Jay Cutler got his wish Thursday: a ticket out of Denver. And the Chicago Bears have a franchise quarterback for the first time in decades.
The Broncos on Thursday traded their disgruntled Pro Bowl passer to the Bears, who’ve gone through a bevy of quarterbacks without much success ever since Jim McMahon was calling plays in the 1980s.
The Broncos get quarterback Kyle Orton in return, along with two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder.
The Broncos get the Bears’ top pick in this year’s draft, which is No. 18 overall, and Chicago’s first-round draft pick in 2010, along with a third-round selection this year (No. 84 overall). Denver also gave up a fifth-rounder this year.
Calls to Cutler’s agent, Bus Cook, went unanswered. His office in Hattiesberg, Miss., was closed because of bad weather and his home phone had a message asking callers to call back later. An e-mail sent by The Associated Press wasn’t returned.
Cutler asked for a trade last month after his relationship with Josh McDaniels soured when the new 32-year-old coach talked to other teams about trading him. Cutler and his agent didn’t think McDaniels was upfront with them about the trade talks.
Two meetings designed to clear the air only raised Cutler’s level of distrust. Still, McDaniels insisted over and over that Cutler was his guy and he said at last week’s NFL owners meetings that he would do everything he could to repair their relationship.
When the rocket-armed but thin-skinned passer didn’t return the Broncos’ phone calls, however, team owner Pat Bowlen said enough was enough. On Tuesday night, he announced he had given his new brain trust of McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders the go-ahead to seek a trade for the quarterback who made the Pro Bowl in just his second season as a starter.
Now, the Bears have a top quarterback, albeit one with baggage.
“I don’t have any concerns,” Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. “(Coach Lovie Smith) and I talked about that. We did, like a lot of people who were interested in Jay, a lot of work going back to not just when he was with Denver (but) but going back to his days at Vanderbilt.”
Angelo said area scout Rex Hogan lives in the Nashville area and developed a “great rapport” with Cutler coming out of Vanderbilt in 2006.
“We felt that (Cutler) is a very good person, a good leader,” Angelo said. “He had some things that happened in Denver. We recognized 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.”
Although Cutler is 17-20 as a starter, he’s been victimized by dismal defenses in Denver, and he was an impressive 13-1 when the Broncos held opponents to 21 points or fewer.
Last year, Cutler threw for a franchise record 4,526 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. In his 37-game career in Denver, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 9,024 yards, 54 TDs and 37 interceptions.
Although he was prone to mistakes, his bold and at times risky play wasn’t just tolerated but encouraged by former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who would often laud Cutler for not just dumping off short passes to pad his statistics but instead dared to go downfield, even into coverage. He said that trait would make him great one day.
Cutler’s inability to quickly fulfill that forecast cost Shanahan his job on Dec. 30 after the Broncos missed the playoffs for the third straight year.
Cutler wasn’t happy about Shanahan’s firing. And he was upset when his position coach, Jeremy Bates, bolted for Southern Cal because McDaniels will be the one calling plays in Denver now.
When he hired McDaniels, Bowlen proclaimed that Cutler “is the man around here, now.”
That didn’t last long.
Cutler started to get over Shanahan’s dismissal and Bates’ departure and he told McDaniels in February he was eager to learn his new offense. But that all changed on Feb. 28, when Cutler learned McDaniels had talked about trading him to Tampa Bay in a three-way deal that would have brought McDaniels’ protege, Matt Cassel, from New England to Denver.
McDaniels had tutored Cassel, who led New England to an 11-5 record after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the opener last year.
That sent McDaniels’ stock soaring and landed him in Denver as Shanahan’s successor.
It seemed like the perfect match: the rocket-armed passer meets the offensive guru.
But McDaniels’ dalliance with his former pupil blew up in his face when he didn’t clue in Cutler, and now McDaniels begins his era in Denver by chasing off his 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback—and he’ll have to face Cassel twice a year because the Patriots ended up sending his protege to Kansas City instead.
As for Cutler, he won’t have to ditch his West Coast style for the intricate Patriots-style offense.
He might be going to one of the teams he rooted for as a kid growing up in Santa Claus, Ind., but he’s also leaving a great pocket of protection in Denver, where left tackle Ryan Clady is considered the best young tackle in the game, and a great bunch of receivers led by fellow Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Behind young tackles Clady and Ryan Harris, Cutler’s offensive line allowed just a dozen sacks.
The Bears, however, signed free agent left tackle Orlando Pace on Thursday.
Denver now has Orton, fellow newcomer Chris Simms and Darrell Hackney at quarterback.
Simms, who signed a two-year, $6 million free agent deal ostensibly to serve as Cutler’s backup, has thrown just two passes since undergoing emergency surgery to remove his spleen after a game in 2006. Hackney’s next NFL pass will be his first.
Angelo made it clear in December, after his team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the second straight year—that solidifying the quarterback spot was his top priority. Now, he has a Pro Bowler.
“When you just look at the history of the league, I can’t recall a situation quite like this,” Angelo said. “All we did was react to a situation that we felt affected our football team.”
Orton threw for 2,972 yards while completing 272 of 465 passes and throwing more touchdowns (18) than interceptions (12) after beating out Rex Grossman for the starting job. But he wasn’t the same after being carted off the field with a sprained ankle against Detroit midway through the season.
Orton went from throwing a club record 205 passes without an interception to throwing eight in four games before a strong finish in the finale.
“I don’t want to make anybody think that we didn’t have respect for Kyle, because we did,” Angelo said. “I feel what really facilitated this trade was Kyle was part of it. I think the draft compensation, given what I was to understand, was very similar to other teams. But they liked Kyle Orton and that was part of it. And I could see why they liked Kyle.”
The Bears will get a great but often petulant passer who is going from the long shadow of John Elway in Denver to the Windy City, where he’ll be under just as much scrutiny.
Cutler is halfway through the six-year, $48 million contract he signed as the 11th overall pick out of Vanderbilt in the 2006 draft. His salary cap number for next season is just over $1 million.
Although he probably won’t play in the game, the Bears visit the Broncos for an exhibition on Aug. 30.
Stay tuned to KKTV and KKTV.com for the latest on the Jay Cutler trade.