Authored by Jeff Risdon - 3rd April, 2009 - 11:26 am
The agonizing in Denver is over, and so is the Jay Cutler era. With Thursday's trade sending Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton and draft picks, two teams decided to play Extreme Makeover.
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Here's the full deal:
Chicago sends QB Kyle Orton, the #18 and #84 (that's a 1st and a 3rd) picks in this draft and their 2010 first round pick for QB Jay Cutler and Denver's 5th round pick this year.
I first heard about the deal driving to volleyball, and I didn't get any of the details other than it was Cutler for Orton and "draft picks." So I started to do some speculating in my mind what I thought a fair value of picks would be, and I came up with this year's 1st and next year's 2nd. When I heard the full details, I nearly put a new moon roof in my Chrysler as I shouted out "They gave Denver how much?!?"
Quickly, I switched the radio to the Chicago sports stations, and I was shocked at the universal lauding of this deal in Chicago's favor from both the hosts and the callers. Apparently they have all forgotten that Kyle Orton (with Matt Forte's help) essentially carried the Bears to a strong start in spite of a defense that couldn't stop the run or rush the passer with any sort of consistency.
Chicago has added zero to that defense other than new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, and they subtracted talented but horribly inconsistent cornerback Nate Vasher. Brian Urlacher is a year older, stiffer, and slower. Tommie Harris has had real trouble staying healthy and has not been the same since those injuries started. They lost the leader of the defense in safety Mike Brown, though to be fair he was only good for about four games a year anyways.
Their defense is aging and regressing, with a bare cupboard of young talent that can step in and replace Urlacher or Briggs or Wali Ogunleye up front. That's what those draft picks were set to address, but now the Bears face the next couple of seasons with essentially the same defense that wound up ranked 21st, but that number is inflated by two games against the Lions. It's as if the Windy City is collectively ignoring that their franchise's long-time strength is now a major weakness.
That incredibly overrated Bears defense is the primary reason why I'm not real high on the deal for the Bears. I hear the argument that their desperation to end the desolation at QB required such a hefty price, and there is validity in that argument. But consider this: last year the Bears went 9-7 and the Broncos were 8-8, both with defenses that ranked in the lower third of the league. Orton threw for 18 TDs and 12 INTs, compared to Cutler's 25 and 18. Cutler's numbers are indeed higher, but factor in that he attempted over 150 more passes.
Now let's compare the supporting casts.
In Denver, Cutler got to throw to:
Brandon Marshall, an All-Pro and one of the most dynamic young talents in the game, albeit a flighty one.
Eddie Royal, a legit playmaker in the slot as a rookie who is only going to get better.
Brandon Stokley, a savvy veteran who offers just enough to be more than a "possession" receiver.
Tony Scheffler, one of the best young TEs in the game.
Daniel Graham, a former 1st round TE who caught 32 passes, 23 of which made first downs.
While in Chicago, Orton had to deal with:
Devin Hester, an improving slot WR, but still a far-from-finished product.
Rashied Davis, a journeyman-type #4 WR.
Brandon Lloyd, a huge bust three times over now.
Marty Booker, who hung on one year too long and had nothing left.
Greg Olsen, one of the best young TEs in the game.
Desmond Clark, a criminally underappreciated, reliable TE.
He also threw nearly 80 passes to running back Matt Forte, or about 50 more than the Broncos attempted to their bloated stable of RBs.
In short, Orton put up the same amount of wins and roughly the same TD/INT rate as Cutler with one WR who would have ever seen the field in Denver. I'll give the Bears the edge in the TE department, but you don't leave the safety on a rifle like Cutler's by having him throw nearly 60% of his passes to tight ends and running backs. That is not playing to his strengths.
I don't want to be overly negative towards the Bears, because much like the Bills signing Terrell Owens, there is more at play here than just X's and O's. The perennial search for a franchise QB in Chicago is over, and Cutler is just 26 and still developing.
He's got a fantastic arm, good control, and good mobility. He also grew up a Bears fan, and he steps into a strong locker room where he won't need to be the dynamic leader he never was in Denver. With the recent signings of Kevin Shaffer and Orlando Pace, they've addressed their OL woes adequately enough for one year or so. The loss of the draft picks really hurts, but Cutler will still be in his prime years when the team gets the fruition of the 2010 and 2011 drafts, not to mention potential free agent signings.
This brings legitimate excitement and energy to a fan base that was growing increasingly frustrated with GM Jerry Angelo and a stagnant mix of players and lousy 1st round draft picks. Plus, they play in a division where they can win shootout games, and with their porous defense and a gunslinger like Cutler, they figure to be in more than a few of those.
For Denver, the dirty deed was not done dirt cheap.
All those draft picks provide them the leverage to get whomever they want, wherever they want him. They can restock their lousy defense with a youthful infusion. It presents the new administration a golden opportunity to build the team in the way they want, and the lowered expectations buys them a year to take some lumps as the transition pains ache. They got a legit starting QB in Orton who is well-versed in the type of offense that Coach McDaniels wants to run.
The bottom line for me in judging the winner of the deal:
Is Jay Cutler two first round picks and a 3rd round pick better than Kyle Orton? I really don't think so, but it was probably worth the risk for the Bears for reasons beyond QB production. I wouldn't say that Eli Manning is better than Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman, and Nate Kaeding (only a complete ignoramus would), but Eli and the Giants won a Super Bowl and the Chargers have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league since that trade. I wouldn't count on it, but Cutler gives the Bears that chance, and that's not something I would say about Kyle Orton.