Were the Chicago Bears Right to Bench Jay Cutler?
Marc Trestman sat alone in his office. He pulled the baseball cap off of his head and placed it gently on his desk.
"Send him in," Trestman said to a team assistant. "It's time."
The assistant cautiously made his way to Jay Cutler's locker.
"Coach wants to see you," the assistant said, cowering out of arm's reach. Cutler took a last, long drag from his Marlboro Light. He flicked it into his locker, where it joined the countless other cigarette butts in the area a playbook would normally occupy.
Cutler meandered into Trestman's office and flopped down on a chair in the corner, knees wide apart and back slouched. Trestman gave his eyebrows a nervous stroke and folded his hands.
"Jay, I've got no choice," Trestman said. "The interceptions. The random shouting at the elderly. The second-hand smoke. It has to end. We're going to start Jimmy Clausen this week."
Cutler stared blankly back. Trestman shuffled in his seat, waiting for the verbal assault. Finally, Cutler broke the silence.
"So, does this mean I can, like, go home, or something?" Cutler asked.
"Yeah, okay. Whatever," Trestman replied, slamming his head into a pile of papers.
Even after the decision, Trestman questioned whether or not this was the right move. While he would be relieved to not watch Cutler screaming obscenities while carelessly chucking jump balls, he'd also have to hear Cutler sighing obnoxiously while toting a clipboard on the sideline.
Was it the right choice? Let's find out.
Cutler's 2014 Struggles
Make no mistake: Cutler's 2014 has been ugly. It has been gross. But how gross?
We can answer this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP tracks how a player performs relative to a league-average player at the same position. A player with an NEP of 25.00 would add 25 more points to a team's expected point total than an average player.
In Cutler's case, we'll be looking at his Passing NEP. This tracks a quarterback's NEP on all drop backs, meaning their NEP will take a hit if they are sacked or throw an interception. Not that either of those would ever be an issue with Cutler.
It should be noted that, because passing is more efficient than rushing, an average Passing NEP total for a quarterback will hover 42.00.
This season, 29 quarterbacks have recorded at least 300 drop backs. Of those 29, Cutler ranks 24th with a Passing NEP of 7.28. The only quarterbacks below him are Austin Davis, Josh McCown, Geno Smith, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles. Woof.
If we shift to looking at Total NEP, which includes a quarterback's rushing attempts, things get mildly more optimistic for Cutler -- he moves up to 20th with a Total NEP of 22.40. Break out the streamers and balloons, y'all!
The bad news for Cutler is that he has never really ranked well by these metrics. Below is a chart of where Cutler has ranked in Total NEP among quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in his six years in Chicago. This year is not uncommon.
There are two main takeaways from this chart. First, Cutler has been shockingly mediocre his entire time in Chicago. Second, this year has not been an exception for Cutler. He is performing exactly as he was at the end of last year. So why did they see fit to give him a fat contract then while he is suddenly deserving of riding the bench now?
There is the other side of this to consider. It's possible that Marc Trestman just wanted to give Clausen a shot. Did Clausen give Trestman something to believe in when he was a starter back in 2010? Lawd have mercy, no.
Jimmy Clausen's Adventurous Rookie Season
Since 2000, 40 rookie quarterbacks have recorded at least 200 drop backs. Of those 40, only three had worse seasons in terms of Passing NEP per drop back than Clausen. That screams promise to me.
Clausen's Total NEP of -99.62 was the worst in the entire league in 2010. Second worst was Max Hall (who?) at just -56.70.
What Clausen's -99.62 mark means is that an average quarterback would have accounted for 20 more touchdowns that season than Clausen. He was a second-round pick that the Panthers abandoned after just one season so they could take Cam Newton first overall in the following draft.
This is the guy that the Bears have chosen to start over Cutler. He does not give them a better chance to win games as the season concludes. The Bears are tossing up the white flag to prove a point.
It's possible that we've been wrong this whole time. Maybe it's not Cutler that's brimming with DGAF; maybe that man is actually Trestman. Whoa.
The Bears are last in the NFC North. They're not going to the playoffs. Trestman probably won't be back with the team next year, so the ramifications for him are minimal.
But at the same time, there is absolutely no shot that Clausen gives this team a better chance to win than Cutler. If the Bears are fine with that, then maybe this is the right move. But if they want to play to win the game, then there is no real defense for benching Cutler.
If the team had somebody else as their backup, then benching Cutler may be the right move. His performance has landed him in the zone among several other quarterbacks that have already been benched this year. But the problem is that they're benching him for Jimmy Clausen, who has thrown nine passes in the last four years and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of three to nine in his career. Instead of punishing Cutler, you're punishing any American that accidentally flips on the Bears game on Sunday.
So there you go, Marc. You get to put up with an increasingly perturbed Jay Cutler on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Eventually, that fashionable beanie of his will force you to question every decision you have ever made, and you will have nobody to blame but yourself.