NFC North: Cutler traded
I have a hunch you'll be interested in these numbers as you munch your Sunday brunch. That is, if you can stop thinking about green eggs and ham after reading the preceding sentence.
Anyway, we've analyzed the Jay Cutler trade in just about every way imaginable, but there's one more we couldn't begin to touch on our own. Our friends at Football Outsiders bring a unique perspective of quantitative analysis to the NFL, and their take on Cutler's career thus far is informative and revealing.
There has been plenty of discussion about Cutler's role in the Broncos' offensive success relative to their long-proven system and stable of talent. How much was Cutler and how much was Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and Mike Shanahan? And how good could have Cutler been if the Broncos maxed out at 8-8 last season?
The Outsiders crew judges quarterbacks based on what they add to an offense, comparing their performance to that of an "average" quarterback. The statistic is known as DYAR (Defensive-adjusted Yards After Replacement). If you're curious about how this works, check here.
You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entirety of this analysis from Outsiders' Aaron Schatz. But in Schatz's estimation, Cutler was one of the five best quarterbacks in the NFL last season. Based on DYAR, Cutler threw for 1,382 more yards than an "average" quarterback would have in the Broncos' offense.
Meanwhile, based on Outsiders' methods, Cutler last year played with the second-worst NFL defense in the past 15 seasons. And, as we humbly noted Friday, Cutler had a 94.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter last season. Those two measures would seem to limit his responsibilities for the Broncos' eight losses last season.
I know these statistics are neither fool-proof nor without exception. But I always like the way Outsiders provides reasoned documentation to back up or contradict anecdotal observations.
After a month headlining "America's Top Cry-baby," Jay Cutler kept it nice and bland in his first appearance as Chicago's new quarterback. Appearing at a news conference Friday in Lake Forest, Ill., Cutler offered no defense of his recent showdown with the Denver Broncos and downplayed the urgency of winning over a new locker room.
|AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh|
|Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo (left) and head coach Lovie Smith welcomed new quarterback Jay Cutler to the team Friday night.|
"I'm not going to change everyone's mind in this room. There is going to be good articles. There is going to be bad articles. But hopefully over time I can win everybody over."
The Bears already have a strong set of veteran leaders, ranging from center Olin Kreutz to linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. So Cutler won't have to step into a prominent position the moment he walks into the locker room. Coach Lovie Smith, in fact, said the Bears are expecting nothing more than for Cutler to "be another teammate."
Cutler, of course, would be smart to tread lightly at first -- and not just because of his reputation, deserved or otherwise. He is replacing a popular former teammate in Kyle Orton, and it's only natural for some veterans to withhold judgment. I think that sentiment was evident in the words of Urlacher, who seemed somewhat reserved in an interview Thursday night with the Chicago Tribune.
Urlacher: "I guess we got better as a team. You get a quarterback who is a Pro Bowl guy. But I will say this: I think Kyle Orton is a good quarterback. He's a great teammate. I hope he does really well in Denver."
Urlacher went on to say:
"I don't think Jay is going to be an issue. We have a pretty good locker room, so I'm not worried about that. ... I'm not worried about him fitting in."
(In the video below, in fact, Cutler tells tells ESPN's Ed Werder that he spoke with several key Bears players -- including Urlacher, receiver Devin Hester and tight end Greg Olsen -- in the hours after the trade.)
Cutler did nip one potential hurdle right away, laughing off the enmity he once felt for Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner. (When he was the Illinois head coach, Turner rescinded a scholarship offer to Cutler. Here is the full story.)
Cutler and Turner spoke for about 15-20 minutes on Thursday. On Friday, Cutler said the scholarship issue happened "too long ago" to still be a problem.
"I think it's kind of funny now at this point," he added. "I'm back here, now he's here. Things happen for a reason. I'm lucky to be here and I'm excited to get to work for him."
So far, so good.
Ed Werder sits down with Jay Cutler to talk about the trade to Chicago.
We touched on the historic abomination of Chicago's quarterback position Thursday in the minutes after the blockbuster Jay Cutler trade, noting the Bears have had only one Pro Bowl quarterback in the past 46 years.
Our friends at ESPN Stats & Information have generated a few other ways of expressing how significant Cutler's arrival in Chicago will be. (As of now, Cutler is scheduled to hold a 6 p.m. ET news conference at the Bears' practice facility. We'll bring you updates as warranted.)
