The last nine Super Bowls have been won by six quarterbacks. Their names will be familiar to you. A couple Mannings. Brady. Roethlisberger. Rodgers. Brees. It is this trend of high-paid, statistical machine quarterbacks being exclusive holders of the Lombardi Trophy that has given way to the insufferable and utterly inconsequential "elite quarterback" debate.
I don't care if a quarterback is elite because I don't think the word "elite" is being bandied about in this case to do anything more than fill segments on First Take and the NFL Network. And I don't care if Quarterback A is better than Quarterback B or more clutch than Quarterback C. I care about one thing: is Quarterback A good enough to win a bunch of playoff games in a row and be walking down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World when they air the commercial come the ghosts of late February future.
In two weeks, in the Booze & Food Historical Theme Park known as New Orleans, either Joe Flacco or Colin Kaepernick will break the nine-game trend and become only the seventh active NFL quarterback to have led their team to a Super Bowl title. No matter which quarterback wins a simple debate will ensue: Is [Insert Winning Quarterback] Now Elite?
That conversation will segue naturally in Chicago to: Can Jay Cutler add his name to the championship list?
There are folks entrenched in the NO column. Thesy believe Jay Cutler is an arrogant, turnover generating coach killer incapable of being the kind of on-field leader that wins the big one. If you ask these individuals a follow-up on Cutler they will also blame him for the face-tingling winds off the lake each January and for spotty cell phone service on the CTA.
There are also loyalists tied by chains to the YES pole in protest. They believe Cutler's problems have not been Cutler at all (or at least not mostly). Jay's problems have been the lack of offensive coordinator consistency, failure of the offensive line to protect either perimeter, the reluctance of pre-Emery management to add weapons on the outside and the lack of a no-fat vegetarian pizza option at Pizano's on State Street.
Both sides have fair points to make.
Cutler is turnover prone and has shown a reluctance to be coached in his post-Mike Shanahan NFL career. His shoving J'Marcus Webb, walking away from Mike Tice and relaying an angry "Fuck him!" to Mike Martz (below) have made folks across the league question whether he possesses the emotional maturity to capitalize on his alarming physical gifts.
Cutler is not without excuses, however. He HAS been forced to adapt to three different offensive coordinators in four year. He HAS had almost zero pass protection while lacking a short passing scheme to compensate for lack of care along the edge. And before the arrival of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, who did he have to throw the ball to?
But Cutler ALSO taken the Bears to 7-3 (before injury) and 10-6 records over the past two seasons and almost by aligning of the planets - a silly tackle attempt and Adrian Peterson's magnificence - failed to make the postseason in either year. One finds it hard to analyze the playoff potential of a quarterback when the quarterback is not in the playoffs consistently.
The Bears can win with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Take a breathe. They can win with Jay Cutler at quarterback. But in order for them to know the true potential of this quarterback they must make their way into the tournament and give him an opportunity to showcase his talents on the NFL's biggest stage. That was Phil Emery's impetus behind relieving Lovie Smith of his head coaching duties and bringing Marc Trestman across the American border. Five of six years outside the playoffs was not only a failure for the Bears organization. It was a failure for the development/analysis of the Bears quarterback.
Until Cutler is IN the postseason with consistency - like flavor of the quarterback month Joe Flacco - the jury remains out on his potential as a championship-caliber quarterback. Until that point it is all speculation. And don't we all watch and love professional sports to avoid speculation? Isn't guessing reserved for real estate developers, day traders and college football fans?
Cutler is 1-1 in the playoffs and he only played the first half of the second game. Six quarters hardly seems the requisite sample size to judge the potential of a quarterback with so much, well, potential. Cutler has his coach now and will have a consistent offensive vision in place for the next 3-4 years. It is time for the Bears to get into the tournament and win there. If they can't, I'll concede Cutler as a non-championship player. Until then I'll reserve judgement.