Friday, April 3, 2009

Bears Trade For Decade of NFC North Basement

Talk about job security for Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson. They aren't going to have to worry about finishing last in the division for years.

The Chicago Bears traded for disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler on Thursday, which given the historical quarterbacking woes down on the Midway, isn't a bad move.

Trading away not one, but two first round draft picks, though? Nuts. Plus a third rounder? Crazy. Plus their own starting quarterback from last year, Kyle Orton?

Insane. Certifiable.

Mortgaging your future and your opportunities to develop your young talent in exchange for a talented guy that happens to be a malignant head case?

It is not often you will see these words written by me, but I will say it. When it comes to Jay Cutler, I am really glad that Ted Thompson is the Packers' GM.

Of course, I am even happier that Aaron Rodgers had a solid enough season to not even make Jay Cutler the remotest of possibilities on the horizon. We certainly had no reason to trade even a second-round pick for a starting quarterback (though I certainly wouldn't object to perhaps a mid-rounder for a veteran backup).

That's the luxury of having a quarterback considered a solid starter in the NFL, though. The rest of the NFC North has had to wonder what it would be like to actually have a franchise quarterback for the better part of the last few decades. They've had to watch the Packers sit with such a quarterback lining up under center for sixteen seasons, and when he finally left, another man appears ready to take on the same role.

Franchise quarterbacks don't grow on trees, and despite all the raves of free agency, any guy considered a true franchise quarterback is locked up by his team, taking a king's ransom to free him from those icy bonds.

Don't think this is lost on the Lions, Vikings, and Bears, all of whom have invested numerous draft picks over the years on quarterbacks they hoped they could develop into the next franchise guy. Detroit invested a first-rounder on a kid named Joey Harrington back in 2002. The next year, the Bears threw a first-rounder on Rex Grossman. The Vikings threw a first rounder on Daunte Culpepper in 1999 and then a second rounder on Tarvaris Jackson in 2006.*

The Packers? A late first-rounder on a kid named Aaron Rodgers back in 2005. Nice pick, when you look at the success rate elsewhere in the division.

As you can imagine, the other three teams in the division all were reported to be salivating over the rare opportunity to get a franchise quarterback in the fold.

But the price? Far too high. The Packers had two disgruntled Pro Bowl caliber players in the last several years, and managed to finagle a second-round pick each for both Mike McKenzie and Javon Walker. I thought they were lucky to get even that.

But the Bears gave up the 18th and 84th picks this draft (a value of 1070 on the draft trade chart), and another first rounder next year. Assuming that the Bears finish similarly to where they are this year, that would be about a value of 2000 points on the draft trade chart, about equivalent to third pick overall. The worse the Bears do in 2009, the higher that value gets. Now, you add in the value of Kyle Orton, and this is essentially trading the #1 overall pick away.

But moreso, it is trading away opportunities to improve your team at many positions with first-day draft picks. First-rounders are your prime-time draft picks, chances to bring in immediate starters that you want to develop into superstars. The Bears gave that up both this year and next, and it is going to come back to haunt them.

The Packers have experience in investing first-round picks on players that simply never develop. Players like Justin Harrell and Jamal Reynolds take away that "bonus" you are supposed to get in the first round, particularly following an luckluster season. The system is designed to give you that infusion of talent. In these cases, the infusion of talent is simply lost, but also handcuffs you with a difficult-to-dispose-of salary cap figure.

Just having a talent that doesn't work out is bad enough. But having that kind of investment blow up on you? That's even worse. Just ask the San Diego Chargers how that Ryan Leaf experiment worked out for them.

And that is what I am afraid any team taking hold of Jay Cutler is getting...the next Ryan Leaf. Cutler has been Leaf-like over the past month or so, shooting of his mouth with grand shows of bravado, public self-victimization, flip-flopping, and overall immaturity. Taking on such a player is going to come with risks. This is like taking on a Terrell Owens or Randy are getting so much more than talent. You get headaches that you have to manage on a daily basis.

For teams like the Bears, who are desperate for a franchise-type quarterback, you are willing to run the risks that come with a player like that. But to pay through the nose for him? Having to take on the rest of his contract instead of being able to sign him to an incentive-laden contract with discipinary clauses? Not smart.

Cutler doesn't appear to have learned anything so far from this experience, still claiming yesterday he never wanted to be traded and that it was the Bronco management who were the ones who were pulling their evil strings with him.

This doesn't bode well for a Bears team that could really use draft picks to bolster the squad of receivers that Cutler will be passing to, and to prop up a once-stalwart defense that did a free-fall last year. The onus falls directly on Bears GM Jerry Angelo, who was apparently willing to pay the price the Broncos were asking...and maybe even a little more.

There are those that will point out that this is a huge validation for Packers' GM Ted Thompson, who has been criticized for his ultra-conservate approach to the offseason. It certainly holds some credence, but face it: this is 180 degrees on the other pole from where Thompson is. I'd even say this is far more like Dan Snyder, but I don't believe even he would mortgage so many draft picks for one player. Sign free agents to exhorborant contracts, sure. Not have a first round pick until 2011? Not so much.

There are those who would still like Thompson to inch an little closer to the middle, take a couple more soft risks to improve the team. What Angelo did took that inch and made it a mile.

