At long last, the Bears have a Pro Bowl quarterback.
General manager Jerry Angelo pulled the trigger Thursday afternoon on the Bears' biggest offseason move in recent history, acquiring disgruntled Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos for their first- and third-round draft picks this year and their first-round pick in 2010, along with quarterback Kyle Orton. The Bears will get Denver's fifth-round pick this year. Cutler had recently requested a trade as the result of what became irreconcilable differences with the Broncos' new coach, Josh McDaniels.
"It all came together unexpectedly," Angelo said. "We had plenty of time to think about it, and I came to the conclusion, after talking with (coach) Lovie (Smith) and (team President and CEO) Ted Phillips that we needed to pursue this. And, (we said) ‘If we get in it, we're getting in it to win it.'"
Cutler was voted to his first Pro Bowl last season, equaling the number of Pro Bowl appearances by Bears quarterbacks in the past 44 years.
Angelo has tried a variety of ways to bring a franchise quarterback to Chicago. He drafted Cade McNown and Rex Grossman in the first round, Orton in the fourth round and Craig Krenzel in the fifth round. He brought in other teams' free agents like Brian Griese, Chris Chandler and Jonathon Quinn, and castoffs like Kordell Stewart and Chad Hutchinson. None of them panned out.
But now the Bears have the closest thing to a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman in the 1940s. The scenario that brought Cutler to the Bears was rare, not only for a Bears franchise perennially beset by quarterback problems but in league annals.
"It's the first time for me," said Angelo, a 30-year veteran of the NFL. "When you just look at the history of the league, I can't recall a situation quite like this. All we did was reacted to a situation that we felt would benefit our football team."
A couple hours later, the Bears got some protection for Cutler when they agreed to terms with 33-year-old, seven-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Orlando Pace on a three-year contract.
"I feel like Jerry and those guys are really making big steps," Bears wide receiver Devin Hester said on Sporting News Radio shortly after the trade was announced. "They're going out and doing whatever it takes, and they're shocking me. The moves they're making are incredible, and we're striving to be a Super Bowl team."
In Cutler, the Bears get one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL and one of the strongest arms in the league, but they also get a player who comes with some baggage.
Cutler's petulant behavior in his last weeks in Denver turned off a lot of football purists who wondered why he considered himself above being traded or even having his name mentioned in trade talks. Cutler essentially forced a trade when he boycotted the Broncos' offseason weight-lifting program after finding out that McDaniels had discussed the possibility of trading him to acquire ex-Patriot Matt Cassel without notifying him. Cutler then refused to communicate with either McDaniels or Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, officially requesting a trade through his agent, Bus Cook.
"I don't personally have any concerns with that," Angelo said. "We did a lot of work going all the way back to his time at Vanderbilt. We felt that he's a very good person, a good leader. He had some things that happened in Denver. We recognize those, but we treated them as just speed bumps, part of the growing process. He's highly competitive, he's highly emotional. That just comes with the territory."
Cutler's production on the field has been prolific, and that made him attractive to at least several NFL teams, including the Bucs, Lions, Jets, Browns, 49ers and Redskins. Last season, Cutler threw for 4,526 yards, trailing only the Cardinals' Kurt Warner and the Saints' Drew Brees. Cutler was seventh in the NFL with 25 touchdown passes, but he also was intercepted 18 times, more than anyone in the NFL except for Brett Favre, who was picked off 22 times.
Although he's only 25, Cutler has started 37 games, including all 16 in each of the past two seasons, compiling a passer rating of 87.1 with 54 TD passes and 37 interceptions.
Orton, 26, has started 33 games, including 15 last season, compiling a career passer rating of 71.1 with 30 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. Ironically, it was Orton's appeal to the Broncos that swung the deal in the Bears' favor, according to Angelo.
Cutler grew up as a Bears fan in Santa Claus, Ind., and will be reunited in Chicago with two former Vanderbilt teammates; wide receiver Earl Bennett and offensive tackle Chris Williams. In Cutler's senior season at Vanderbilt, Bennett caught 79 passes as a freshman.
