Why I Drafted Jay Cutler, and What Happened from There

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Why I Drafted Jay Cutler, and What Happened from There
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

I'm staring at a three-ring binder in the draft war room at Broncos headquarters in Dove Valley, Colorado. It's 2006, my fourth year as general manager. The scene around me looks like I'm at NASA headquarters: old-school notebooks scattered everywhere, a huge screen at the front of the room and computers flashing with statistical analysis. 

But I'm not trying to launch a rocket. I'm just trying to figure out what to make of the kid whose name is printed on the scouting report in the binder: Jay Christopher Cutler.

You can guess the basics of what I was looking at. Rocket arm. Great numbers at the combine. Good pedigree. The top offensive player in the SEC despite playing on an otherwise lousy Vanderbilt team. Impressive 29 score on the Wonderlic.

"Great character guy," the scouting report says. "The BMOC, and acts it in a good way."

An athletic player with "good body control, good feet and good change of direction."

"Loves to compete, will get after you, and hates to lose. He'll do the extra and wants to find an edge."

"Very bright, learns and retains football well, is a quick study."

We put on his highlight tape, and I see the strong arm, quick release, consistent velocity and leadership abilities. There are also some negatives—throwing off his back foot, floating the ball and overall footwork—but coaches say those deficiencies could be overcome with time and proper instruction.

MARK HUMPHREY/Associated Press

I flip over to the next page in the report, which has quotes from coaches, teammates and opponents. Tennessee senior linebacker Jason Mitchell says, "Jay Cutler is a gamer. He's a guy that will try not to lose at all costs." Coach Phil Fulmer: "The best quarterback in the SEC. Will only be validated the next few years in the NFL." Senior linebacker Omar Gaither: "He does everything right. He's smart, makes the right throws, is accurate, can run. He's everything you're looking for in a quarterback."

I look over his questionnaire from the combine.

What is the most important lesson learned in your college career? "Stay positive"

What has accounted for your progress to date? "Good coaching and hard work"

Reasons for wanting to play pro football? "Love of the game"

There's no question. Cutler has the tools and attitude to play the position at the NFL level.

But then there's something we only recently began using called the "Human Resource Tactics" test, which gauges various aspects of a player's character makeup. Cutler's "Mental Quickness" score is off the charts. Two other numbers are not. His "Self Confidence" score is average. It should be higher than that. His "Focus and Social Maturity" score is worrisome.

I think to myself, "This kid could be great. But we need to be careful with how we develop him." 


I drafted Jay Cutler. Why?

The story starts with Jake Plummer.

History hasn't treated the year Plummer had in 2005 very well, nor the team we built that year in Denver. What goes forgotten is the dominance we displayed most of the season. We went 13-3 and had to that point the third-best point differential in franchise history, behind only the 1997-98 repeat champs. We were undefeated at home. After a bad loss to the Dolphins in Week 1, only late-fourth-quarter losses to the Giants and Chiefs kept us from running off 15 straight. We easily handled the defending-champion Patriots 27-13 in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Plummer had probably the best year of his career and was named to his first and only Pro Bowl. He had taken our club to three straight playoff appearances and, based on the overall team performance, was likely to be headed back in 2006. Even John Elway had never taken the team to four consecutive playoffs. 

Then Plummer threw two picks and we lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

Blowing a home game against a No. 6 seed for the right to Super Bowl XL was never forgotten by the fans and media, and never forgiven by our head coach. There was a ripple effect.

After the season, the two men perhaps most responsible for Plummer's remarkable season left for Houston: Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was named head coach of the Texans and took with him little known but highly influential offensive assistant Troy Calhoun.

Enter Mike Heimerdinger. Dinger was a longtime friend and college roommate of Mike Shanahan's and had previously been in Denver as wide receivers coach from 1995 to 1999. We brought him back as assistant head coach in late January 2006, about three months before the draft.

It was no secret in Denver that Heimerdinger was coming to the Broncos to pad his resume for a shot at the top—and that he wasn't a big Plummer fan. A play-action, bootleg, rollout and at times improv quarterback wasn't going to help him catch the eye of an NFL owner looking for his next savior. Our backup QB, Bradlee Van Pelt, was a local hero out of Colorado State but wasn't the type of quarterback to help land anyone a future head coaching job in the NFL.

Heimerdinger had spent 2000 to 2004 in Nashville—in close proximity to Vanderbilt and Cutler—as the Titans' offensive coordinator under Jeff Fisher.

