You see me use this space to praise an upcoming opponent so often that there are times you likely confuse me with Jon Gruden. Now let me tell you about an opposing player I think is vastly overrated.
New York Post basketball writer Peter Vescey coined the term "fake franchise player" to describe a guy incorrectly perceived as elite. Chris Webber and Jermaine O'Neal were two of his favorite examples. These guys have tons of talent and put up big numbers. These guys get a lot of publicity. Teams built around them underachieve, though. I think of two quarterbacks in the NFL as fake franchise quarterbacks in the same mold. One is Tony Romo. The other is Sunday's opponent, Jay Cutler.
Cutler puts up numbers. He has a 4,000 yard season and a pair of 25 touchdown campaigns to his name. Great, right? His victory last night put him a single game over .500 in his career as a starter at 34-33.
Despite the title "franchise quarterback" so many have given him, Cutler has not won a single Playoff game. In fact, this will be the first time in his five year career that he has so much as made the Playoffs. That probably is because of his 10-12 career mark in the December's that have eliminated his team from contention. Cutler has led his offenses to a mediocre 21.9 points per game in these December games, not abysmal but hardly franchise quarterback worthy. He has 23 interceptions in these games. Surely quarterbacks are not the only reason a team wins or loses, but elite quarterbacks do much better in big spots, allowing their teams to win more games.
Part of the quarterback position is inherently leadership. Guys in the huddle and in the locker room look to a quarterback to be able to battle through any kind of adversity. What was the biggest adversity of Cutler's career? It probably came in 2008 as Cutler's team blew a 3 game division lead with 3 to play. That includes a Week 16 home game against a Bills team that had lost 7 of 8. Cutler posted a 72 quarterback rating and tossed a key fourth quarter interception. He tossed a pair of interceptions the next week in a no show loss at San Diego with the season on the line.
That offseason, a new coach considered trading him. When Cutler got word, he demanded a trade and would not communicate with his owner. Franchise quarterbacks are not supposed to be flustered by anything. This guy's skin was so thin that he threw a temper tantrum and hit the road the second word leaked about his team thinking about going in a different direction. That's not really the way a franchise quarterback handles adversity. If that flustered him so, can anybody really have faith in him in hostile territory needing to go 80 yards for a game tying touchdown with 3:00 left in a Playoff game? That is the test of a franchise quarterback.
People can change and get better. Perhaps that will happen with Cutler. Perhaps he will develop into a franchise quarterback as soon as this year. Perhaps he will even torch the Jets this Sunday. Until that happens, though, the phrase "franchise quarterback" should not be mentioned in the same sentence unless separated by the words "is not a."
I begged the Jets not to try and trade for him at the time. I was thrilled when they did not. Mark Sanchez might not have the same track record, but I'd take his potential based on his work ethic and attitude over a fake franchise quarterback every time.