed for the entire year the way Cutler was. Bradford was slotted in as the starter of the Eagles and was traded when the opportunity presented itself. Pennington was well on his way to being named the starter for the Jets when they made a trade for Brett Favre. I guess you could throw Favre into the mix as well. I’m sure there must be some others I’m forgetting but with my Jets hat on, the most legit comp I could come up with was the Jets signing Vinny Testaverde off the couch in 2005 to try to salvage a season that got derailed when Pennington went down to injury early in the year.
Because two of those players came over via trade I don’t think they really have much meaning beyond the fact that both were paid high salaries and there was no attempt at a pay cut. The Jets and Vikings simply paid top dollar. Testaverde was at a point in his career where he was a minimum salaried player and was generally thrilled to get a chance to come back to New York so he was never going to push the issue.
Pennington is really the best example. He earned $4 million in base salary from the Dolphins in 2008 after being scheduled to earn $6 million with the Jets. He had played the prior season with the Jets for $4 million and was on a contract that paid him $5.25 million per year. Pennington also had another $1.75 in incentives which he earned which essentially let him earn back his Jets pay.
Cutler played last season on a contract that paid him $18.1 million per season and he earned $16 million in 2016. If we apply the same situation to Cutler as Pennington we are likely in a range of $13-16 million for the year with another $2-3 million in incentives. While its possible Cutler could sign for less, the end of his career seemed to have more to do with lack of good money offers than anything else. Cutler has made close to $118 million in his career and has never come across as the type that was playing just because he loved it ala Favre. He really doesn’t need the job unless Miami makes him a real concrete offer.
That’s a big price for a team with $18 million in cap room this year and more importantly just $3 million in estimated space for 2018. That kind of salary effectively puts Miami “all in” on 2017 and in looking at their roster I don’t know how wise of a decision that is.
While the Dolphins made the playoffs last year I don’t think anyone took them for real. In my efficiency rankings I do I believe they projected to be a 7 win team and most advanced metrics put them in the same range. I can’t point to anything they did this offseason as a major change and the Julius Thomas for Branden Albert move is probably a downgrade in overall impact.
Here is the thing with Cutler. For all the arm talent that he has and all the money he has earned, he has never really had a run in which you could point to him as the reason a team won games. He had a talented team around him in Chicago with Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall and it never really amounted to much. As the talent around him fell so did the record.
If you are a team like the Texans that has had a dominant defense or running game I get the idea of a Cutler type since he’s a professional QB that is a known. If Russell Wilson went down with an injury in Seattle or Dak Prescott went down in Dallas I get the concept of bringing in Cutler. It’s the same reason why the Vikings, who had a young and very good defense, brought in Bradford to try to manage the offense while the defense won games.
That isn’t Miami. Miami has a pretty average defense and an inconsistent offense with a few pieces, none of whom can keep the QB upright. Miami isn’t much different than Baltimore and I cant imagine Baltimore considering bringing in a Cutler with the roster they have. Its not worth the resources.
Miami has Matt Moore on the team and is there that kind of difference between Moore and Cutler on this particular team? I don’t think there is. Part of the issue with Moore, and probably why the Dolphins feel the need to make this move, is that he was a mess in the playoffs. Moore gives the team essentially no chance to compete against good teams. But Moore does give them a chance to win against teams like the Jets, Bills, Chargers, Saints, Ravens, Bucs, Titans, and Panthers.
Does that mix really change with Cutler? Maybe hes not as embarrassing against a good team but hes never shown an ability to beat those teams either. There are games Moore could lose if he was on a team with a really good defense, but that’s not Miami either. To me this is just a lateral move that is more psychological because of the name. $5 million is fine for him, but once you are going over $10 million its just wasted money for the same result.
I don’t anticipate the Dolphins to be much different with Moore than they would have been with Tannehill. The lone difference is that Tannehill still had some potential there and a ceiling that maybe we had not seen. Maybe the day was coming when Tannehill could win a game for the team. I cant look at Cutler and say he is going to win a game for the team that they would not have won anyway. Hes never done it on teams similar to this so why would it change now?
The other thing about the Dolphins is the future of Tannehill. Ive gotten some questions about this the last few days and I slant towards thinking that his Miami career could be over especially if they do sign Cutler. Since Cutler is giving up a broadcasting career to make this move and it would be hard to picture Fox, NBC, or CBS taking him right away again after this, he should look for a second year with the team.
Tannehill has also been injured two years running and there are a number of intriguing free agents next year. You cant wait forever for a QB to potentially develop and if you can sign Drew Brees or Kirk Cousins you will make that move. There are other options out there too next year that would be at worst lateral moves from Tannehill.
So when you hear about Tannehill wanting to avoid surgery again to rest the knee and hope for the best, its probably in his best interest to do so. If he at least sees the field this year he will give the Dolphins consideration to keep him at a $17.5 million salary next year. If he was to get injured later in the year and be forced to get surgery its likely that a $5.5 million injury guarantee would kick in and at least give Miami a good reason to not release him and to give him the opportunity to reclaim a starting job. So if he fights surgery I think there are a lot of reasons for him to do that.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.