He immediately began lobbying for Cutler.


Cutler started as a redshirt freshman at Vanderbilt, was a three-time captain and was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2005. The Commodores' 5-6 finish wasn't impressive, but four of the six losses were by seven points or less, and Cutler took a physical beating but kept coming back for more, establishing career marks in passing yards, total offense, pass completions, attempts, passing touchdowns, and total touchdowns while at Vanderbilt. A double overtime loss to No. 13 Florida (49-42) and a season-ending win over Tennessee (28-24) caught the attention of our scouts.

Here's how some of their reports on Cutler read ahead of the 2006 draft:

Our primary scout wrote of him: "Good ball mechanics, throws a catchable ball. Is effective on ½ roll, play action, boot passes, and shows plenty of arm strength. Good velocity on out/post/comeback routes. Can avoid in the pocket, has a quick release, is athletic, good body strength, has good foot quickness and body control. Has confidence in his throwing ability."

The cross-check scout: "Highly competitive guy with great leadership ability. Has good poise in the pocket, he's strong and will stand in there and make the throw under pressure. ... He has good anticipation and can throw on time, but he's inconsistent. He can throw on the run and make plays off schedule with his feet. A tough guy with the ball in his hands as a runner."

The position-check scout: "Made a lot of plays off schedule. Like his arm strength, can make all the throws. Has the ability to make big plays with his arm and enough athletic ability to maneuver around. Showed strength in the pocket, pulled away from some arm tackles."

The assigned office-check scout: "Good tools for the position. Good overall arm strength and a good athlete. Flashes poise and will stand and deliver the ball. Takes some shots from blitzes and the rush. Has tremendous confidence in arm strength. Strong over the top delivery and can fire a ball in tight spaces when he needs to."

MICHAEL CONROY/Associated Press

His combine numbers were impressive as well. At 6'3", 226 pounds, he clocked a 4.78, 4.77 on his first 40-yard dash, then 4.83, 4.79 on the second. His 23 reps at 225 pounds were best among all quarterbacks and backed up his "gym rat" reputation. He would later do 27 reps and vertical jump 32" at his Pro Day.

There was consensus, too, on his shortcomings as a college player. The scouts countered with, "Doesn't always scan the field. Needs some refinements to his technique. Will throw backing up. Telegraphs a lot of his passes. He tries to do too much at times. He'll throw it up for the receiver to make a play. Doesn't step into some of his throws. Saw some panic in him at times and he makes some questionable decisions with the ball under duress. Inconsistent long ball accuracy."

In summary one scout wrote, "There are a lot of people talking about this guy in the early first round. I don't see that type of player at this point. I see a good QB with some athleticism and a strong arm. I think he has to improve his accuracy and be better with the ball versus pressure, but I do think he can develop into a good NFL quarterback."

An assistant coach added, "He has some holes, but if he gets them fixed, the upside is huge. It may take a while but between his arm strength and character, he'll be successful. I'd bet on the come and draft him later in the 1st round."

Heimerdinger was sure we could iron out any small wrinkles in Cutler's game. He referenced conversations he'd had with the Vanderbilt coaching staff on Cutler's skills and ability. He backed up stories about his leadership and toughness from seeing him play and practice in person. He helped push Cutler up the board into legitimate discussions as a possible early first-round pick.


I was most impressed by Cutler's dogged determination, toughness and tenacity. He started all 45 games he played at Vandy. This was an SEC quarterback who got the living crap kicked out of him week after week by superior competition, yet kept coming back for more.

Jay Cutler college stats
Year G Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Int Rate
2002 11 103 212 48.6 1,433 10 9 112.4
2003 12 187 327 57.2 2,347 18 13 127.7
2004 11 147 241 61.0 1,844 10 5 134.8
2005 11 273 462 59.1 3,073 21 9 126.1

sports-reference.com

He never wanted to be taken out of a game and listed a hip pointer, concussion and ankle sprain as his only injuries over four seasons of continuous beatings. It was an off-the-field incident his freshman year that forced him to miss his only game, a misdemeanor charge for underage drinking. Our staff actually liked that fact. It gave him some edge.

We debated every angle of evaluation: positives, negatives, character, health history, mental capacity, leadership ability, physical makeup. We all agreed that Cutler had first-round talent, but he needed some time to mature and learn behind an experienced veteran. The philosophy was no different than what Green Bay implemented just a year before with Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre. However long it took to bring out his best, we were willing to invest the necessary pick to develop our next franchise quarterback.

