Monday, March 16, 2009

Jay Cutler Reassures Us, the Modern Athlete Is Alive and Well

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."—Mark Twain

For a minute there, I thought the plummeting global economy might bring professional athletes down to Earth. I deluded myself into imagining a stock exchange hovering around 1997 "highs" would spread enough humility that some might even trickle down (or up) to our favorite me-firsters.

In hindsight, it wasn't so crazy—the Major League Baseball free agency period came and went without too many insane contracts handed out. Almost zero if you exclude the New York Yankee land grab.

I kept reading about the frenzied National Basketball Association and the economic prospects of some of its bottom-feeders.

The National Football League handed out some gnarly salaries at the outset of its free agency period—Albert Haynesworth, that's you big fella—but all those Benjamins aren't necessarily in the bank. In other words, the NFL already has the most reasonable compensation system of any major American pro sport so it has more wiggle room than the others.

A couple of these leagues even laid off employees (unless I dreamed that) so the usual song-and-dance seemed sincere this go-around.

Enter Jay Cutler.

Cutler is a very promising young quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He's fresh off his first Pro Bowl season and it seems to have gone directly to his dome, which is hilarious because Pro Bowls mean exactly jack squat.

All-Pro teams? Now that means something, but everyone and their mother gets a trip to Honolulu if they stick in the League long enough. Obviously, I'm exaggerating to a degree—it means you were one of the better players at your position that year.

But, c'mon—it seems like half the team is there because of popularity rather than performance while the other half is there as replacements for guys who didn't want to make the trip.

To Hawaii.

Life as an NFL star appears to be pretty tough.

Back to Jay—I don't mean to suggest he's not good. Quite the contrary. Before all this nonsense, he was one of the young guns I said I'd prefer to Tony Romo back when Romo was being mentioned as an elite QB. And he's put of some very nice numbers in his first 2+ seasons as a starter.

But, in the background of all this blather, the only numbers that really seem relevant to me are 37 and zero. As in Jay Cutler has started 37 NFL games and made zero playoff appearances.

This, unfortunately, allows that grotesque and tiresome beast to rear its head—to win or not to win, the fundamental dividing line between football fans.

Is the true value of a quarterback his ability to lead his team to postseason success? Or is it to put up gaudy statistics? I am firmly, clearly, and consistently in the former's camp.

So for Jay Cutler to be throwing a tantrum over his new coach exploring the acquisition of another promising QB with whom said coach is familiar looks petulant and childish to me.

And stupid.

Let's look at this rationally—Josh McDaniels came over from the New England Patriots who just had a very good year against some very long odds in a relatively strong American Football Conference East. They did it with a young and unproven QB (Matt Cassel), who is now available. Additionally, McDaniels worked very closely with Cassel as the offensive coordinator and QBs coach.

On the other hand, he's got a young QB, who has put up great numbers in a relatively weak AFC West and has yet to lead his team to the postseason. In fairness, two tries at such a young age and level of inexperience is not exactly conclusive—far from it.

But here's the kicker—this is a BUSINESS.

Cutler's complaining because he's not sure he can trust his boss, that he no longer feels his job is secure, and that he doesn't feel appreciated in general.

Hey, join the f***ing crowd Jay.

Our population is in the hundreds of millions and we're angry. You can find us by opening your eyes and/or ears. Take a look around the United States. Or take a broader snapshot of the entire WORLD.

Our bosses have ALL lied to us—that's why markets are dumping thousands of points and entire countries have declared bankruptcy or are staring it in the face.

Almost EVERY job is insecure these days, if you even have a job—the US has dumped, what, a billion since December 2007 (it's more like four million, but you get the gist).

How many underlings are constantly treated with respect by the powers-that-be? And how is this disrespectful anyway?

Jay Cutler is not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. He's not Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, or Carson Palmer.

Shoot, he's not even Joe Flacco, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, or Matt Ryan.

Every name mentioned has better bullet points on his resume than Cutler.

Furthermore, Josh McDaniels has been entrusted with an NFL team—it's his responsibility to pursue any and all options that could make the Denver Broncos better. It would be borderline negligent to ignore even the notion of acquiring Matt Cassel.

There's at least a reasonable argument that says Cassel's promise is just as juicy as Cutler's and his track record is just as impressive. The argument's clearly not open-and-shut, but it's there.

What's worse, it's not clear that any of this from Cutler is sincere.

I say it's at least plausible that he's using the Cassel situation as a pretext to jump ship after the Broncs deep-sixed their previous offensive coordinator. Jay apparently stamped that OC with his all-important seal of approval and it appears Jay usually gets what Jay wants.

I say that because he's very careful to point out that he hasn't demanded a trade until this little tempest in a teapot. What Cutler conveniently omits is that the controversy is of his own creation.

So now, predictably, the situation has devolved into an ugly and public he-said/he-said. Cutler's missing team meetings, demanding a trade, and basically portraying himself as the wounded lamb.

I mean, Josh McDaniels had the audacity to be forthright, to say he couldn't promise Cutler would never be traded. The horror, the horror.

The only surprising part is that owner Pat Bowlen, a man for whom my respect is growing, has given every outward indication of shaking down on McDaniels' side.

How novel—supporting your young coach rather than the spoiled player. Take the side of the mature adult in the room rather than the red-face brat splashing spittle all over everyone.

I just wish more owners and coaches would follow Bowlen and McDaniels' lead. I wish more bosses in professional sports would demand maturity from even their stars by rewarding those who have it/show it.

Because reality seems to be coming for us all and, if this is gonna be the typical reaction, it's gonna be a very long year.

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