The Chicago Bears just signed Jay Cutler to a seven year, $120 million contract, with over $50 million in guaranteed money.
In its coverage of the contract, ESPN just described the “good” Jay as the guy who’s eleven games over .500 as a starter in five seasons with Chicago (have I mentioned how weak an indicator of quarterback performance won-loss record is?).
The “bad” Jay, according to ESPN, is that Cutler has had trouble staying healthy (ESPN might have pointed out that in 2013, anyway, the Bears were way better off when Cutler *wasn’t* on the field).
ESPN lauds Cutler for being the Bears’ all time leader in passing yards (for such a great franchise, man have they had a woeful string of quarterbacks). But comparing modern quarterbacks to those in days of yore when it comes to passing yards is an especially silly exercise. Passing statistics in today’s NFL are unlike anything we’ve seen in the history of the sport. 119 players – AFL and NFL combined – have passed for 4,000 yards in a season. About a dozen of those instances came before 1990, and mostly those were seasons by guys named Fouts and Marino. Eleven times, quarterbacks have passed for 4,900 yards or more. Except for Marino in 1984, every one of those has come in the past five years. Comparing passing yards today to previous generations of quarterbacks is like comparing pitchers by innings pitched today and innings pitched by pitchers historically. The game has changed fundamentally. Therefore, in this instance, the chosen statistic does nothing more than reflect the difference in how the game is played. You can compare players within an era by passing yards (though it’s still not a great stat). But between eras, it’s essentially meaningless.
ESPN does note that Cutler is a “gunslinger” who has thrown more interceptions per attempt since 2009 than any QB other than Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick, which if they knew what they were talking about, they’d know was far more damning than passing yards is praiseworthy.
All of this adds up to a thoroughly mediocre quarterback. Which led Steve Young, naturally, to argue that Cutler could be “one of the best quarterbacks of all time” if he puts the time in to really learn coach Marc Trestman’s system.