Jay Cutler spent his NFL career being painted as a misanthrope with a nicotine addiction, a quarterback with all the arm talent in the world but none of the grit to match.
Cutler was never "just a kid out there." He never treated the gridiron "like his own personal playground." It always seemed like a job, but it was more like the summer jobs you coast through during your high school or college years. From an outsider's viewpoint, it was easy to come up with a central takeaway from the Cutler NFL experience: Jay Don't Care.
It's hard to say if these criticisms were ever really fair or valid. Cutler never made any effort to dispel negative associations with his name, but he also was a former first-round pick who started every game he ever played and convinced two organizations (the Broncos and Bears) he was a franchise star to build around. According to Spotrac.com, Cutler earned more than $122 million as a pro. He was doing something right! But ultimately, Cutler, now likely out of football for good at age 35, will end up as an amusing and enigmatic footnote of 2000s NFL.
He came. He existed. He left.
Ironically, we're now learning more about Cutler the person than we ever did during his 12 years under the bright NFL spotlight. The man who never cared about his brand is now in the background as his reality-star wife, Kristin Cavallari, launches her own. That would be Uncommon James, the jewelry line rolled out last year. Cavallari's quest to join the Kylie Jenners of the world is the ostensible subject of "Very Cavallari", a new E! reality show that debuted this week. But it's Cutler's periodic cameos that stole the show in its premiere.
Much of the focus of "Very Cavallari" centers on the launch of Uncommon James, its all-female staff, and the professional, romantic and personal entanglements therein. There's also an unknowable and emotionally distant lothario with an acoustic guitar who inspires drama, because, well, there always is in these types of programs. Cutler is presented mostly as an apathetic bystander with a crazy open schedule and not much ambition to fill it.
"I'm not looking to do a lot of work right now," Cutler explains to his slightly concerned wife during a dinner date. "I'm looking to do the opposite of that."
As a working husband and father of two young boys, I find Cutler's combination of wealth and free time kind of inspiring. Cutler only gives as much to his surrounding world as he sees fit, and it's typically the minimum. Sometimes (and this is fun) Cutler purposely turns himself into a piece of scenery in his own home, a surly oak tree not to be addressed or heard from while others, some unnerved, mill about in his orbit.
"I would love to sit here and say that I am not afraid of Jay, but I honestly am," one of Cavallari's underlings, Shannon Ford, says in the premiere. "I don't even look Jay in the eyes anymore because I am honestly afraid that he'll steal my soul."
What I enjoy most about Cutler in "Very Cavallari" is how on brand he remains throughout the proceedings. Whether he's interacting with Cavallari's intimidated employees or in private conversation with his wife, Cutler always behaves exactly how one imagines Jay Cutlerwould behave. It's kind of fascinating, and it makes me wonder if a) this is all performative art, or b) we had Cutler pegged right all along.
I'm leaning toward the latter, which is what makes "Very Cavallari" a compelling character study during this quiet time on the NFL calendar. It never seemed like Cutler was all that invested in the universe around him, and turns out that may be exactly the case. On "Very Cavallari", he floats through Nashville in his own detached state of qwan. An aloof ghost ingesting elk meat, a disinterested apparition in a backward cap.
Turns out, Jay Cutler was never hiding from us. It just never mattered to him that we were watching him in the first place. Jay really don't care.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Send him questions for his next mailbag using the hashtag #DotComMailbag.