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?
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 Moss...you 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.