Although Cutler could benefit from his relationship with Bennett, he will have some adjustments to make. Last season, he threw to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, possibly the best young wide receiver tandem in the NFL. They combined for 195 receptions and 2,245 receiving yards last season for the Broncos.
That won't be the case with the Bears. Aside from Hester, who caught 51 passes last season for a team-best 665 yards, the Bears are short on talent. Last year, the combined total of the five other wide receivers currently on the Bears' roster — John Broussard, Devin Aromashodu, Davis, Brandon Rideau and Earl Bennett — was 35 catches and 445 yards, all by Davis.
Lions: Who will be quarterback?
As soon as the Broncos announced Cutler was on the trading block, the Lions were one of the first teams mentioned. They had inquired about him in February.
However, the Lions didn't have a potential starting quarterback to send to Denver as a replacement for Cutler, as Kyle Orton was a key to Denver making the deal with Chicago. The Lions have the No. 1 pick, but the No. 1 pick is difficult to trade because of the rookie contract involved. They do have four more picks in the first 82, but they don't sound eager to part with them.
"We said all along we want to build this team through the draft," Lions President Tom Lewand said, declining to speak about Cutler before the deal with the Bears went down. "A lot of teams say that. But the ones who are disciplined about that approach actually do it. So ,we have to be cognizant of that goal and that philosophy and have the discipline to stick to that.
"That doesn't mean you don't make trades. But it means you do so with the recognition you're giving away the opportunity to add to your core through the draft and the recognition that it's the most important way to construct a foundation."
Stafford, often compared to Cutler, went through a private workout for the Lions on campus at Georgia. By all accounts, he was impressive. The next day, the Lions had Sanchez make some extra throws for them at Southern Cal's pro day. By all accounts, he was impressive, too.
Lewand said he is working on contract parameters with multiple candidates for the No. 1 pick.
"From our standpoint, it's about making the right decision, not when you make it," Lewand said. "So whether that decision gets made a week from now or shortly before the draft, it's less important than getting the decision right."
Vikings: Focus on retaining own players
The Vikings might not have been very active in free agency this offseason but it does appear the team is taking a proactive approach to retaining its own players.
Talks are ongoing with veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is entering the final season of his contract, and cornerback Cedric Griffin received a five-year, $25 million extension two weeks ago. And that might just be the start.
It's probably a safe assumption that talks of extensions could begin in the coming months with linebacker Chad Greenway (two years left on his contract), running back Chester Taylor (one year) and even Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson (three years).
"Rob (Brzezinski, the Vikings' vice president of football operations) does a great job of all those projection-type things," coach Brad Childress said. "I really wouldn't want to comment on (individual players) but, yeah, you're looking at the guys that are next, next, next. Where you can go out and do that. Those deals don't just happen. You've got to have them on the radar for them to happen."
The Vikings allowed veteran center Matt Birk (Baltimore) and safety Darren Sharper (New Orleans) to leave as free agents last month, but since Childress took over in 2006, they have locked up several of their own.
The list of players who have received contract extensions under Childress includes defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, linebacker E.J. Henderson, left tackle Bryant McKinnie and punter Chris Kluwe.
Childress said the Vikings' approach with Griffin and Winfield is not necessarily a reflection of the team having extra money because it elected to tread lightly into the free-agent market.
"Yes and no," he said. "Sometimes, you get presented with, ‘You can have this guy or this guy,' or, ‘You don't do this guy, you can do these guys.' We go with the philosophy that you identify the guys that you want to keep and then you try to keep them.
"... Everybody can say, the constituency can say, ‘I wish they would have been more active in free agency.' Well, you get spoiled by signing three good players last year. (The Vikings signed or traded for defensive end Jared Allen, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and safety Madieu Williams.) But those players weren't out this year, quite honestly. It was kind of a watered-down group and you know what? Only to get more watered down next year."
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