April 2, 2009

Did Bears overpay for Jay Cutler?

Of course the Bears overpaid for Jay Cutler. Two 1st-round draft picks, a 3rd, and a 26-year-old starting quarterback is a hell of a lot to give up for a guy with a career record of 17-20. But that doesn't necessarily make it a bad deal.

Trades for Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks are rare in the NFL, but there have been a few* which we can use for comparison. Off the top of my head, as well as the head of my friend Phat Clemenza:

1967: The Vikings trade Fran Tarkenton (age 27) to the Giants for 1st- and 2nd-round picks in '67, a 1st in '68, and a 2nd in '69.
Caveats: Like a certain QB making headlines, Tarkenton had a rocky relationship with his coach. The return for the two-time Pro Bowler was pretty similar to what the Broncos received.

1972: The Vikings re-acquire Tarkenton (32) in exchange for two 1sts, QB Norm Snead, WR Bob Grim, and RB Vince Clements.
Caveats: As Orton will likely do, Snead became the starting quarterback for his new team. Unlike Orton, he was already 33. It would appear that Tarkenton's value dropped very little in the five seasons, not that surprising since he made three more Pro Bowls in that span.

: The Patriots trade Jim Plunkett (28) to the 49ers for a pair of 1st-rounders in '76, their 1st- and 2nd-round picks in '77, and QB Tom Owen.
Caveats: None really. Plunkett had a longer, less successful, and more pock-marked NFL track record than Cutler, but he had been the first overall pick in 1971; Cutler went 11th in 2006, and was the third quarterback selected. Amazingly, only two years after giving up such a bounty of picks, the Niners just flat out released Plunkett. Looking at the overall package, however, this could have been the template the Bears and Broncos used to make the deal.

1987: The 49ers acquire Steve Young (25) from the Buccaneers for 2nd- and 4th-round picks.
Caveats: Lots of people loved Young and thought he was a stud, but he hadn't experienced much success (either statistically or record-wise) after two seasons as a starter on the NFL's perennial losers, so those astute Bucs considered him a bust and replaced him with No. 1 overall pick Vinny Testaverde. Add in that the 49ers' organization was the best in the league, and it's no wonder Tampa got pantsed.

1993: The 49ers get a 1st rounder for Joe Montana (36), S David Whitmore, and a '94 3rd rounder.
Caveats: Not much return for the greatest QB of all time. But Montana had been injured the previous year and wanted out because Young had won the league MVP in his place -- thus rendering him completely expendable -- so he essentially brokered the deal to the Chiefs.

1994: Colts trade Jeff George (26) to Falcons for 1st- and 3rd-round picks, and a conditional 1st rounder in 1996.
Caveats: While Cutler has gotten some bad reviews for his recent petulance, George was a true malcontent; he would be traded 271 more times in his career. Like Plunkett, he was a former first overall pick in the draft. But his career record at the time was 14-35, and he had more interceptions than touchdowns (46-41).

: Houston deals Warren Moon (37) to Vikings for a '94 1st-round pick and a '95 3rd rounder.
Caveats: Did I mention Moon was 37 at the time? Additionally, the trade was largely a salary dump, as Moon had refused to renegotiate his deal, which still had two seasons and $6.25 million remaining, a yearly figure that was nearly 10% of the salary cap at that time.

2002: Bills acquire Drew Bledsoe (30) from New England for a 1st-round pick in 2003.
Caveats: The Patriots had just won a Super Bowl with that Tom Brady fellow, and the first rounder was for the following season's draft. In what seems to be a bit of a trend, Bledsoe was a former first overall pick.

2006: The Vikings trade Daunte Culpepper (29) to Miami for a 2nd-round pick.
Caveats: Culpepper was coming off a miserable statistical season (6 TDs, 12 INTs) which was cut short after seven games when his knee spontaneously combusted. Plus, many suspected that his prior success (three Pro Bowls) was due largely to having Randy Moss as a target, though the Bears still said they preferred Curtis Enis. Nevertheless, Culpepper's value wasn't exactly peaking.