Leading off, it's fair to say that Cutler's performance in Denver last season would have qualified as the single-best season in Chicago's 89-year team history. Check it out, noting that Bill Wade (1962!) holds the Bears' record for most 300-yard games while the remaining marks belong to Erik Kramer (1995):
Cutler earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2008, his third NFL season. The Bears, on the other hand, have the league's second-longest active streak of seasons since placing a quarterback in the Pro Bowl:
Finally, the Bears have produced the second-fewest 3,000-yard passing seasons in NFL history. Only the Baltimore Ravens, which has been in existence for 76 fewer years than the Bears, have less. Chicago also has started an NFL-high 22 different quarterbacks since 1990. Take a look:
A very specific visual passed through my head Thursday night as I considered the Jay Cutler trade from a NFC North-wide perspective. I thought of a man grappling for stability on the rough side of a mountain, slipping ever so slightly while creating 10 vertical lines in the direction of his descent.
The man wore a Helga hat and Viking horns. A bear clawed at his feet.
|Dale Zanine/US Presswire|
|The Bears' acquisition of Jay Cutler has the potential to shake things up in the NFC North.|
OK, enough with the corny metaphors. My point: This trade will prove a pivot point in the pecking order of our fair division -- one way or the other. Cutler will either lead the Bears to the NFC North title in 2009, imposing a bitter judgment day for a Minnesota franchise that chose not to pursue him, or the cost of his arrival will bury Chicago under a debt of unfilled holes and lost draft picks.
When you think about it, the Cutler drama produced an extraordinary scenario in the Black and Blue. Three-fourths of our teams inquired about him at some point. Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit all considered improvement at quarterback a significant offseason priority.
The Bears acquired Cutler. The Vikings traded for Sage Rosenfels to compete with Tarvaris Jackson. The Lions, burdened by the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, must now decide between drafting Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford (or USC's Mark Sanchez) and riding Daunte Culpepper for the next few seasons.
I don't fault the Lions too much in this situation. They recognized the rarity of Cutler's availability and pursued him accordingly. But they simply didn't have the assets, in terms of draft picks in the right spots and a proven veteran starter, to complete the trade. (Remember, the Broncos didn't want the No. 1 overall pick in the draft any more than the Lions do.)
It is the Vikings who faced a much more complicated and nuanced decision. In the short-term, at least, they must live with two institutional ramifications:
- They declined to pursue a quarterback who is superior to their own at a time when the rest of their roster seems primed for a Super Bowl run.
- In doing so, they paved the way for Cutler to land with a division rival that finished two games behind them in the 2008 standings.
All things equal -- and they are, because the Vikings have made minimal improvements to their roster this offseason -- it's within reason that Cutler could account for two additional victories in Chicago this season.
- ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth warns that Jay Cutler should be careful what he wishes for. Cutler is going to an offense that has lots of holes and not many draft picks to fill them with.
- ESPN.com's Bill Williamson doesn't like the Bears-Broncos trade from a Denver perspective.
- ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike also tackled the topic Friday morning, conducting interviews with: Mike Ditka, John Jurkovic from ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Ron Jaworski, SI's Peter King and Mel Kiper Jr.
How would Chicago's season have turned out in 2008 had it not lost fourth-quarter leads at Carolina and against Tampa Bay during successive September weekends? If the rest of the season played out with no changes, the Bears would have won the NFC North with an 11-5 record.
ESPN Stats & Information offers a statistical comparison that could assuage that concern. Newly-acquired quarterback Jay Cutler had a 94.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter last season, more than 30 points higher than the Bears' combination of Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. Here are the figures, courtesy Allison Wachs:
I don't know about you, but I can think of nothing better to do on a Friday morning than look at division-wide reaction to the Jay Cutler trade. With the NFC North still reverberating by Chicago's stunning acquisition, let's let 'er rip:
David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune puts it all in perspective: "Thursday marked the most exciting, significant day for the Bears since Super Bowl XLI. A 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback and a future Hall of Fame left tackle [Orlando Pace] in the same day? Welcome back to NFL relevancy, Chicago."
The Tribune's Rick Morrissey, on the other hand, isn't a big fan of the deal: "If Jay Cutler doesn't raise red flags, Bears fans, you are color blind. From all appearances and indications, he has the maturity level of larva."
