On Thursday, an era came to an end at Halas Hall as the Chicago Bears officially released quarterback Jay Cutler after eight seasons with the organization.
As he heads into the next phase of his career, Cutler leaves behind a remarkable, albeit controversial, legacy in the Windy City. He is the leading passer in Bears history, with over 23,000 yards and 154 touchdown passes to his credit, but he also failed to deliver on the monumental price tag that was required to acquire him, as he led the Bears to just one playoff victory in his long career at Soldier Field.
Even with his failings and with the controversy that often surrounded his turnover-plagued tenure with the Bears, there is a question that needs to be asked about his career: is Jay Cutler the best quarterback in Bears franchise history?
Based solely on numbers, that argument would be a pretty easy one to make. Cutler passed for nearly 10,000 more yards than the next-closest quarterback on the list, easily outpacing Sid Luckman. He is also one of only two quarterbacks throw for over 100 touchdowns in his Bears career, again beating Luckman in that category.
He also set records for the most wins by a Bears quarterback and for the most game-winning drives, as he engineered 18 such drives during the 102 games that he played with the team.
Aside from all of that, he gave the Bears something that they’ve so rarely had in their history as a franchise: he gave them a hugely athletic presence at the quarterback spot in an era where the NFL demands such a player.
Unfortunately for the Bears and Cutler, that presence came with a lot of drawbacks. Notably, Cutler couldn’t seem to take care of the football in key situations, throwing interceptions and losing fumbles in big moments that ultimately helped to derail he team’s hopes on more than one occasion.
In addition to his turnover penchant, Cutler also had difficulties in terms of staying on the field, missing a slew of games over the years with a variety of injuries. Some of those injuries can certainly be blamed on a porous offensive line that allowed him to take more sustained pressure than a quarterback could reasonably be expected to deal with, but ultimately the Bears needed Cutler to be on the field, and he was off of it far more often than they would have liked him to have been.
Finally, there’s the personality complaint. It’s hugely overblown in fan circles, as his teammates largely seemed to like him (although there are exceptions, like Martellus Bennett and Brandon Marshall). Despite that, his prickliness and seemingly carefree attitude rubbed many fans the wrong way, and personality has to at least have some sort of bearing on whether a player can be considered the best in franchise history.
Ultimately though, Cutler’s on-field performance and the way that he dealt with the avalanche of expectations and adversity that he experienced in Chicago leads to the conclusion that he is the greatest quarterback in team history.
Aside from holding all sorts of records, Cutler’s ability to change games cannot be denied, and he gave Bears fans the closest thing to a franchise quarterback that they’ve had since Luckman patrolled Wrigley Field all those decades ago.
The Cutler era may not be judged as an overly successful one, with one playoff victory and 51 total regular season losses to its credit, but it was still better than the parade of quarterbacks that marched through Chicago over the years before his arrival, and once years pass and the passions of the moment fade away, fans will likely look back on Cutler with much more fond memories than they may be thinking they will now.