Through all the ups and downs, the awe-inspiring passes rifled through tiny windows and the maddening interceptions thrown off his back foot, Jay Cutler was, in the end, a 50-50 quarterback.
Actually, Cutler was 51-51 as the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback, 52-52 if you count the only two playoff games he participated in during his eight-year tour in Chicago. But it's worth noting that since 2009 when Cutler didn't start the Bears were 7-20.
On Thursday morning, Cutler asked for and received his release from the Bears. According to his agent, Bus Cook, Cutler wants to play for a contending team, but that's probably a longshot. He turns 34 next month.
The release of Cutler will give the Bears an additional $12 million under the 2017 salary cap of $167 million.
Cutler came to the Bears in a trade with the Denver Broncos in 2009 with almost unlimited potential, which he only occasionally realized. In return for Cutler and a fifth-round draft pick, the Bears sent the Broncos two first-round picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton.
Cutler was paid like a superstar ($126.7 million for seven years, with $54 million guaranteed) but the NFL numbers say he was average -- maybe a bit better.
Many Cutler critics will call it fitting that his final Bears pass was intercepted -- a testament, they will say, to his propensity for forcing throws into coverage.
But Cutler fans -- and he did have some -- will note that he threw the ball with a partially torn labrum (cartilage) in his right shoulder that later required season-ending surgery, a testament to his toughness.
Cutler's only season in the playoffs (2010) demonstrated the inconsistency that has characterized his career. In a divisional-round game, Cutler led the Bears to a 35-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks by throwing 2 touchdown passes and no interceptions for a 111.3 passer rating.
But in the NFC championship against the Green Bay Packers, Cutler suffered a sprained knee just before halftime and could not finish a game in which he posted a 31.8 passer rating. He was criticized for his performance and for taking himself out of the game.
In fairness, Cutler played through numerous injuries and almost always returned ahead of schedule.
Cutler's final game was the 22-16 loss to the New York Giants on Nov. 20. While his interception late in the game sealed the defeat, the injury that ended his season and his Bears career might have occurred on the second play from scrimmage when he took a late hit.
"We did try to exhaust all the nonsurgical remedies," Bears coach John Fox said when Cutler was placed on injured reserve Dec. 5. "Jay's a tough guy. He's proven that to me in the past with multiple different types of rehab."
Cutler missed five games earlier last season with a sprained right thumb that occurred in Week 2. In his first week back, Cutler played his best game of the season in a 20-10 upset of the Minnesota Vikings. The following week, a 26-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was his worst outing. The next week he suffered the shoulder injury but had played well until the final throw.
Earlier in the 2016 season, Fox denied rumors he had told acquaintances he was finished with Cutler after this season. Fox was asked what he had learned about Cutler in two seasons with him.
"He's extremely competitive," the coach said. "He's been very tough-minded when he's had to deal with different surgeries, the hamstring (2015), the thumb and now the shoulder. He's handled that as well as most guys I've ever been associated with."
The hamstring injury was expected to keep Cutler out 4-6 weeks, but he missed just one game.
"Jay will do anything to keep playing," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
Asked what he learned from working with Cutler, Loggains added: "How tough he is, how much he cares and how much it means to him."
But in his eight years in Chicago, Cutler was a lightning rod for criticism for his inconsistent play and the perception that he was aloof. The way he was perceived by others was different from reality, according to many teammates and coaches.
Backup quarterback David Fales, who was re-signed by the Bears late last season because of Cutler's injury, was drafted by the Bears in the sixth round in 2014. He was the No. 3 quarterback behind Cutler for two years prior to signing with the Baltimore Ravens.
As a rookie, Fales said he didn't know what to expect from Cutler.
"I've watched these guys since I was little, and when you first get in the league you're kind of shellshocked and star-struck," Fales said. "But he's been awesome."
Fales said some of the negative reports on Cutler come from uninformed outsiders.
"People talk who aren't in the building," Fales said. "They don't know him and aren't around him and aren't in the (quarterback) room with him hearing the things that he says and does. People who are talking (badly) about him sometimes don't really know him."
Late Thursday afternoon the Bears made Cutler's release official.
"I appreciate Jay's professionalism throughout this process and throughout my two years with him here in Chicago," general manager Ryan Pace said in a statement. "I will always appreciate his toughness and respect his accomplishments on the field with the Bears. He leaves here holding nearly every passing record with this storied franchise and I wish him nothing but the best going forward."
Bears chairman George McCaskey added: "We are grateful to Jay for all he did as a Bear. His ability, toughness, and intelligence were on daily display at Halas Hall and Soldier Field. He had an extraordinary impact off the field, doing things for people -- especially kids -- without expecting or wanting any recognition. I was and am a big fan of his. We wish Jay, Kristin and their three kids all the best."
Fox praised Cutler for his hard work and devotion to the team.
"Jay was always one of the biggest competitors on our roster," Fox said. "He battled every day to get better, both himself and his teammates. He was a team guy who would offer anything he could to help the Bears. Wherever his career may take him next, I wish him nothing but success."
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