NFC North Q&A: Chicago Bears

Will Jay Cutler be worth the big price the Chicago Bears paid to get him? Can Devin Hester become a a No. 1 receiver? These are two of many important questions Lovie Smith must answer during the '09 season. Read what senior NFL reporter Adam Caplan has to say on these subjects.

Issue No. 1: Is Jay Cutler worth what the Bears gave up to get him?
When the Bears acquired Cutler from the Denver Broncos and gave up first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, along with a third-round pick in 2009 and QB Kyle Orton, many were stunned that they were willing to part with so much compensation. But why?

When is the last time the Bears had a quality quarterback that they could build around? Former first-round pick Cade McNown? How about Erik Kramer? Or another former first-round pick, Rex Grossman? If you were to go through the team's entire history dating back to their start in 1922 – they were called the Decatur Staleys before that – you would be hard-pressed to find a "franchise" quarterback.

Sure, Jim McMahon was a decent starter for maybe four to five years, but he never threw for more than 15 touchdowns during his tenure with the Bears. Kramer had a monster season back in 1995 (29 TD passes), but he never could sustain that success, and only had two seasons where he started eight games or more for the team out of his five with Chicago. There were others like Jim Harbaugh and Billy Wade who enjoyed modest success, but you would have go all the way back to the Sid Luckman years to find anything close to solid numbers. And even then, Luckman had just two seasons of 20 or more touchdown passes. Cutler has thrown 45 TDs the past two campaigns.

Cutler has looked to be the real deal in OTAs.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Why will Cutler be any different? Cutler has perhaps the best arm in the NFL since Dan Marino, and he's capable of making just about any throw. He's coming off of season in which he threw for more than 4,500 yards – no Bear quarterback has ever thrown for over 4,000 yards or more in any season. Yes, he threw 18 interceptions, but he had little choice but to throw the ball as much as he did. The Broncos couldn't sustain any semblance of a running game, and their defense was terrible for most of the season. Also, keep in mind Cutler, who just turned 26, is entering only his third full season as a starter.

Cutler is in a very good offensive system under coordinator Ron Turner. Kramer had 29 touchdown passes on just 315 attempts – just shy of 20 per game – under Turner in 1995, so there has been a quarterback that has achieved high success in this system. Kramer's problem is that he suffered various injuries that curtailed his play.

And with a strong-armed passer behind center, it will be hard for defenses to key on Matt Forte. That should result in bigger rushing lanes for the second-year back. While many point to a lackluster group of receivers, Cutler will make them all better because he has the ability and the willingness to make every throw.

If you're a Bears fan and still wondering if Cutler is worth it, ask yourself this: Would I want to have a starting quarterback who might possibly be the most talented in the league and who figures to be behind center for the next 10 years or so? That should be an easy answer.

Issue No. 2: Can Devin Hester be a solid starting wide receiver?
When at the Scouting Combine last year, it was clear that Hester was going to be moved to wide receiver. The talk there was that he was going to make the switch full-time, and even one team source said the expectation was that he would become a 70-80 catch receiver down the road.

Hester started eight games last season and posted a decent 51 catches. Not bad for a player who came into the league as a cornerback and special-teams returner.

Hester is the No. 1 target by default in Chicago.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The most noticeable improvement Hester made last season was in his route running. He often would beat a defender to only miss out on a big play because the ball was thrown off the mark or the timing was just a bit off between him and the quarterback. He also did a nice job of going back to the ball instead of simply waiting for it to get there.

Another area which surprised many was his hands. Hester didn't fight the ball, which many younger receivers often struggle with.

With Cutler throwing to him, Hester's 13.6 career yards-per-catch average should go up to over 15. It's just a matter of the two getting enough time together on the field so they can develop solid timing and chemistry.

But can Hester be a No. 1 receiver?

Physically, probably not. Those kind of receivers are usually bigger and command double teams. Down the road, Chicago probably will have to add a wideout with size to complement Hester. But there's no doubt that Hester is capable of becoming a big-play threat as soon as this season with Cutler under center.

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