The Chicago Bears woke up from an offseason of hibernation on Thursday to make the shocking move of practically mortgaging their future for quarterback Jay Cutler.
Whether the stunning transaction winds up being a salvation for the franchise remains to be seen. However it works out, it represents an interesting case study between general managers.
Ted Thompson's Packers and Jerry Angelo's Bears spent the offseason trading yawn-inducing moves. The Bears signed an offensive lineman that nobody had heard of. The Packers countered by signing a safety that people had heard of only because he talked smack to the undefeated Patriots a couple years ago. Chicago responded by signing a safety that the Saints didn't want to keep. Green Bay retaliated by signing an offensive lineman that the Bills had no interest in retaining.
Then came Thursday's slobberknocker. The Bears sent incumbent starting quarterback Kyle Orton, their first- and third-round picks in April's draft and their 2010 first-rounder to the Denver Broncos for the supremely talented Cutler. And on top of that, Chicago signed former Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace to protect Cutler's blind side.
And in the process, the Bears blindsided their NFC North cohorts. Minnesota, which has never been averse to making a big-splash signing and needed a quarterback like a Hummer needs gasoline, was thought to be a front-runner for Cutler. So was Detroit, which holds the first and 20th picks in this month's draft. Instead, Angelo pulled the trigger on a franchise- and career-defining trade on par with Thompson's decision to turn his back on Brett Favre and hand the quarterback reins to Aaron Rodgers.
"It's all about the quarterback," Angelo said at the end of the season. "You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized."
Consider the position stabilized. Maybe.
Cutler has all-world talent. If you don't believe it, just ask him.
"I have a stronger arm than John, hands down," Cutler said in October in comparing himself to Denver's rocket-armed Hall of Fame icon, John Elway. "I'll bet on it against anybody's in the league. Brett Favre's got a cannon. But on game days, there's nobody in the league who's going to throw it harder than I am at all."
Throwing it hard, of course, doesn't mean a darned thing. It wasn't until Favre began playing with equal parts talent and intelligence that he became an MVP quarterback. Cutler hasn't shown that learning curve. Nor has he showed even the slightest amount of maturity while whining and crying his way through the offseason because the Broncos had the audacity to look into acquiring Matt Cassel. Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey wrote that Cutler has the "maturity level of larva" in demanding a trade but then expressing shock that the Broncos gave into his Bus Cook-induced kicking and screaming.
But, as is typically the case in sports, talent trumps everything. And Cutler, who turns only 26 this month, has plenty of talent.
The stats say the Bears have their first legit quarterback since Jim McMahon led them to the Super Bowl practically a quarter-century ago. In starting all 16 games the last two seasons, Cutler threw for more than 8,000 yards on 63 percent accuracy, with 45 touchdowns, 32 interceptions and a passer rating of about 87. But with the season on the line last season, Cutler couldn't deliver. Denver went from a commanding three-game hold on first place to 8-8 and out of the playoffs with three consecutive losses. While it's simplistic to lay all the blame at the feet of the quarterback, Cutler threw two touchdown passes against four interceptions in those games. In 2007, the Broncos went 2-4 down the stretch.
So, the wunderkind that Angelo believes can lead the Bears to a championship hasn't even reached the playoffs.
Then, there's this before Thompson and Co. contemplate whether to throw in the towel on the 2009 season. Cutler is going from Denver, where he had a strong offensive mind in Mike Shanahan as his head coach and top-flight receivers like Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal (combined 195 receptions last season) at his disposal. In Chicago, his head coach is Lovie Smith, who hasn't shown the slightest inkling of knowing how to put together a credible offense. And his targets? Devin Hester, Frankie from the pizza joint near the stadium and Eddie from the corner pub. And with no first-round pick and the salary cap invested in Cutler, help's not on the way.
So, which is the best way to build a team? Is it to sit on your hands and hope the talent on your roster plays better? Or is it to be aggressive and make a bold move that could turn the team into championship contenders for the next decade but could set the franchise back for years?
The answer to that question just adds to the intrigue that will surround the 2009 season opener between these bitter rivals.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport