April 2, 2009

Is Jay Cutler Worth the Risk?

According to multiple sources, the Redskins are actively pursuing a trade for Denver QB Jay Cutler.

Yesterday at this time I thought that rumor was off the table and had moved on to other things–the draft, preseason schedule, being just days away from sleeping with the windows open for the two weeks Spring lasts in the D.C. area. As of last night however, the rumor was not only back on the table, but a flashing neon centerpiece.

So at the risk of publishing while the news cycle is still spinning and having this all rendered moot before the pixels dry ...

Thoughts and observations, shotgun-style:

Effect on Jason Campbell

Count on Campbell and/or his agent being on the phone to Cerrato since last night trying to find out whether the buzz has merit. If the Redskins are seriously pursuing Cutler, they have two choices in how to respond: they can lie to his face, or tell him the truth.

The former becomes a problem only if the Cutler deal doesn’t materialize and word filters back to Campbell that the Redskins were in fact trying to make the deal. The latter—telling him the truth—would put Campbell in the unenviable and difficult position of knowing his team has lost faith in him.

Sound familiar?

Effect in the Locker Room

To hear tell, Jason Campbell is popular with and has the confidence of his teammates. So in trying to decide if they should bring in Jay Cutler, the team may or may not want to poll the team leaders in the locker room. This isn’t like taking their temperature on bringing in Albert Haynesworth—there was no popular incumbent player being replaced there, it was simply a matter of determining whether or not guys like London Fletcher and Cornelius Griffin felt comfortable with Haynesworth’s reported character issues in the mix.

I can guarantee one thing; if this rumor persists more than 24 hours, reporters are going to start sticking microphones in players faces (I suspect they're trying even now) and asking, “What do you think about the team trying to trade away Jason Campbell?” You know what they’re going to say. They’re going to talk about his work ethic, his desire, what a good a teammate he is, etc. I suspect the Redskins know they’d hear the same thing in private from some if not all the players.

If the Redskins do pull the trigger on this, it’s almost a given some factions in the locker room are going to react negatively. As far as anyone without regular access to inner sanctum can know, Jason Campbell has been nothing but class since arriving in Washington, and in a perfect world you’d like to think he “deserves” better than twisting in the wind. Professional football is hardly a perfect world in that aspect, however, which the players also know.

Bottom line, if the Redskins end up swinging this deal, it brings with it a calculated risk of real, possibly lasting resentment/distrust in the locker room; a locker room Joe Gibbs spent four long, often trying years reshaping from the circus-like culture it evolved through the Turner/Schottenheimer/Spurrier years, to the mature, veteran culture it enjoys today.

Caveat Emptor.

Effect on Cutler

It’s one thing to be a precocious rookie from Vanderbilt who flashes early, and makes a name for himself as an up-and-comer in the league. It’s entirely another to ride in on a white horse, with herald trumpeters playing Hail to the Franchise, into a locker room where he may or may not be particularly welcome, in a town that hasn’t had a Franchise QB in almost two generations.

Think there was pressure in Denver, Jay? Welcome to the big leagues.

Can Cutler Play?

Depends on who you ask. Personally, I’ve watched maybe half-a-dozen complete Jay Cutler games, simply not enough data to have formed an informed judgment. From what I have seen, though, he appears to be immensely gifted physically. He moves well, throws ropes, has touch, competes hard and make a lot of plays on his own. That last quality being something the Redskins haven't enjoyed from that position in a long time.

I have also seen him make questionable decisions with the ball. And I have heard the same whispers you probably have about his one possible weakness being the ability to read defenses–something that should set off alarm bells in the mind of any Redskins fan who has been paying attention.

In my view, there is little doubt the man has the physical wherewithal to become a true franchise quarterback for the next decade, but the jury is still out on what he’s sporting between the ears. As a fan, I would like to think the Redskins, if they are seriously considering making a move for this man, have done their homework and have no such reservations about the latter.


If the team does end up making this move, credit to them for major league cojones. They know what’s at stake here. More than any move they have made since wooing Joe Gibbs out of retirement in 2004, this would define the front office for the foreseeable future.

If Jay Cutler were to emerge as the real deal and lead the team up the mountain, and five years from now we are talking about whether the Redskins can repeat as NFC Champions, no one will remember the drama associated with bringing him here back in March 2009. The move to go aggressively out and get him, despite all the risks would be hailed as the turning point in the Dan Snyder Era, and the days of Deion Sanders and Jeff George would be thankfully, finally relegated to the dust bin (wherever that is).

However ... if they make the move and Cutler turns out to be just another guy, and five years from now we are still talking about their search for a quarterback, the move could well turn out to be memorialized as the single worst decision the franchise has made since, well ... the decision not to hire a General Manager for Steve “Hey I Just Work Here” Spurrier, after having told him they would.

And of course, should they actually be trying to make this deal and it falls through, leaving them with an embarrassed, fuming Jason Campbell thinking to himself, “This place is whack–one more year and I’m out” ... suffice to say that would also not be good.

