I rarely ever write about football trades and free agent signings (the NFL Draft is a different story) because (1) even the most recognizable names on the trade and waiver wires are invariably way past their respective primes, (2) desirable players that are in their primes never get moved since they are either paid so much that they can’t practically be moved due to salary cap issues or are paid so relatively little being on their rookie contracts that they won’t be moved due to how valuable they are in a salary cap world, (3) it’s simply not that much fun to speculate compared to basketball, where one trade can legitimately change the prospects of a franchise (which is why I’m on every viable Bulls trade rumor like white on rice), or baseball, where the lack of salary cap allows for plenty of blockbuster deals both in the offseason and at the trade deadline every year, since adding a single football player outside of a top flight quarterback (who never get traded) is going to be a relatively low impact move when so many other pieces need to be in order for a team (in 99% of the cases, the addition of one football player is a piece that may help but not a cornerstone that single-handedly vaults a team from pretender to contender), and (4) Jerry Angelo and the Bears never seem to be serious players in any type of high impact trade or free agent discussion (in fact, their modus operandi for the past few years has been stockpile draft picks by trading down in the draft or obtain compensatory picks by letting guys like Bernard Berrian move on to other teams).
As a result, I haven’t even bothered to give much thought to the hubbub about Jay Cutler’s apparent fallout with the Broncos’ new head coach, Josh McDaniels. Regardless of how upset Cutler might have been, I couldn’t fathom the prospect of Denver trading away a 25-year quarterback that had already made a Pro Bowl within his first three years – name brand quarterbacks only get traded when they decide to retire, choose to un-retire two months later, and then bitch and moan about not getting his job back when the franchise that has catered to his every whim for nearly two decades decides that it has to move on after being yanked around about retirement plans for over five years. Even if I could have wrapped my mind around the thought that Cutler was truly available, I had absolutely no faith whatsoever that the Bears would offer what it would take to nab a player of that caliber. Early in the morning on April 2nd, I told a co-worker that my feeling was that the Redskins and Daniel Snyder would offer up the team’s first round draft picks for the next ten years (at least the ones that they still have left) plus ownership of any Six Flags theme park in order to get such a huge deal completed and the Bears wouldn’t even bother putting in a viable offer.
So, the fact that the Bears were actually able to nab a 25-year Pro Bowl quarterback was the most shocking transaction that I could ever remember the team (and possibly any franchise in Chicago) completing. After enduring years of that horrific graphic that every television network displayed during every Bears-Packers game with a list of the 87,323 quarterbacks that the Bears have gone through since Brett Favre’s first season with the Packers, there is actually a real quarterback in Chicago. Not only that, this quarterback may very well still be at the helm of this team in 2016 when Chicago hopes to hold the Olympics. (Note that after Mayor Daley spent an enormous amount of time and money to ensure that the visit of the International Olympic Committee evaluators this week would be perfectly coordinated, the news is now dominated by the dual headlines of the Cutler trade and Rod Blagoevich getting indicted.) I’m trying to avoid too much of the Kool-Aid (on the scheme of things, I would still wager that the Bulls landing the rights to draft Derrick Rose last year will end up being the seminal off-the-field Chicago sports moment of this generation), but I continue to be perplexed by that segment of the population that seems to be giving a thumbs down to this trade. Frankly, this reminds of the Bulls fans that began deluding themselves that Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah were becoming the frontcourt version of Michael and Scottie where they couldn’t be given up for a multiple-time All-Star big man in his prime averaging 20/9 over the course of his career. While that trade never went through (and Amare Stoudemire almost lost an eyeball a few days after the trade deadline passed), fans that complained for years that the Bulls needed a top-tier frontcourt scorer all of the sudden became scared of “giving up too much” when a top-tier frontcourt scorer was right in front of them. Likewise, Bears fans have been complaining about their quarterback situation since the Sid Luckman era (he retired in 1950, by the way), yet a sizeable segment of the fanbase inexplicably is criticizing this deal for a variety of knee-jerk (and ultimately illogical) reasons. Let’s connect this situation from one of my favorite scenes from ‘Swingers’, where Rob confronts Mike for being been holed up in his apartment for several days since he continued to be paralyzed by the break-up with his girlfriend:
There are a few lessons from that scene for the Bears fans that aren’t quite on board yet with the Cutler deal. At the top, we have to look at the things that we have as opposed to the things that we don’t have. The Bears traded away Kyle Orton, whose most notable achievements in Chicago were a fantastic neckbeard and a legendary penchant for Chi-town ladies and Jack Daniels straight out of the bottle. I’m not exactly sure what has happened over the last couple of months that has convinced some Bears fans that Orton is a guy that will lead the team to a Super Bowl victory (which is the ultimate goal as opposed to just making the playoffs by winning a mediocre division). Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman might have been the most interesting pair of mediocre quarterbacks in the NFL, but the emphasis needs to be on the fact that they were (and are) mediocre. Jay Cutler, on the other hand, has the ability to be a great quarterback – maybe not at the level of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but certainly can be in that next category of guys where you can a win a Super Bowl because of him as opposed to in spite of him. In 2008, only Cutler’s third season in the NFL, he passed for 4,526 yards, which is nearly 700 yards more than the Bears all-time single season record. Cutler’s career QB rating of 87.1 (once again, only after three seasons) would rank as the best in Bears history for a career. These are just a couple of the statistical categories where Cutler would already hold Bears all-time records, not to mention that he has already made one Pro Bowl (and I’ll say it once again, this is only after three seasons), which equals the total number of Pro Bowl appearances by Bears quarterbacks since 1963 (the lone appearance being Jim McMahon in 1985).