It was the kind of development project that could produce big dividends come the next "Black Monday."


Even with Cutler rising on our board and getting good reviews, it wasn't necessarily getting any more likely that he'd end up with our team.

Shanahan had fallen for USC's Matt Leinart and felt he was the right selection, while Dinger and I were aligned on Cutler. But we'd need to move in the draft to get either, and we weren't sure it'd be worth it to do that. Plummer was still our guy, his teammates loved him, and we didn't feel too much pressure to make a change. Scouts and coaches were just doing their normal evaluation process, letting the data and reports come in before making any rash decisions or rushing to judgments. Everything appeared routine.

Then in late March my phone rang. It was Falcons general manager Rich McKay.

Rookie Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum was looking to unload three-time Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham, and Atlanta was an interested buyer. The numbers didn't add up for McKay, and he needed a third party to even things out. The deal was that we'd get the Falcons' first-round pick (15th overall), send our first (29th) to the Jets and send our third and 2007 fourth to the Falcons, who'd also get Abraham.

I liked the deal for us. It was a chance to land a top-tier player (regardless of the position) before the draft even started, a rare opportunity in Denver. A third and a fourth seemed like pennies to gain the leverage that normally costs at least a second-round pick—or perhaps the alternative of losing eight to 10 games to earn the rights.

I took the proposal to Shanahan and wasn't prepared to accept "no" for an answer. It didn't take much to get his approval. I called Rich back and said, "We're in."

ED ANDRIESKI/Associated Press

We entered the draft under our usual cone of silence. Our staff was given strict orders to discuss nothing about our interests, and it drove the local media nuts. Shanahan and I didn't believe in bringing in prospects for predraft visits. If we hadn't already gained a good enough feel for the player through our earlier interview process, then we hadn't done our jobs. Besides, why tip your hand? 

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped to the podium. "With the first pick of the 2006 NFL draft, the Houston Texans select...Mario Williams, defensive end, North Carolina State."

David Carr had gone to the Texans with the same pick back in 2002, and though many Texans fans wanted to see Vince Young in red, white and blue, Kubiak wasn't ready to give up on Carr.

The Saints selected second overall, but they had inked former Chargers quarterback Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million contract a month earlier. They took Reggie Bush.

Tennessee's turn. Steve McNair was coming off a disastrous '05 season and was 32 years old. Owner Bud Adams got his wish as the Titans nabbed Vince Young to resurrect their franchise.

The Jets were up next, and drafting Cutler or Leinart certainly was possible. Chad Pennington missed most of 2005 with an injury and was turning 30. But maybe some help up front was more in line with keeping Pennington healthy versus replacing him all together. They took offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

There was no way the Packers would take a QB. Rodgers had unexpectedly fallen to them the previous year, and Favre was still the man in Green Bay. Ohio State's A.J. Hawk went to Titletown. 

49ers? Nope. Alex Smith, Utah's spread-option phenom, was the first overall pick in 2005. They picked someone for him to throw to, Vernon Davis.

Who knew what Al Davis might be thinking? This was one spot I couldn't foresee. I remember a collective sigh of relief when defensive back Michael Huff was pulled off the board with the seventh pick. 

The prognosticators had been wrong. Two of the top three quarterbacks were now available at No. 8. Shanahan didn't want to risk anyone jumping up to grab Leinart. He felt this might be the steal of the draft if we could somehow orchestrate a trade. Dinger and I just looked at each other. 

"Start calling," Mike commanded.

The Bills were a possibility. They'd selected J.P. Losman with their first-round pick in 2004, but they were quick to reply, "Our man is there." I was already on the phone with Detroit GM Matt Millen when Buffalo grabbed defensive back Donte Whitner. 

"Matt, you guys interested in trading this pick?" Joey Harrington had been a huge disappointment, and Millen was starting over with new head coach Rod Marinelli. There was a distinct possibility we might lose one of the two to the Lions. 

"Teddy, I think we've got our guy, but thanks for reaching out."

Millen had signed longtime Seahawks/Bengals QB Jon Kitna as a free agent earlier in the year, but the possibility was still there to add a younger player. We all anxiously waited to hear whose name the commissioner would read. Leave it to a former defensive coordinator on his first head coaching gig to go after a linebacker. Marinelli and Millen turned in their card with the name of Florida State's Ernie Sims.

I called Cardinals general manager Rod Graves.

