Jay Cutler turned his head, smirked and then answered the question in the most Jay Cutler way possible.
“You guys do a good job of that. I’ll leave it up to you guys.”
Judging and evaluating Cutler has not been easy during his career. Fans have no problem pointing to his backbreaking interceptions and playoff record (1-1 in six seasons as a full-time starter). But it’s a lot more than that.
Cutler is with his fourth offensive coordinator in five seasons with the Bears and will have four new starting offensive linemen. He also is in his first year with Marc Trestman’s offense.
With all those intangibles in mind, I asked Jay how difficult it can be to evaluate his play, especially when he has admitted the learning curve to the new offense will take a while.
He offered his quip, knowing how much he has been scrutinized during his time in Chicago, then added, “The coaches are on me. I know my assignments and I just have to keep working at those.”
This is the most important season of Cutler’s career. He is playing for a new contract and has high expectations in Trestman’s system. It’s also significant for the Bears, who need to decide at the end of the year if Cutler is worth one of those $100 million contracts that Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Tony Romo got last offseason.
In addition to determining how much of Cutler’s success is owed to the new parts added around him, the Bears will need to factor in that this is yet another new offense for Cutler to learn.
“To me, it’s unfair to look at a guy that’s changed systems every year and go, ‘Yup, he’s that kind of quarterback.’ Well, how do you know?” said backup quarterback Josh McCown. “What if he was in it for two years. What if he got better from Year One to Year Two in the same system?
“Instead, you change the system and you’re back at square one.”
McCown would know. The 34-year-old backup is on the fifth team of his career and 10th offensive coordinator in 11 NFL seasons.
General manager Phil Emery and Trestman don’t have time to give Cutler the benefit of the doubt being in a new system, which won’t make the evaluation process any easier.
“It’s difficult with all those players,” Emery said about all the intangibles that impact grading Cutler. “All those offensive linemen, those receivers, they’ve all undergone a lot of change. I think everybody has their own rate of development with change. I have not been disappointed in Jay’s.”
“I think we’re going to find out where he is,” Trestman said Thursday. “Every year is a new year. Even if you’re in the same system, it’s still a new year, there are still new people involved, new coaches involved, and now it’s all over.
“He’s certainly embraced everything we’ve asked of him. I’ve been consistent and very truthful in that. Now we’ll be up on Sunday and we’ll have a starting point for where we are, and where he is in the offense. I feel good about where he is right now.”
The Cutler defenders will point to this being another new system to learn. The Cutler opponents will call it another excuse and look at this year as his last chance.
Cutler knows this city will have its own parameters with which to judge him, but his organization has done what it can to help. Now, it’s on Cutler to make it an easy evaluation, that he truly is the Bears’ franchise quarterback.
• Kevin Fishbain cover the Bears for Shaw Media. He can be reached at email@example.com