At the same time, while the Bears gave up a lot in terms of draft picks (first round picks for the next two years and a third round pick this year), there was no chance that any of those draft picks would have yielded a quarterback anywhere near the level of Cutler. This isn’t like the Herschel Walker trade, where the Vikings essentially skipped the NFL Draft for three years straight, or when Mike Ditka traded all of the Saints’ 1999 draft picks for Ricky Williams. A quick look at Bears’ recent and not-too-distant first round draft picks (Cedric Benson, David Terrell, Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam, Curtis Conway… urge to kill… rising) should immediately get rid of any hesitancy of Chicago sports fans to skip the first part of draft day this year and next year.
Another area where some Bears fans are bemoaning what they don’t have as opposed looking at what they do have is with respect to the team’s wide receivers (or lack thereof). I’ll agree that the Bears need better wide receivers immediately. However, that doesn’t mean that the Bears shouldn’t have gone out and traded for Cutler. Quite to the contrary, as Dan Bernstein eloquently stated on Friday on WSCR, arguing that the Bears shouldn’t have traded for Cutler because the Bears don’t have good wide receivers is like saying that you don’t want to pick up a million dollars in cash that you’ve won because you don’t own a suitcase. The Bears can still add a competent wide receiver this offseason (either through the use of a second round draft pick or signing a veteran like Torry Holt or Marvin Harrison) and, practically speaking, it’s a whole lot easier (not easy, but easier) trying to find wide receivers than a Pro Bowl quarterback that’s only 25 years old. Don’t forget that the Bears still have Earl Bennett on their roster – last year’s third round draft pick that happened to be Cutler’s favorite wide receiver target in his final year at Vanderbilt. Plus, this “we don’t have wide receivers” lament is suited in the old Bad Rex/Orton world, where the Bears needed wide receivers that could make their quarterbacks better. Now, the Bears actually have a quarterback that can make the team’s wide receivers better (as it should be).
It also seems like some Bears fans have gotten used to the pain of not having a top level quarterback for so long that they can’t handle a living a life without such pain. Every Bears fan under 70 years old (think about that for a second – that’s not hyperbole) has only known a franchise that has had mediocre (at best) or Division I-AA level (Jonathan Quinn, Peter Tom Willis, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, Will Furrer, Rick Mirer… urge to kill… rising) quarterback play, so I think there’s some of us that will actually miss those Monday mornings after the game where Chicago sports talk radio contains 4 straight hours of censored expletives about the lack of our passing game. So, some of these Bears fans start throwing out some of the aforementioned complaints, or the supposed scarlet letter that “Jay Cutler hasn’t won a playoff game yet” (once again, he’s only been in the league for three seasons). By that short-sighted logic, we should sign Rex Grossman to a lifetime contract since he got us to the Super Bowl. Are we scared of entering a world where we can’t just blame Bears losses on the lack of a QB? Maybe some people can’t handle it, but I’m more than ready to move on.
Finally, this whole situation is absolutely manifest destiny applied to the NFL. Think of the number of crazy events that had to occur in order to set this trade into motion: (1) Tom Brady gets knocked out in the first few minutes of the 2008 season, (2) Matt Cassel steps in cold turkey after being a backup since literally high school (since he got to carry the clipboard behind both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC) and leads the Patriots to a record that would have landed them in the playoffs almost every other year, (3) Denver doesn’t make the playoffs and Mike Shanahan gets fired after having brought the franchise two Super Bowl victories, (4) the Broncos then hire Josh McDaniels, who coached Cassel as offensive coordinator with the Patriots, (5) Cassel gets the franchise tag placed on him by New England so that he wouldn’t go to free agency and the team could get some value back for him on the trade market, (6) McDaniels does everything other than publicly proclaim Cassel as being perfect for his system and the Broncos try to trade Cutler for him, (7) Cutler really doesn’t like this, (8) Cassel gets traded to the Chiefs, but McDaniels continues to indicate that his special sauce offense is going to be changed around in a way that it goes against all of Cutler’s strengths, (9) Cutler absolutely positively doesn’t like this, (10) Cutler does everything but publicly proclaim that he will never play for McDaniels, (11) for some inexplicable reason, McDaniels doesn’t do everything in his power to calm down a young franchise quarterback that the long-term stability of his coaching job will depend upon, (12) the Broncos are then essentially forced to put Cutler on the trading block, (13) Jerry Angelo has the intestinal fortitude to go against every precedent that his organization has set in terms of high-profile trades and “got in it to win it” as he put it, and (14) the Bears trade for Cutler to get the quarterback that they have never had.
While a number of Bears fans are a bit turned off by Cutler’s apparent negative reaction to criticism (and he’ll certainly need to become thick-skinned immediately to deal with a rabid Chicago media and fan base that can turn on a misguided interception), there aren’t too many good quarterbacks that aren’t prima donnas. I’ll challenge anyone to find a larger prima donna in sports than Brett Favre and, in all probability, the biggest d-bag in your high school class was the quarterback of your football team. It all doesn’t matter if it means legitimate chances to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Chicago.
If anything else, the Sunday night regular season opener between the Bears and Packers at Lambeau Field is going to be a whole lot more interesting both locally and nationally. Let’s say this again because I still can’t quite believe it: the Bears actually have a real quarterback. The future is beautiful, Bears fans.
(Image from Midwest Sports Fans)