Jay Cutler may be 31-years old, but that doesn’t mean the Chicago Bears quarterback is in danger of decline. Here are some prominent names in NFL history who peaked late.
Another beneficiary of the Marc Trestman touch. Rich Gannon is a remarkable case. Drafted in 1987 and traded to Minnesota, he spent the first 11 seasons of his career with three different teams. He didn’t start a game until 1990, was traded to Washington in 1993, sat out 1994 with a shoulder injury, and signed on as a backup in Kansas City until 1998, often in competition for the starting job but never winning it. At no time during those years did he even come close to 3, 000 yards passing or 20 touchdowns.
It wasn’t until he was 34-years old that Gannon finally landed with the Oakland Raiders, run by a head coach in Jon Gruden and an offensive coordinator in Trestman who knew how to develop quarterbacks. Gannon went on to four-straight Pro Bowls, topping it all off with an MVP and Super Bowl berth in 2002 at the age of 37.
All anybody can remember about Roger Staubach is the dazzling plays he made in the 1970s with the Dallas Cowboys. The scrambling ability coupled with icy cool play late in game help America’s Team with two Super Bowls in the decade. What many don’t know is that Staubach didn’t enter the NFL until 1969 despite being drafted in 1964. That is because he had a commitment to the Navy, which required him to spend those five years in Vietnam.
By the time he joined the Cowboys he was already 27 and Staubach didn’t become a starter until he was 29. Then the next year, an injury knocked him out for most of the season, giving the team reason to doubt his future. By the time he was fully in place with Dallas the next year, he was 31. From that point on he would reach three more Super Bowls, win one of them and earn five Pro Bowl honors including the year he retired at age 37.
No media analyst has been a more ardent supporter of Jay Cutler than Steve Young. Perhaps it’s because he sees so much similarities between his career and Jay’s. Both were individually talented stars at hard luck programs in college, Young at BYU and Cutler at Vanderbilt. Both went through early career struggles. The first league Young played for, the USFL, folded in his second year. Cutler suffered from an unknown ailment in 2007 that was later diagnosed as Type 1 diabetes. Also, both had the unenviable task of living in the shadow of a legend. Young replaced Joe Montana in San Francisco and Cutler was the first quarterback Denver had selected in the 1st round of the draft since John Elway.
What nobody also knows is that Young took a long time before he became great. He didn’t even enter the NFL until he was 24-years old. In two miserable seasons with Tampa Bay he won just 3 of 19 games and threw 11 touchdowns to 21 interceptions.
Soon after he was traded to San Francisco in 1987 where he spent the next five seasons backing up Montana. It wasn’t until 1992 that he became a full-time starter. Young was 31-years old. Two years later at age 33 he won the Super Bowl.
What do all these names have in common with Jay Cutler? They all had obvious talent for the game. What they lacked was the right system and the necessary help around them. The Chicago Bears have provided both. That is why his years to come should be the best of his career.
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