Regardless of how it might play out play, if the Redskins really are seriously looking into making this move, they are also looking at a seminal moment in their recent history.

Is Cutler Worth the Risk?


Sorry, but that’s the best anyone who hasn’t worked with the man on a daily basis can realistically say at this point. It hasn’t stopped most experts, professional or otherwise, from doing so anyway, but I have no problem admitting when I don’t have enough information to make an informed call.

Here’s what I do believe:

IF Jay Cutler is a legitimate franchise-type quarterback who can solidify the position at a Pro Bowl level for the next 10 years, then yes. It's a move the team has to pursue. Any team as quarterback-starved as the Washington Redskins have been for a generation has to at the very least explore the possibility. 25-year-old franchise QB's just heading into their primes don't come around often. One does, you better make your play.

IF the Redskins believe Jay Cutler is not the hypersensitive knucklehead he appears to be based on how the story has been reported, and are convinced he would come to Washington serious about his craft, committed to being a solid teammate and determined to show the world he’s not that guy ... then yes. It’s a move they have to pursue. This isn't like going after an Albert Haynesworth, this is going after a potential Franchise Quarterback. It changes all the rules.

I have been an outspoken Jason Campbell guy all along, but four years into his career I admit my thinking has changed. I do still believe he can become a solid NFL QB (particularly in the right system), but I have grown less confident he has the total package necessary to become The Man in Washington.

So for me it comes down to this: Do the Redskins—specifically Jim Zorn, Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder—believe Jay Cutler is The Man? If the answer is yes, then despite the risks I back them in the effort. What has me hedging is that confidence in their ability to coolly, dispassionately and accurately make that call is not at an all time high.

One thing is certain ... Redskins offseasons are never boring.


Anonymous said...

Great piece as usual. It really all boils down to the fact that this team has been without a "franchise qb" in some time. The chance is there, thus I think the Skins will pull the trigger. They have to.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Thanks, Anon. I agree, but reiterate the caveat: it's a monster gamble; if this was Tom Brady we were talking about, I'd say sell the farm, but it's not--it's a guy the jury's still out on. If they're really going to pull the trigger on Culter, they simply can't afford to be wrong.

SNF said...

I didn't see you address the potential additional compensation. If it were a one for one deal AND the front office has actually done their due diligence, maybe I'm on board. But to also lose a first rounder, and maybe more? I don't see that it's worth the risk.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


I decided to save the compensation question for another piece. Would have made this way too long. For what its' worth, if I end up writing it my thesis will be at IF the man is legitimately a Franchise QB, it's worth paying a *Prince's* Ransom for. :)

How much that actually means, and how badly his cap number might hinder the team in other ways, are considerations its almost impossible to make at this point given the QB himself is still something of a question mark.

Promise you this, though. If the Skins do end up bringing Cutler here, and we have the deal details to dig into, I'll definitely express an opinion.

SNF said...

Fair enough. I haven't lost nearly as much confidence in Jason Campbell as you appear to have. The jury's still out on both in my opinion.

I didn't see Cutler's last four games last year, and I don't know the contributing factors, but I did see his stats, and they were below average in that 0-4 run to miss the playoffs. Fading drastically in crunch time is not a good indicator of a Franchise QB. But again, I have not seen the games, only the stats.

Sasparilla Gretsch said...

I'm against this deal on so many levels, number one being that I still believe that Campbell has what it takes to help this team win, and has continued to develop in an environment that has lacked the stability and management knowledgeability it takes to build a franchise that wins consistently. Campbell has been nothing but the utmost professional, has worked harder than anyone else on this football team to be at his best, and from my vantage point (admittedly limited) lays his guts on the line on every play and every gameday.

As for Cutler's professionalism and character, I think there are major questions.

Campbell's and Cutler's numbers are not drastically different when one factors in the different systems, quality of protection, availability of playmakers on each player's respective team, etc.

I'll quit with one last thought that is hard to explain but I think long-time fans of this franchise will understand intuitively: Jason Campbell is a Redskin, and not just because he wears the uniform.

Mark "Om" Steven said...


For those who still believe Campbell can be The Man here, I understand why a possible move for Cutler seems so ill advised. For those on the *fence* on Campbell--and I count myself among those now--it's not that clear cut.

I do absolutely understand what you mean about JC being "a Redskin," and frankly, the part of this thing that concerns me the most is what appear to be possible high knucklehead, "non-Reskin" factor in Cutler.

But at the end of the day, I've come to believe the only thing likely to return the Redskins to glory any time soon (due in large part to the wildly uneven job they have done trying to build a team that doesn't *need* a Franchise QB to contend) is landing a QB who can bail them out and lift franchise with him.

I don't know if Cutler is that guy. I am almost completely convinced at this point, though, that JC is not. That's what has me on the fence. I'm still a Campbell guy, but my big picture take on this team is it needs The Man behind center in a bad way .. so I can't be too critical of any legitimate effort to find one.

At least not until I see the bill.