Dan Pompei of the Tribune doesn't disagree with the move but notes the Bears must focus on "alternative forms" of player acquisition after the loss of three high draft choices. Pompei: "If draft picks indeed are the lifeblood of a team, the Bears will need to be on the lookout for warning signs of anemia."
This deal will seal the legacy of Bears general manager Jerry Angelo one way or the other, writes Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com. Wojciechowski: "You have to give Angelo credit for taking the plunge with Cutler. It was more than bold move; it was a move that will end up in the first or second paragraph of his obituary."
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times comes up with the most interesting sidelight of the deal. Cutler's father, Jack, has had some not-so-nice things to say about Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner in recent years. According to multiple stories, Turner rescinded a scholarship offer to Cutler when he was the head coach at Illinois, forcing Cutler to scramble for a school. Jack Cutler called the move "dirty."
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press calls the trade "typical Lions fate." Sharp: "Jay Cutler goes to Chicago. He's now guaranteed another Pro Bowl season because he'll face the Lions twice a season."
John Niyo of the Detroit News is at peace with the outcome for the Lions: "Mortgaging the future -- even for a 25-year-old potential star quarterback -- doesn't make sense when the future's all you've got."
The tide has turned in Green Bay, writes Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "The Bears, who trotted out 21 starting quarterbacks in the 16 years Brett Favre led the Green Bay Packers, now have the most talented and established quarterback in the division." (Paging Aaron Rodgers.)
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune faults Vikings coach Brad Childress for choosing Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels over Cutler: "When it comes to quarterbacks, Childress has trouble telling the difference between Spam and Honey Baked Ham."
Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press quotes Vikings radio analyst Pete Bercich: "[The division] a toss-up right now, after putting him in there. But I think it's us by a nose. The Bears still have some serious holes to fill on defense. Brian Urlacher is becoming a liability. At the end of the year, if you watch him, he couldn't move as well, and he's lost a step. And they have critical deficiencies at safety."
"He's like everybody: A little bit in shock."
That's how Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo described the initial reaction from quarterback Jay Cutler upon completion of Thursday's historic trade. And if I didn't know any better, I'd say Angelo was still a bit stunned himself as he conducted an evening teleconference.
|The Broncos traded Jay Cutler to the Bears.|
I'm guessing that when Angelo woke up Thursday morning, he had no idea he would acquire a quarterback that would end the Bears' organizational drought at the position. He couldn't have predicted that with one mid-afternoon decision, he could upend his reputation as a conservative talent evaluator who eschewed bold moves in favor of developing his drafted players.
"Really, it came together unexpectedly," Angelo said. "... This is the first time for me. You look at the history of the league. I can't recall a situation quite like this. How it matriculated and came to the point it got to, I can't answer to any of that. All we did is react to a situation that we felt could help our football team."
The Cutler drama has played out for more than a month, and so Angelo has had plenty of time to think rationally and thoroughly about the issue. But when Denver announced that Cutler was on the trading block this week, Angelo reacted with a swiftness and aggression he has rarely displayed since the Bears hired him in 2001.
The Bears performed background work on Cutler's history of immaturity, but Angelo said they didn't speak to him directly until after the trade agreement. With at least three other teams hounding the Broncos, there wasn't time to dally. A man who has always cherished his draft picks increased his offer to a staggering two first-round picks, plus a third-rounder, to drop everything and follow his gut instinct.
"The rarity of this opportunity made it unique," Angelo said. "Really, being in this situation as long as I have, you just know when things are right. Part of it is ... feeling you've done a lot of homework. And we talked internally quite a bit as an organization. We try to measure twice to cut once, and everybody felt good about this. But we just said as an organization that we were only going to get into it to win it."
This is the same general manager who, up until this week, was prepared to enter a critical year with the unproven Kyle Orton as his quarterback. He's the same guy who has tried to get it done with Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart and Rex Grossman and Brian Griese. Jerry Angelo is the same man who chose a defensive coaching overhaul this winter over replacing some members of his aging defense. And a few people are still wondering how he expects his passing game to succeed with Devin Hester and Earl Bennett as his starting receivers.
Angelo, however, has made clear since the end of the 2008 season quarterback was his primary focus. That he stood by Orton for the ensuing three months generated further questions about his judgment, but he deserves credit for recognizing the rarity of Cutler's availability and taking full advantage.
"You can't minimize the importance of the position," he said. "We've talked about that. I know personally that's been something that's been my goal for the organization, and I felt that this was the right thing to do."
