If Not Orton, then Who Under Center?

Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith announced Monday that Kyle Orton will be his starting QB next year, but GM Jerry Angelo was whistling a different tune Tuesday. Angelo promised competition under center, so he's likely to bring in a free agent passer. Who might it be? Bear Report investigates ...

The New Golden Boy
Most everybody expected the Patriots' 2008 to go right down the tubes once reigning MVP Tom Brady came up lame in the season opener with a shredded knee, but then unknown Matt Cassel stepped in and just did a fantastic job – which was doubly impressive since he hadn't started a game since high school. While New England still missed the postseason despite an 11-5, record, it sure wasn't Cassel's fault as he completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions. Even with Brady's rehab apparently behind schedule, it would be nearly impossible for the Patriots to bring Cassel back since the franchise tag for a signal caller is in the vicinity of $14.7 million.

Cassel's detractors will say that it was New England's system that made him so effective, especially having Randy Moss and Wes Welker out wide, but he did have an 8-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio during a four-game winning streak to end the season.

JC's Take: It's hard to tell if Cassel is just the next Scott Mitchell or not, but it's not going to matter because the Bears can't afford to spend the kind of money it will likely take to secure Matt Leinart's former backup for the long term.

QB David Carr
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

The Reclamation Project
The No. 1 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, David Carr got his brains beat in for five years in Houston playing behind a historically bad offensive line. He certainly didn't make it easy on himself by holding on to the ball as long as he did at times, but you can't be the top dog in the draft without a great deal of natural ability. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants thought enough of Carr to make him the No. 2 to Eli Manning this year, plus his career passer rating of 74.9 is better than Kyle Orton's 71.1.

Orton might not feel too threatened by Carr's presence in training camp, but he would be enough of a name to get general manager Jerry Angelo's message across about competition in Bourbonnais.

JC's Take: If the Bears are simply looking for a quality backup because they don't trust youngster Caleb Hanie in that role yet, then they could do a lot worse than Carr.

The Wily Veteran
If you look up perseverance in the NFL dictionary, you could just might find a picture of Jeff Garcia. The one-time CFL star has bounced around four different teams in five years following some stellar seasons in San Francisco, and when you couple Tampa Bay's collapse to close out 2008 with Jon Gruden's propensity to fall in and out of love with quarterbacks, Garcia should be shopping for a new home soon. He's not going to blow you away with statistics these days, but he's a career 61.6-percent passer and is still quite athletic considering he'll turn 39 years old in February.

Garcia has a great deal of experience when it comes to training camp battles, and he's also proven to be a quick learner no matter the offense.

JC's Take: Even though Garcia carries enough of a winner's reputation in this league to make Orton a little nervous, the veteran's skill set probably isn't a good fit for Ron Turner's system because he doesn't have a big arm.

QB Byron Leftwich
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Second Chance
The Bears traded down in the 2003 draft in order to get their hands on both defensive end Michael Haynes and quarterback Rex Grossman, a move that turned out to be a mistake since Haynes was cut after three unproductive years and Grossman will leave a vapor trail out of the Windy City very soon. A lot of football fans around Chicago wanted the Bears to take a shot at Byron Leftwich, who was selected No. 7 overall by Jacksonville in the very same draft, although he's also turned out to be somewhat of a bust and is currently backing up Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. There has never been a question about Leftwich's arm and he's a great locker-room guy, but he's injury prone and has a slow delivery.

Leftwich put together a scintillating 104.3 passer rating for the Steelers in five games this season, and his career 54-to-38 TD-to-INT ratio isn't too shabby.

JC's Take: If you want a player that still believes he's good enough to be a starter in this league but won't pout if assigned to be the backup, Leftwich makes sense.

The Change of Scenery
On the surface, J.P. Losman's story reads a lot like Grossman's: a confident – many would say cocky – gunslinger taken in the first round of the draft that never lived up to expectations. Losman failed once again to win over the Buffalo faithful when stepping in for an injured Trent Edwards at times this season, meaning he will be searching for a new address before long. There isn't a team in the league that will look for Losman to be its anointed starter, but he was pretty impressive in 2006 and appeared to be a star on the rise before flopping badly in 2007 and getting cast aside in favor of then-rookie Edwards.

While it would be easy to assume Losman simply can't play well enough to succeed in the NFL, it's worth noting that three of the top four rated quarterback this season – Miami's Chad Pennington, Arizona's Kurt Warner, and New Orleans' Drew Brees – are playing for at least their second team.

JC's Take: Losman's name might not inspire any more confidence in Bears fans than Grossman's does right now, but his arm is every bit as strong as Orton's and his mobility is much better.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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