"Rod, any chance you'd be willing to trade out of this next pick?" They had Kurt Warner, who was a cult hero from his Super Bowl season with the Rams, but he was 35 years old, and Denny Green might have been getting a bit impatient with Warner's inability to recreate that same magic.

"Ted, I think we're going to stay put. We've got our guy," Graves replied. 

"The Arizona Cardinals select...Matt Leinart, quarterback, USC." Shanahan was visibly perturbed. 

"It's all right, we can still do this," I thought to myself. I still couldn't believe that even one of these quarterbacks had fallen to where we just might actually pull this off. But would Shanahan waver away from what we'd agreed upon? It wouldn't be out of his character to head off in another direction because he didn't get his way.

"I'm getting St. Louis on the line now!" Press on, I thought.

The Rams' Jay Zygmunt answered. "Jay, Ted Sundquist. You guys interested in trading your pick?" 

"Let me see what our guys are thinking." He put me on hold. 

Zygmunt came back, "Would you do it for a third?" 

Our third-round pick was No. 68, which was worth 250 points on our Value Chart. That actually would have put us at the 10th spot, an additional 50 points not necessarily needed to jump four slots.

"They want our third," I told our crew.

Dinger nodded to Mike he'd do it. I reiterated I was all for it, knowing Cutler would come in as Plummer's backup and develop into our future starter down the road. Shanahan hesitated for a moment. 

All eyes looked down upon myself and Mike. 

Tagliabue again stepped up to the podium.

"With the 11th choice in the 2006 NFL draft, acquired by trade from the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Broncos select Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Vanderbilt."


After the draft and heading into camp, I had some personal concern for Plummer. The sick feeling from the 2005 AFC Championship Game had yet to subside with anyone, and the addition of a first-round choice at QB couldn't have been easy for him.

I'm fairly sure the coaching staff did nothing to explain to him the circumstances that brought Cutler to the team, and the media had already started a "Cutler Watch."

In Plummer's mind, there was probably a noose around his neck.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/Associated Press

It didn't take long for Cutler to overtake Van Pelt in camp. He looked sharp throughout preseason and stayed relatively clear of the constant attention that quarterbacks seem to attract in Denver.

Plummer led us to a 7-2 record to start 2006, 3-0 in the division and 7-1 in the conference. But pressure was internally mounting from the head coach on Plummer. I could tell Shanahan felt that with our defense, we should have been dominating the competition. Then we blew a fourth-quarter lead to San Diego at home, and word leaked (I feel intentionally) out of the facility that Plummer was under an ultimatum the next week at Kansas City: Win or be benched. 

Ten points were all we could muster against a lackluster Chiefs squad, losing 19-10 and falling to 7-4.

So much for patience and development.

"I think he gives us the best chance to win now," Shanahan told the press in announcing Cutler's promotion.

In the NFL, respect from players and teammates isn't given; it's earned. And Cutler was handed the keys to the car not because he had earned them, but because the head coach felt the team's captain and emotional leader no longer deserved them. The veteran locker room wasn't happy with the move. Cutler became something of an outsider from within, not necessarily by his own doing.

Dinger and the offensive staff kept things simple over the next two weeks, focusing on the ground game while Cutler settled in under center. Denver rushed 62 times for 343 yards in back-to-back losses to Seattle and San Diego. Cutler flashed in both games, with four TD passes, but he also threw two interceptions in the loss to the Seahawks, one a pick-6 and the other leading to a Seattle field goal. The staff finally opened up the game plan in Cutler's third week, a 37-20 win at Arizona.

Mike told the press, "You saw what he could do today. It doesn't take a genius out there to figure out this guy is very composed, can make all the throws and plays with a lot of confidence." It was his way of sticking it to everyone. I told you so.

We beat Cincinnati the following week. Cutler threw two more TDs to become the first rookie in NFL history to post two passing TDs in his first four games, setting up a Week 17 showdown with San Francisco. Win and we're in, a fourth consecutive trip to the postseason. Despite sustaining a concussion in the first half, Cutler finished 21-of-32 for 230 yards and a score, leading a game-tying touchdown drive in the closing minutes to force overtime. Joe Nedney's 36-yard field goal kicked us out of the playoffs, losing to the 49ers 26-23. It was Plummer's last game as a Bronco and, though we didn't know it at the time, his last game as a professional football player.

With an entire offseason understanding he was now the main man in Denver, Cutler seemed to relish the responsibility. Former Washington first-round pick Patrick Ramsey was brought in as a backup veteran—but certainly not to challenge as starter. Dinger had a young protege, and Mike had rid himself of the guy he felt couldn't get us over the hump.

