A Pivotal Season For Two Quarterbacks

The upcoming 2015 NFL season is important for a number of individuals across the league. Coaching jobs, careers, and generational wealth could all be determined in a single season. With that in mind, I have identified two starting quarterbacks for which 2015 could make or break their careers.   Sam Bradford – Philadelphia Eagles When the St. Louis Rams made Sam Bradford the top pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, they were hoping that they had FINALLY found the man to replace Kurt Warner (no offense Marc Bulger). Bradford was a decorated collegiate quarterback who, as a redshirt sophomore, threw for an Oklahoma Sooners record 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. Bradford’s career with the Rams got off to a terrific start as he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 after setting a record for completions by a rookie. Bradford earned the honor without much talent around him. His receivers that year consisted of Danario Alexander, Mark Clayton, Donnie Avery, and Danny Amendola. Only Amendola is still currently on a NFL roster. Bradford’s fortunes started turning for the worse in 2011 as he missed six games due to a lingering ankle injury. Then in 2013, after starting seven games, Bradford tore the ACL in his left knee in a game versus Carolina and missed the rest of the season. After a grueling rehab, Bradford was excited and ready to go for the 2014 season until he tore the same ACL during the third week of the preseason. In his five years with the Rams, Bradford started 16 games in a season only twice (2010 and 2012) and compiled a record of 18 – 30 – 1 as the starter. When Chip Kelly and the Eagles traded their current starting quarterback, Nick Foles, along with a second round pick to St. Louis for Bradford this offseason eyebrows were raised. The Eagles traded valuable assets for a player who by the time the 2015 season kicks off will not have played a regular season game in 22 months. Rumors swirled that Kelly had acquired Bradford in hopes of being in a position to draft former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Those rumors never came to fruition and Bradford heads into the upcoming season as the projected starter. With the Eagles, Bradford will be operating in an offense similar to the one he excelled in at Oklahoma, a fast paced spread scheme where they dictate tempo and place a lot of pressure on the defense.  The Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma during Bradford’s time was Kevin Wilson. Wilson and Kelly know each other well and they both run a very similar offense. What seems to make Bradford a good fit for this offensive system is his ability to quickly decipher what the defense is attempting to do and his quick release. Bradford is also a very accurate passer with the ability to “throw a receiver open”,  often hitting them in stride and allowing them to pick up additional yardage. The addition of Bradford’s former teammate and roommate at Oklahoma, DeMarco Murray, will also be beneficial. With more offensive weapons around him, a familiar system he has experienced success in, and an offensive minded head coach, Bradford, for the first time in his NFL career, might be set up to succeed. It could turn out that the trade which took the NFL by surprise could have been the best thing to happen to Bradford. Recent reports of Bradford opting not to engage in contract extension talks with the Eagles could be a good indication on how confident Bradford is heading into 2015. Bradford has decided to gamble on himself. Bradford is confident that he can overcome the injury bug that has plagued him for most of his five year career and confident that he is finally with the right coach and an offensive scheme that fits his strength to a tee. Bradford has decided that 2015 will be the year where he answers all the questions regarding whether or not the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft will forever be labeled a “bust”. Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears To say Jay Cutler, at the beginning of his career, was a little brash, cocky, and immature would be putting it mildly. How else would you explain Cutler proclaiming to The Sporting news in 2008 that he had a stronger arm than former Broncos legend John Elway?  Or that the Broncos offense should put up 30 points a game that season, and that Denver should be the favorite out of the AFC to reach the Super Bowl. That season, the Broncos finished 8 – 8, missing the playoffs for the third straight season, and eventually costing Mike Shanahan his job. Cutler did make his only Pro Bowl as he threw for over 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. 2008 would also be Jay Cutler’s last season in a Broncos uniform as a disagreement with new Head Coach Josh McDaniel, over his attempts to trade Cutler for Matt Cassel, caused too many hurt feelings and bruised egos leading Cutler to force a trade out of Denver. Cutler was traded to the Bears to start the 2009 season, and ever since then, his career has been a roller coaster. 2015 will be Cutler’s seventh season in Chicago under three different head coaches (Smith, Trestman, and Fox) and under five different offensive systems. Cutler has learned and run offenses coordinated by Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice, Marc Trestman / Aaron Kromer, and Adam Gase. Stability on the offensive side of the ball has also been lacking during Cutler’s tenure in Chicago. Even though Cutler has thrown for almost 28,000 yards and over 180 touchdowns, his career in Chicago has been marred by untimely turnovers (130 interceptions, 45 fumbles), criticism regarding his facial expressions and demeanor, and questions about his passion for the game and his leadership ability. To his credit, Cutler has never snapped back at critics or any negative publicity that has been geared towards him. The hope was that all of his hard work was finally paying off in 2013 as Cutler, under Trestman, put together a solid season that saw him produce the highest quarterback rating of his career to date (89.2). Optimism was rampant in Chicago that Trestman was finally the right offensive mind that could challenge Cutler intellectually and tap into his vast potential. After that season, Cutler was given a seven-year 126 million dollar contract (with 54 million guaranteed) indicating that the Bears were committed to making Cutler the face of their franchise. A team steeped in a tradition of playing tough, hard-nosed defense would now be an offense first team, who would rely on their quarterback and his weapons to outscore their opponents in order to win games. After a horrible 2014 season both on and off the field, those plans were scrapped quickly as Bears ownership cleaned house by firing GM Phil Emery and Trestman. Ryan Pace was brought in from the New Orleans organization as the GM, and he quickly hired John Fox as his head coach. Right off the bat, things were different for Cutler now that Pace and Fox were in charge. Neither man committed to Cutler as their quarterback during their respective introductory news conferences. Cutler was no longer being consulted on possible offensive coaching hires or player acquisitions as he was during the previous regime. Pace was not the general manager who signed off on the 126 million dollar contract the year before. John Fox is not a first time head coach that Cutler can assume he will outlast. This time, if expectations are not met, the Head Coach isn’t going anywhere. The Offensive Coordinator (unless he chooses) will not be going anywhere. This time, Jay Cutler will be the one walking the plank. Again, to his credit, Cutler has not lashed out about the apparent lack of support. Instead he has shown that he has matured since 2008, and has taken accountability for the lack of offensive success. He has shown leadership in being one of the first to text newly signed players or draft picks welcoming them to the team. He has gathered his offensive teammates down at his home in Nashville to organize extra training sessions. With weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Kevin White, and with Adam Gase calling the plays this just might be the best collection of coaching and talent he has had as a member of the Bears. This also might be Cutler’s last chance in Chicago.  Cutler has taken a beating both locally and nationally. He has gone from being a potential franchise quarterback to an average or in some cases below average starter. In a recent ESPN piece, 35 NFL coaches and talent evaluators were polled to help rank all 32 starting quarterbacks and place them into tiers. Cutler was ranked 21st and placed into tier 3 which was defined as “Quarterbacks who are good enough to start but need lots of support, making it tough to contend at the highest level”.  One head coach was anonymously quoted as saying he would want Cutler as a backup. 2015 is shaping up to be the most important season of Jay Cutler’s NFL career: a season that could restore faith in a physically talented quarterback, or a season that could continue to give ammunition to the doubters and skeptics to keep pounding on a beleaguered quarterback who has not lived up to his potential. Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp.  Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56
Danny Shimon
NFPost Scouting 101 & Scouting Seminar Graduate. Bears writer for www.windy-citysport.com