The biggest winner in this whole situation may well be Pat Bowlen, the owner of the Broncos, who lost a franchise quarterback, but also lost a huge headache. Sometimes, a team can get better by subtraction. The Broncos may now be in the boat of at least half the teams in the NFL, searching for a consistent solution at the quarterback position. But you have a feeling that Kyle Orton might be a better situation for new coach Josh McDaniels than keeping the childish Cutler.

But a close second-place medal has to be the other teams in the NFC North, who will watch the Bears implode over the next several seasons and reap the benefits two games a year. But perhaps the cautionary tale will be best taken by the Vikings and the Lions, who will realize that there are worse things in the world than not having a franchise quarterback.

* Corrected factoid: I had John David Booty in the original article.


IPB said...

C.D. - I tend to agree with your assessment. Cutler's behavior appears to be the tantrum tactics of on Bus Cook. I would elaborate, but why waste a good conversation. As far as Cook is concerned, I'm wondering who else he is the Agent for (besides Randy Moss). Poor guys.... I digress.

However - I am reading several other websites and getting the drift that Cutler's a good choice, a frnachise QB for 'da bears' and they also now have (Orlando) Pace onboard for QB protection. Now, whether Pace has any gas left in the tank, remains to be seen. He has been injured and no one knows if he'll last even half a season. Yet, he may be the anchor they've been missing. Your thoughts?

As far as being glad about TT as our GM, I take the stance that just about anybody besides Mike Sherman (as GM) would be an instant 75% improvement. Thompson's track record measures againsts Ron Wolf quite well in my opinion. The only thing missing, is TT finding another Reggie White. The Reggie White coup is seriously the only difference between the two GM's. Reggie White is also the main reason the Pack won SB31. Since his departure the Pack have yet to get back there. It's always close, but no cigar.

da bears did mortgage their future and it benefits the Pack in these next two drafts. The question is: Will Cutler make Wide Receivers out of their current crop when Orton could not. Now, I've always liked Orton. I watched him at Purdue and he did about as well as Drew Brees did during his time there. Although, Orton did beat both Notre Dame and Penn State back-to-back when Brees could not. That being said, over the last few seasons you never got the sense that Lovie Smith was going to give Orton the same unbridled vote of confidence he kept giving Grossman (why, I have no idea). So, without the HC dictating everyone step up, we saw medicore results. For now, the take is "who will Cutler throw to" ... With Pace in the mix, he should conceivably have more time in the pocket to figure that part out.

I know this - our Home Opener will be a bit more interesting as long as Dom Capers is well prepared. I was at the 2004 Home Opener when we played da bears with the A-train and watched us lose in convincing fashion. Obviously, it ruined the trip. Still, I got to see all the Legends. I'd hate to see Green Bay keep up this tradition of losing on opening day.

ILpackerfan said...

I rarely see you post anything that I disagree with much less that I think totally misses the point. The point being the won/loss record and winning. This is a huge step and the most important position on the field and a position where the bears really lacked.

The key is what you said about the value of HAVING a franchise QB, obviously you are undervaluing it because you have been spoiled.

If you had had the experience of bears fans at QB you would have a very different view.

If you try and explain the different sack rates of Favre and Rodgers you would see the impact a QB makes on every position on the field.

As for IPB, well wow.

Pace is a far better risk to return and play at a high level than tauscher and even if mark comes back the bear OL is better as a whole, has the best individual starter and we have the worst.

Comparing Wolf and TT? That conclusion removes any consideration from the post.

Wolf targeted players and went and got them and he was usually correct.

TT lets other teams dictate what happens then takes left overs.

If anyone else had made a serious push for Woodson he would not be a packer - then where would we be?

Compare the first 4 years, wins and losses, winning seasons, LOSING seasons, pro bowl players.

TT is arguably not even as successful as sherman as a GM when you SELECT CRITERIA and judge them.

Anonymous said...

Booty was a 5th round pick not a 2nd

Tavares Jackson was a 2nd round pick though.

C.D. Angeli said...

IPB, thanks for your comments. I've actually been following your stuff for the past several year. I did a year of grad work in West LaFayette (so I followed Brees and Orton, too), so I am rather familiar with the mighty plains of Indiana!

As far as both your and ILpackerfans offering that Cutler may indeed be of value as a franchise quarterback, I would certainly be open to the discussion. However, I am far happier right now with a still-developing Aaron Rodgers than what Cutler brings to the table. Based on what he's done on the field, sure he's as solid as anyone. But his antics the past month or so really make me question if he is going to handle that load anymore.

Personally, I think teams like the Lions and the Bears could bring in Tom Brady and find a way to mess them up. That stated, I am willing to bet that, in the long run, Orton in Denver will be better than Cutler in Chicago. He's a head case going into a situation with the highest of expectations (given the price they paid for him), and when the criticism falls on him he's going to revert to the form we've seen.

As far as TT as GM, well, I've written about him quite a bit. I am always respectful of how he has stuck to his guns and believes what he is doing is the right way to go about it. If he is regarded in the same breath as Wolf ten years from now will remain to be seen. I think this is a critical year for him.

And Anonymous, thanks for the correction. I looked at this link and didn't notice that the Vikings 2nd pick was in the fifth round. I will make a correction in the main article!