I was concerned, though, that we'd pushed out the emotional leader of our club. Cutler had plenty of leadership qualities, but I wasn't sure he could handle his role on this team in the same manner Plummer had.

The 2007 Broncos were like a ship without a rudder, all over the place. The offense was inconsistent, scoring 15 points or less seven times and 31 or more four times. Cutler finished the season as a top 10 or 12 quarterback in most statistical categories. He'd thrown for 20 TDs but also 14 picks. He orchestrated two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives. Second-year receiver Brandon Marshall emerged as his go-to guy and hauled in 102 receptions for 1,325 yards and seven TDs. "Cutler to Marshall" became the new young passing threat in the NFL. Cutler's draft classmate, Tony Scheffler, caught 49 passes as well. At 7-9, the team struggled, but the offensive components seemed to be in place. 

There were some warning signs as far as Cutler's progress goes, though. He was sacked 27 times that year, more than Plummer had been in any of his four seasons in Denver. And after the year, Heimerdinger left to go back to the Titans and develop Vince Young.

I began focusing on finding a left tackle to protect Cutler through the draft, but midway through March meetings with my scouts, I was let go by Shanahan.

The team added left tackle Ryan Clady from Boise State, and the 2008 season saw Cutler's sacks dramatically reduced. Marshall would catch another 104 balls for 1,265 yards and six TDs. Cutler threw for over 4,500 yards and 25 TDs. His 7.11 net yards per attempt are to this day the best of his career. He led three fourth-quarter comebacks and added another four game-winning drives to his resume. Denver finished a disappointing 8-8, but people were beginning to notice Cutler's elite potential. He was named to his first and only Pro Bowl. 

John Bazemore/Associated Press

Through three years, he appeared well on his way to what we'd all thought he could develop into when we were scouting him and trading up to pick him. His skills seemed to be sharpening, his leadership pronounced and his numbers growing. Denver had a Pro Bowl receiver, a lock-down left tackle and a downfield threat at tight end. He was healthy, making better decisions, hitting all the throws and building the kind of confidence necessary to carry a team.


Rookie QBs get thrown into the fray early and often in the NFL. But for every Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Russell Wilson, there's a David Carr, Robert Griffin III and Jake Locker. Nothing is a given.

The development of any young player takes time and commitment. Quarterback is no exception. To say that wasn't happening in Denver would be wrong. But certainly the task was yet to be completed. Cutler's blitz recognition, downfield accuracy and sacks per pass play were improving, clearly a benefit from the new star at left tackle. But his third-down and red-zone efficiency tumbled, and he was credited with 19 additional poor throws over the season prior. His TD-to-interception ratio remained relatively steady.

For the Broncos, the bottom line is winning, not statistical improvement. And clearly over the past two seasons, wins hadn't come at a championship rate. Owner Pat Bowlen felt change was necessary, and Mike Shanahan was fired after 14 seasons as the team's head coach and executive vice president. 

Shanahan, Heimerdinger and myself—the three people most instrumental in bringing Cutler to Denver and the three people who had the most vested interest in developing him—were now all gone.

Cutler was openly critical of Shanahan's dismissal and equally upset over the potential loss of his position coach, Jeremy Bates, who would eventually leave during the offseason to take a job at USC. Bates had a young and fiery personality that seemed to resonate with Cutler. His way of communicating with his young quarterback struck a chord, and many of the weaknesses we'd seen at Vanderbilt were slowly being chipped away: improved footwork, avoiding the sack, progression through routes, finding the outlet.

Now Cutler had to convince a 32-year-old first-time head coach he was worthy of the position. 

Associated Press

Shortly after Josh McDaniels moved into his office at Dove Valley, he called in Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, for a closed-door meeting. The story goes that McDaniels began with a 20-minute dissertation of his resume, how he'd worked his way up the ranks in New England to become Bill Belichick's right-hand man with the offense and how the team would have been nowhere the year before without his tutelage of backup Matt Cassel. He continued on with justification of his hiring by Bowlen. 

After the perplexing recitation of accomplishments, McDaniels suddenly shifted gears.

He began to bash and berate Cutler and his game to the tune of a verbal flogging neither had ever witnessed. The expletive-laden diatribe went on for a few minutes, after which Cook stood up and told Cutler they were leaving. As they walked down the long hallway past Bowlen's office, Cutler turned to Bus and said, "Get me out of here. I don't care how you do it."