Shocking, but true.
Cutler is midway through the six-year, $48 million contract he signed after Denver drafted him in 2006. There has been rampant speculation that his desire to leave the Broncos was in part a ploy to jump-start negotiations for an extension, but the Bears haven't crossed that bridge yet.
"No," Angelo said on a teleconference with reporters. "We have not talked to his agent about that."
It's probably a matter of when -- and not if -- Chicago will approach Cutler about a new deal. After giving up three draft choices to acquire him, including a pair of first-round picks, the Bears certainly want more than three years of security.
I'll be back with a couple more posts before the night is over. Cutler is en route to Chicago and is scheduled to be introduced at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Just got off the phone with personnel analyst Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., who expressed a few fair reservations about Jay Cutler's gunslinger mentality. But overall, Williamson said Chicago "dramatically improved" its offense by acquiring Cutler from Denver and added:
"The Bears are probably the team to beat in their division. If I had to pick right now, I would pick them to win the North, where I wouldn't have yesterday. So I think that speaks to the significance of this trade."
On the most basic level, Williamson said Cutler more than fits the profile of an ideal Chicago quarterback that plays at least eight games a year at Soldier Field:
"You need a big, strong-armed guy to cut through the wind and the elements. I know it sounds simple, but the average fan tends to overlook that. Whenever you're shopping for a quarterback to play in Chicago, New York, Cleveland or somewhere like that, you better have a cannon and throw a spiral that can cut the wind. Cutler can do that in a big way. The defense has to guard the whole field, and that hasn't always been the case in the past 10 years or so in Chicago. Arm strength like that can make a lot of other problems go away."
Williamson also predicted Cutler could make a significant player out of receiver Earl Bennett, who did not catch a pass last season but has been penciled in as a starter for 2009. (The Bears no longer having a 2009 draft choice further reduces the possibility they'll be able to draft a receiver who can step into the starting lineup right away.)
Bennett and Cutler were teammates at Vanderbilt and are so close that Cutler returned to campus last year to throw for Bennett's pro day workout.
"They had a tremendous rapport at Vanderbilt, and that's actually a big deal when you talk about quarterbacks and receivers. While he was a disappointment last year, you could see a guy like Bennett being much more viable now -- particularly on out routes and intermediate routes. I don't think he's going to be a field stretcher. That will be Devin Hester's job. But Cutler is going to help guys like Bennett, [tight end] Greg Olsen and even [tailback] Matt Forte be more productive in the passing game."
Indeed, Williamson didn't believe the Bears' relatively thin group of receivers will inhibit Cutler's performance. If anything, Williamson said, Cutler's penchant for taking risks poses the biggest threat to his success in Chicago:
"Not many people have brought that up during this whole discussion about him being a great young quarterback over the past month or so. But that's a big negative about him. He can get the ball into tight windows, but I would think some of the things he does would make a defensive head coach pull his hair out. You think of Lovie Smith, who is defensive-minded and pretty conservative, and you wonder how he'll react to some of the things he does.
"People compare his arm strength to Brett Favre, but you can also compare them when it comes to taking risks. His bad decisions are off the charts, and he makes a lot of them. He'll throw a lot of picks and put his defense in a bad spot more often than you'd like. But all in all, it's a good move, especially considering where they were before this."
So much for fine-tuning.
On the day Chicago traded for Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears also agreed to terms with seven-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Orlando Pace. It's expected that Pace will take over at left tackle and shift second-year player Chris Williams to the right side, but we should get more details on that from general manager Jerry Angelo later Thursday.
UPDATE (8 p.m. E.T.) Pace got a three-year deal worth $15 million, with approximately $6.1 million paid out in 2009.
Pace has missed 25 games over the past three seasons, and St. Louis released him earlier this month. The Bears signed free agent Kevin Shaffer last week, presumably to play right tackle, but at the very least Pace gives the Bears significantly more flexibility and depth at a position they targeted for upgrade this offseason.
As of this minute, here's what the Bears' starting offensive line might look like on the first day of training camp, with an asterisk (*) next to their three new starters:
Thursday's high-profile moves have certainly shaken up the NFC North. You've got to wonder what Minnesota and Green Bay, which have largely stood pat this offseason, are thinking right now. The Bears haven't done anything substantive to improve their defensive personnel, but maybe their offense can carry them to a division title in 2009.