By the numbers — as NFL MVP discussions often go — Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has no business in the MVP race at all. Not with Peyton Manning’s prominent return from injury, Arian Foster’s workhorse role on an 11-1 team, or the shear enormity of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers’ numbers.
However, despite the fact that value is almost always associated with a number or a combination of the sorts, stats aren’t always truly the best indicators of value. At least not in the way we currently look at them.
Numbers are constant but their weight among MVP voters is anything but (constant). As a matter of fact they’re easily manipulated.
Then, of course, you have numbers that are the product of a system. Rodgers, Brady, and Manning may be the three best quarterbacks in football (Top Five at the very least), but it’s hard not to argue that their numbers are inflated because of the style of offense they run, specifically in comparison to Jay Cutler, who runs a more balanced and traditional offense. (Behind an absolutely dreadful offensive line, mind you.)
You can make a very reasonable argument that value can best be defined by absence. For example, the Indianapolis Colts — a perennial double-digit win team — lost their first 13 games last year without Peyton Manning. That’s a pretty rabble-rousing indicator of Manning’s value, isn’t it?
It’s an argument they’re trying to make (rather effectively) in the MLB with stats like WAR (wins above replacement), and though there’s still a lot of resistance to its validity, WAR is redefining value in baseball.
Sabermetrics has had difficulties carving out a niche in the NFL, and WAR simply isn’t an effective measurement of value yet in football (not for lack of trying); however, there is less of a need for a statistical equation that measures wins above a replacement player when you can literally measure Cutler to his replacement, Jason Campbell. Or Caleb Hanie. Or Todd Collins, even.
The Chicago Bears are 1-6 in the last seven games that Jay Cutler hasn’t started. By comparison, they are 23-8 with him in the lineup since the bye week in 2010, and in two of those losses, he wasn’t able to finish the game.
On Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Cutler was able to maneuver the Bears back into first place (with help from the New York Giants) on the heels of the season’s most embarrassing performance on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers, without him under center.
It may be difficult to apply the same kind of fervor for sabermetrics that you see in Major League Baseball to the NFL because of the amount of data you’d have to track with 22 players on the field, but watching the Bears on Monday versus watching the Bears on Sunday was as good of a barometer on value as any.
With Jay Cutler, the Bears are a good football team. Without Jay Cutler, they are a very bad football team — obnoxiously bad, even.
Therefore, Jay Cutler is obviously incredibly valuable to the Chicago Bears, as is Ben Roethlisberger to the Pittsburgh Steelers by those same standards. How valuable in comparison to the other MVP candidates?
Would their teams suffer similar difficulties without Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Arian Foster?
That makes for an interesting discussion, but at this point, it’s a discussion that should include Jay Cutler.