The development of Jay Cutler effectively ended in 2009, really just a little over two seasons after it started. Traded to the Bears, he went to Chicago with greater expectations and once again was playing the role of an outsider in the locker room.

"I guess the Bears felt like we needed another quarterback, so they made a move," Brian Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. "They gave up a lot. Cutler must be pretty good." 

Urlacher went on to say, "I guess we got better as a team. You get a quarterback who is a Pro Bowl guy. But I will say this: I think Kyle Orton is a good quarterback. He's a great teammate. I hope he does really well in Denver."

In a way, Cutler's career in the Windy City has been a lot like his four years in the Music City, underappreciated and little to show for the effort. The Bears are 46-41 behind Cutler and have reached the playoffs just once, the infamous 2011 NFC Championship loss to the Packers that set off a firestorm of debate about Cutler's toughness and will to win.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

He has had five offensive coordinators in seven seasons with the Bears. He's currently working for his third head coach-general manager combination. Since coming to Chicago, Cutler has seen the Bears draft 17 players from the top 100 prospects each season, only six on offense: three linemen and three wide receivers. Of that number, three were taken only after head coach Lovie Smith left in '12. 

Prior to 2015, the Chicago rushing attack ranked 29th, 22nd, ninth, ninth, 16th and 27th. The two statistics that have plagued Cutler since his days at Vandy, sacks and interceptions, remain his bane today. Cutler was sacked a total of 51 times in 37 games with the Broncos; the total with the Bears in 2010 alone was 52.

He still forces the ball, still throws off his back foot and still makes questionable decisions. He's been beaten and badgered by the press about his leadership ability, and former teammates haven't been too complimentary at times either.

A broken thumb in 2011 and a high ankle sprain in 2013 cost him 10 games, but otherwise he's remained a relatively accountable and durable player for the Bears—one that the new Chicago front office felt worthy of a seven-year extension through 2020.


Jay Cutler NFL stats
Year G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate
2006 5 81 137 59.1 1,001 9 5 88.5
2007 16 297 467 63.6 3,497 20 14 88.1
2008 16 384 616 62.3 4,526 25 18 86.0
2009 16 336 555 60.5 3,666 27 26 76.8
2010 15 261 432 60.4 3,274 23 16 86.3
2011 10 182 314 58.0 2,319 13 7 85.7
2012 15 255 434 58.8 3,033 19 14 81.3
2013 11 224 355 63.1 2,621 19 12 89.2
2014 15 370 561 66.0 3,812 28 18 88.6
2015 5 106 174 60.9 1,231 7 4 86.2

pro-football-reference.com

The perception of Jay Cutler's career has been the result of ripple effects. 

A reserved, somewhat unconfident personality grew into a gifted but pressured high school athlete. 

Those gifts drew him to Vanderbilt, where a lack of supporting cast forced him to make things happen through his own talent and determination in the ultracompetitive SEC. 

Nothing to show outwardly for the efforts, he began to question in his own mind whether he had what it took. But flashes of brilliance caught the eyes of many, and Cutler's confidence grew his senior season.

Scouts and coaches acknowledged his abilities, but bad habits developed from years of "winging it" on his own would need to be weeded out for any chance at success in the NFL.

A perfect scenario seemed to fall into place with Denver: talented and successful club, Super Bowl head coach, veteran QB to learn behind, commitment to development. But sticking to the original plan wasn't something he could control, and old habits can die hard.

Cutler's full development never took place, and though there were many outward signs of improvement, he was essentially sent to Chicago without his degree, and the Bears weren't looking for a project. So Cutler reverted back to what he knows best and relied upon himself.

One of the last things I remember looking at in Cutler's draft file years ago sums it up best. A quote from Cutler from the predraft process:

"Quarterbacks have to be the smartest guys on the team, but they also have to be the dumbest guys on the team. I'm looking downfield trying to deliver the ball, whether someone is coming or not. In the past three years here, someone's usually been coming.

"To come into this situation and put everything I have into it, and coming up short time after time, it takes a toll on you. It makes you wonder if you are really that good or that talented, or if you're the guy for the job.

"Not being able to get the job done when you've always been able to get the job done, it definitely makes you question if you're as good as you might think."

 

Ted Sunquist is a former general manager of the Denver Broncos, boasting the second-longest GM tenure in Broncos history and second-highest win percentage in Broncos history. You can follow Ted on Twitter at @Ted_Sundquist.

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