2008: The Packers move Brett Favre (38) to the Jets for a conditional 3rd-round pick, which could've been as high as a 1st rounder had Favre led the Jets to the Super Bowl, which John Madden and Chris Mortenson assured them he'd do multiple times.
Caveats: Brett Favre retiring? Brett Favre coming back! Brett Favre retiring? Brett Favre coming back! Brett Favre retired. Brett Favre coming back! It gets annoying, doesn't it?

2009: The Kansas City Chiefs acquire Matt Cassell (26) for a 2nd-round pick (34th overall) and LB Mike Vrabel.
Caveats: Many people suspect that A.) This was an inside deal, as new K.C. GM Scott Pioli had just moved over from the Patriots and B.) That Cassel's one-season success was just a product of the system, and that he will be exposed without the best organization in the NFL around him. New England was also really hamstrung by the franchise tag they placed on Cassel. While it made certain they wouldn't lose him for nothing, everyone knew the Patriots weren't going to sign their backup QB to a lucrative multi-year contract, nor were they going to pay him the $14.65 million salary for 2009 that the tag guarantees in lieu of a long-term deal.

* There have no doubt been several others, but I'm trying to get this done before the Cutler deal becomes yesterday's news. And it looks like I've already failed. Anyway, please feel free to add anyone that I have missed in the comments section.

To me, the most striking thing about these deals collectively is the diminishing return that quarterbacks seem to be getting. Before today at least. The primary cause, as I see it? With scouting that was far less sophisticated, the premium placed on draft picks in the 60s and 70s wasn't anywhere near what it is today. Back in the day, teams used to pick up the media guides from Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, and USC, flip through the pages, and point. And that would be the guy they selected. Nowadays, very few organizations do that, though it might be more successful than whatever the Bears current draft "strategy" is. Additionally, ill-fated multi-pick trades like Minnesota's deal with the Cowboys for Herschel Walker -- where the Vikings sacrificed three 1sts, three 2nds and assorted other late-round picks and players, basically propelling Dallas to its three Super Bowl wins in the 90s -- have made teams reticent to give up too many of their draft assets.

Then how did the Broncos get so much more for Cutler? One of the biggest reasons is Cutler's age. Franchise-type quarterbacks -- I'm not yet willing to fully bestow the title of Franchise Quarterback on Cutler, but that could change very quickly -- who are 25 and signed to a long-term deal at a reasonable cost just don't come on the market very often. If at all. Young Steve Young was the only one that young, and as I mentioned the bumbling Bucs brass thought he sucked because he threw some interceptions with his 0.7 seconds of pass protection per dropback. Cutler is the only one with the combination of youth and a Pro Bowl resume,** although Tarkenton (the first time) comes close. But unlike Cutler, Tarkenton didn't possess prototypical QB size or the epic arm strength. In short, Jay Cutler was every GM's wet dream.

** You could also make an argument for Cassell, but with him having never started a game in college (or the pros before this year), there were way too many questions about his experience, as well as Belichick-and-crew's impact on his success. Incidentally, having Cassell off the market actually helped increase Cutler's value.

And so the Broncos were able to start a bidding war, or at least the appearance of one, further driving up an already inflated price. Having the Redskins supposedly show interest also helped a great deal, as Dan Snyder always overpays for everybody, making any GM who wanted in at least think they'd have to top that.

So that's how we get to the Bears overpaying for Cutler, although you can also throw in Chicago's longtime dearth of competent quarterbacks. Jerry Angelo was under a lot of pressure to come out on top here, especially with him declaring earlier in the offseason that he was "fixated" on solving the Bears eternal quarterback woes, implying that Orton was not the answer. And apparently most Bears followers didn't believe he was either -- the perception of Orton certainly wasn't helped by the coaching staff, which never seemed to show much confidence in him -- and the fanbase really wanted Cutler. His appeal to Chicago, and the excitement he already has generated, definitely tops that of anyone they could have possibly drafted.

