The opinions seem very mixed amongst fans about whether re-signing Jay Cutler was a good move or now. One camp (the one I am in) says that it was a no brainer decision to bring him back. The other camp thinks it was a slam dunk move to let him walk. The latter thinks 34-year old Josh McCown was the answer. Either because he was “just as good”, or “they should see what they have with him”, as if a 10 year veteran who is 34 is suddenly going to become a superstar. Signing Cutler was always going to be a long, expensive contract, but when looking around at what other options are available, or would be available shortly, there is no one else close.
Ranking QBs in the NFL is hard. Everyone will have different criteria, and will argue the order of importance of certain things. A big sticking point is duration. Am I ranking them for one play? One game? One season? The next 10 years? If it’s one game, Brady and Manning would likely be at the top of a lot of people’s lists. One season might expand to include Drew Brees. The next 10 years likely would not include any of those guys but would prominently rank someone like Andrew Luck.
For the purpose of this article, here are the criteria/circumstances used:
- All of the QBs are placed in a pool to be drafted from
- Salaries don’t factor in
- This exercise only applies for the next two seasons, at which point the re-draft happen again. Two seasons in the NFL is an eternity in this era where coaches are fired after 3 seasons. It’s too hard to predict further out.
The True Franchise QBs
Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady Peyton Manning Drew Brees Andrew Luck Russell Wilson Cam Newton
Any team that doesn’t have one of these guys wishes that they did. Even the most impassioned Jay Cutler supporter couldn’t suggest they would take Cutler over any of these seven guys. Rodgers, Brady, Manning and Brees are proven winners with elite skill who make plays all the time. Andrew Luck is a rising star and seems on track to be the Hall of Fame QB many people thought he would be. Wilson and Newton bring the running dimension to the game, and both continue to get better.
The Former Super Bowl Champs
Ben Roethlisberger Eli Manning
Both of these guys did something Jay Cutler hasn’t, won a, actually multiple, Super Bowl(s). Both have taken heat at times, and Manning especially seems to get hit with the “overrated” card a bit. Roethlisberger has taken a physical beating over the course of his career, and even though he has had strong defenses he is still a quality QB.
The Fabulous Plateau Brothers
Phillip Rivers Matt Ryan
An obscure WWE reference for any old-school fans, these two guys share a similar career path despite their 6-year age difference. Both have had some success and looked like superstars in the making before both just seemed to stop getting better. They both also have played with other-worldly skill position players (Tomlinson, Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones) during their careers. Both have also benefited from home games in favorable climates.
The Future QBs of America
Colin Kaepernick Robert Griffin III Ryan Tannehill
Kaepernick is often grouped with Luck, Wilson, RG3 and Tannehill even though he was drafted a year earlier. The three in this group all have flaws that separate them from Luck and Wilson. RG3 has the obvious issue of injuries mixed with a lousy sophomore campaign. It would be hard to see a lot of teams putting too much trust in him at this point. Kaepernick looks the strongest, but still has a ways to go and is probably benefiting from a good defense and excellent coaching staff1. Tannehill has shown some flashes at times, but has been terrible other times. He has the least to work with out of these three guys, and had the toxic situation in Miami this year.
I’ve gone on record discussing how I thought Joe Flacco was better than given credit for, but then he had a stinker of a season and that contract he got does not look good now. Still his playoff success is something that the next two guys haven’t done, and that probably counts for something.
Tony Romo Andy Dalton
Tony Romo is so reviled by Cowboy fans at this point that he is probably responsible for the JFK assassination. He is talked about so much in the media that he is surely underrated at this point, especially with some of the putrid Cowboy teams he has played with. Romo seems like a classic candidate for a revitalized career elsewhere if he ever got a chance. Dalton can’t get past the first round of the playoffs, and despite talent around him and on defense he just doesn’t look good enough to carry a team. His time in Cincinnati might be limited.
Young and Still Hopeful
Sam Bradford Matt Stafford
These guys are easy to compare for several reasons. Stafford is one year younger but has one more year of experience, and both of their names end in “ford”. Since salaries don’t matter it’s better just to look at body of work. Bradford has been banged up a bunch, as he was in college, and has barely played three full seasons worth of games. Stafford’s played more games and had more talent around him, including the best WR in football. Both of these guys are young enough that there is time for them to hit it big, but at the moment neither looks like a great QB.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Alex Smith Matt Schaub
Alex Smith looked like an all-time draft bust until he got better coaches (Harbaugh and Reid). Now he looks like a competent QB, but not one that will carry a team to a Super Bowl, just one that can help contribute. Schaub had tons of talented skill position players (and a good defense) and couldn’t get the job done. Smith’s youth is likely more valuable at this point, but Schaub does have a lot of playoff experience.
Carson Palmer Brian Hoyer Blaine Gabbert
Carson Palmer couldn’t get over the hump in Cincinnati before a knee injury set him back. But he has been pretty consistent over his career and probably does’t get enough credit for playing on bad teams. He had a big year this year at age 34, but he is what he is at this point. Whoever Cleveland is starting is a big question right now. Brian Hoyer looked like “the guy” until he got hurt. If it’s Brandon Weeden, you will find him ranked #1412 on this list, ahead of Lindsay Lohan but behind Nancy Reagan. Blaine Gabbert has suffered the all too common fate of being a first round pick on a really bad team. It’s early to judge there.
Too Soon to Tell
Nick Foles Jake Locker EJ Manuel Terrelle Pryor/ Matt McGloin Geno Smith Mike Glennon Christian Ponder
It’s difficult to get a read on any of these guys at this point. They are either too new, or too injured to judge. All have shown signs of life at some point, some (Foles, Manuel) more than others (Ponder).
So where does that leave Cutler? Clearly not part of the first group of elite guys. After that, it’s mostly a matter of opinion. Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers could all definitely be in the conversation. Cutler is younger than Rivers and has played in tougher weather conditions, and Rivers has certainly had more talented skill players along the way. Matt Ryan is just a smidge younger with probably slightly better stats. But that’s playing in a dome with better skill position players. Eli has won two Super Bowls outdoors and is probably statistically the closest to Cutler. Big Ben is an underrated QB who could have a case made that he belongs in that top group ((Although I don’t agree with Bill Simmons’ crazy trade proposal that would require the Bears to send Cutler and multiple first round picks to the Steelers for Ben)
Depending how you feel about those four guys, Cutler is somewhere between 8th and 12th. Splitting the difference leaves him as the 10th best QB in the league. There are at least 9 teams (Vikings, Bucs, Jets, Bills, Browns, Jaguars, Titan, Texans, Raiders) that wouldn’t hesitate to snatch Cutler up, and another 3 (Eagles, Lions, Rams) who would do it if they could make it work out.
A top 10 QB rarely hits the open market. The only real chance is to develop a guy. The Bears got lucky trading for Cutler, and that kind of opportunity probably never come again. Josh McCown is not some 28 year old guy who has been rotting on the bench. He is a 10-year veteran who was coaching high school football when the Bears called. Drafting a guy is no sure thing, as many teams learn each year. Re-signing Cutler was the only move. And while he will cost the Bears a game occasionally, he’s still in the top 1/3 of QBs for sure.
- These guys won 13 game with Alex Smith at the helm [↩]