Upcoming Games

Sep 23rd, 8:20 PM

Carolina -4.5 -110

Houston +4.5 -110

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Indianapolis +3 -115

Tennessee -3 -115

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

LA Chargers +7.5 -107

Kansas City -7.5 -107

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Washington +7 -102

Buffalo -7 -102

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Chicago +8.5 -107

Cleveland -8.5 -107

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Atlanta +2.5 -107

NY Giants -2.5 -107

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Cincinnati +6.5 -107

Pittsburgh -6.5 -107

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Baltimore -7.5 -110

Detroit +7.5 -110

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

New Orleans +3 -110

New England -3 -110

@

Sep 26th, 1:00 PM

Arizona -6 -110

Jacksonville +6 -110

@

Sep 26th, 4:05 PM

Miami +1 -107

Las Vegas -1 -107

@

Sep 26th, 4:05 PM

NY Jets +7.5 -107

Denver -7.5 -107

@

Sep 26th, 4:25 PM

Tampa Bay +2.5 -110

LA Rams -2.5 -110

@

Sep 26th, 4:25 PM

Seattle -2.5 -107

Minnesota +2.5 -107

@

Sep 26th, 8:20 PM

Green Bay +3 -107

San Francisco -3 -107

@

Sep 27th, 8:15 PM

Philadelphia +3.5 -110

Dallas -3.5 -110

@

Sep 30th, 8:20 PM

Jacksonville +0.5 -116

Cincinnati -0.5 -116

@