And about all those picks... First off, I am ecstatic that the Bears actually did something bold. Instead of just hoping to methodically get better via the draft and inconsequential free agent signings, they actually stepped to the plate and took a huge cut. It's invigorating really, to see tangible evidence that they're actually trying to win. Anyway, I'm sure you already know that the Bears' drafts of recent vintage have not been all that great; if you don't, scroll down to my previous post and prepare to punch somebody/thing. So while two 1sts and a 3rd comprise a steep price to pay for a single starter, I don't have a whole lot of confidence that they would have found even one good player with those three picks. Plus, I'm sure the Bears are assuming that even in a worst-case scenario, next year's pick will only be as high as this year's (18), and they're hoping it will be somewhere in the 30s.***

*** A pipe dream, in my opinion. I don't think the Bears defense is going to be as good as in 2008, and it had already fallen off considerably from previous years. They also might experience some regression on the offensive line with new starters at both tackle positions -- even if one of them is named Orlando Pace. Plus, they still desperately need to find a wide receiver. I'll be very happy with 10 wins in 2009, meaning the pick will probably be in the low 20s.

I still think Kyle Orton has a chance to be a good quarterback in the NFL, and having targets like Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal will certainly help. But Jay Cutler already is a good quarterback. A very good one. In a very similar number of games, Cutler has a career QB rating of 87.1 compared to Orton's 71.1. However, the one stat I'm guessing will be brought up frequently in the next few days -- I already did at the beginning of this entry -- is Cutler's 17-20 career mark as a starter. Especially since Orton is an impressive 21-12. However, a quarterback is only on the field half the time -- thanks a lot, two-platoon system -- and therefore can only do so much. When the Bears defense held opponents to fewer than 23 points, Orton was 17-6, including a 9-0 mark in games where the defense allowed 7 points or less. Cutler, meanwhile, had just one game where his defense allowed as few as 7 points. But in that and the other games the Broncos allowed fewer than 23, Cutler was 12-1. So while Cutler won't have those talented Broncos playmakers anymore, he won't have their defense either. That should be very good for Jay Cutler. And Jay Cutler should be very good for the Bears.


  1. I can't wait to watch Orton take the Brocos to the Superbowl!

  2. I wouldn't be shocked if he did, in all honesty. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if he never starts another game. We don't even know what the Broncos plan is for him; they may opt to draft a QB or go with Chris Simms instead.

    Given the right situation, I believe Orton can succeed. The question is, is he in that situation now? And if not, will he ever find it?

  3. Giants released Plaxico. If Plax does not get jail time what do you think? It's not like we are not familiar with hoodlums (Tank,Briggs)

  4. The price was way too high and the defense is declining. The real question is will Cutler still be standing after 16 games with an offensive line that doesn’t do a good job of protecting the QB? In order for any QB to be successful he has to first be protected and second have some talented WR's to throw to and the Bears don't have either. I don't think the problem on the offensive line is solved by bringing in a 33 year old in the last years of his career. Now the Bears have low draft picks to find two good WR's and help on the offensive line. The good news is Forte is a bright spot and will have to run the ball successfully this year in order for there to be any chance of a passing game.

    I feel bad for Jay Cutler because everyone is expecting him to save the team and every year that doesn’t happen..... I think Mr. Cutler will find himself running around the backfield and the press a lot this year.

  5. I believe that a good quarterback can make a WR career. I think eddie royal would not even started on most NFL teams but the Cutler was able to move the ball around and made him a threat. I think bringing Cutler in makes our WR core better. Do you think most great QBs make average WR great?

  6. If you have a great QB like Montana, Elway or Favre you can make an average WR great, but Cutler is not a great QB, he is a good one, but not great.

    I think you have to have some talent at the WR spot in order for a good QB like Cutler to flourish. Cutler is a very temperamental QB and will not be happy or successful without a good WR.

    The Bears are on the clock and need to find a talented WR if they want the Cutler era to be a good one.

  7. I was in the Fort Myers airport this morning around 5 AM wearing my bears hat when one of the ticket counter people commented on the great pick up of Jay Cutler. I don't care how many draft picks the bears gave up...Jay Cutler is the greatest Bears quarterback in history before he even steps on the field. Can you think of any Bears quarterback in history that is better than Cutler? I think Angelo had to do whatever he could to get him. Nice job...And yes I was on vacation and slipped into a black hole for the last week.