NFC North: Nathan Enderle

The Chicago Bears closed out their 2012 minicamp by waiving quarterback Nathan Enderle, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 who spent the season as the No. 3 quarterback. That job will be handled by Josh McCown this season.

The most noteworthy aspect of the move: There was another NFC North team that spent considerable resources to investigate Enderle before last year's draft.

As you might recall, the Minnesota Vikings worked out Enderle privately and were said to be considering him as a backup plan if they were unable to draft a quarterback in the first round. The selection of Christian Ponder made that possibility moot, but it will be worth monitoring whether the Vikings put in a claim on Enderle.

The Vikings seem to have their depth chart set with Ponder, Joe Webb and Sage Rosenfels. But there wouldn't be any harm in adding Enderle to that mix for training camp if they still have interest. Stay tuned, if you can stand the suspense.

Bears: Backup QB plan

June, 5, 2012
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NFC Backup QBs: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Assessing the Chicago Bears' backup QB situation if Jay Cutler is injured and misses time.

With the beating Cutler has taken in a Bears uniform and the present state of the offensive line, I commend Chicago for adding Jason Campbell to the mix. He's one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. Campbell has bounced around the league quite a bit thus far, and there could be an argument that he was never truly given a legitimate chance to thrive in one system. But Campbell plays the game slower than needed to be a true starter. He has a big arm and is a strong deep passer, which works well with the Bears’ now-bigger wide receivers. Campbell has started 70 games in the NFL, with his team winning 31 of them. The Bears also have the veteran Josh McCown and youngster Nathan Enderle, who could be the odd man out since both Campbell and McCown have starting experience. McCown has 33 starts at this level.

Confidence rating (out of 100) if Cutler is out for an extended period: 70.
Tim Tebow in the NFLESPN.com IllustrationAbove is a glimpse at what quarterback Tim Tebow might look like in a jersey other than Denver's.
I dropped off Twitter for a few minutes Monday morning while focusing on our Pulitzer-worthy breakdown of Donald Driver's turn on "Dancing With the Stars." When I jumped back on, I had 103 new tweets. About half of them were asking whether an NFC North team would try to acquire Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow after the Broncos officially sign veteran Peyton Manning.

It's not unusual to get instant questions about newly-available players, but the relative certainty of the NFC North's quarterback depth makes us an unlikely Tebow destination, to say the least. Our only locale with even the hint of a question mark, at least for 2012, is the Packers. Here is how each team's depth chart shakes out for now:
I would understand if Packers fans aren't totally sold on Harrell as Matt Flynn's replacement. I'm not sure the Packers are themselves, at least not until they get him through a full offseason in their modified quarterback school. I wouldn't be surprised if they drafted a quarterback and/or picked through what's left of the free-agent market later this spring.

But would it make sense to even consider Tebow in that vein? From what I could tell from our Machiavellian readership base, the only people who want the Packers to pursue Tebow are Bears, Lions and Vikings fans. Tweeted @ScottD408: "can we make the Packers take Tebow?"

Longtime readers will remember that we discussed a Packers-Tebow union before the 2010 draft, sparked mostly by some awfully nice comments from coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson. (That’s where the otherwise incendiary photo illustration in this post came from.)

For what it's worth, McCarthy said in February 2010 that "I would definitely love to coach him." McCarthy added: "I think the guy's a winner, just the way he plays the game. I know a lot's being said about his mechanics. Just the way he approaches the game of football, I think he'll do everything he needs to do to improve. But you look for football players. And his record in college, I think, speaks for itself. But I'd love the opportunity to work with a Tim Tebow."

McCarthy and Tom Clements, once the Packers' quarterbacks coach and now their offensive coordinator, are considered two of the best quarterback tutors in the NFL. As we discussed in 2010, if you're a Tebow fan, you would hope he lands in a place like Green Bay, where he would have a well-honed structure to straighten out his game.

But the Packers aren't a public-service organization. They would only acquire Tebow if they thought he was their best option to back up Rodgers. I'm not sure if many of us could say that at the moment.

Why did the Bears sign Eric Weems?

March, 14, 2012
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Let's catch up on the fast-moving Chicago Bears, who have curiously signed a kick returner while also adding a third veteran quarterback in the past few hours.

Veteran Eric Weems is technically a receiver, but he caught a grand total of 24 passes in four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He has returned 113 kickoffs and 77 punts over that stretch, however, and it's worth wondering why a team with Devin Hester on its roster felt compelled to sign a veteran kick returner.

There are a few theories making the rounds, most of which are pretty innocent. One is the Bears aren't counting on the immediate return of receiver Johnny Knox, who shared kickoff return duties with Hester last season before suffering a serious back injury.

Another is that Weems is simply an all-around good special-teams player, having made 55 career special-teams tackles in addition to his return duties. It's also worth noting Weems originally joined the Falcons in 2007, when current Bears general manager Phil Emery was the Falcons' director of college scouting.

But we should also note that Hester's contract originally called for a $10 million roster bonus this season. I don't know the details of when it must be paid out or how, but that's a steep total for any player, let alone one who is primarily a returner — even if he is the best returner in NFL history.

I have heard nothing to suggest Hester's future with the Bears is in doubt. I just think it's worth considering every possibility when a relatively prominent player is signed to a similar position as an established incumbent.

In addition to Weems, the Bears also announced the return of veteran quarterback Josh McCown, who presumably will compete with Nathan Enderle for their No. 3 job. Jason Campbell signed a one-year contract Tuesday to back up starter Jay Cutler. It's not often that a team has two veterans behind a veteran starter, but I'm not going to get too worked up about it if McCown ends up the Bears' No. 3, considering the quarterback problems the Bears encountered last year.

Finally, the Bears are hosting former Minnesota Vikings guard Anthony Herrera on a visit. Herrera, who was released over the weekend, joined the Vikings in 2004 when Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice was the head coach. Herrera can also play center.

Big Decision: Backup quarterbacks

January, 27, 2012
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Previewing some of the big decisions facing NFC North teams early in the 2012 offseason:

Our Air and Space division boasts arguably the top grouping of starting quarterbacks in the NFL. We have a presumptive MVP in the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, a 5,000-yard passer in Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and, in the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler, an upper-level starter who was having perhaps his best season before fracturing his right thumb in December. The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, are hoping for a big jump from first-round draft pick Christian Ponder in 2012.

The relatively settled nature of those starters overshadows what could be division-wide change in their backups. The Packers' Matt Flynn, the Lions' Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, the Bears' Caleb Hanie and the Vikings' Sage Rosenfels are all pending free agents. Let's look at the decisions awaiting each team:

Packers: Flynn could draw interest as a potential starter from several teams, most notably the Miami Dolphins -- who hired former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as their head coach last week. The Packers' only chance to keep him would be to use their franchise tag, requiring a commitment of about $14 million in cash and cap space. That's not going to happen. The logical successor is third-string quarterback Graham Harrell, and the Packers might have revealed their intentions by promoting him to the active roster late this season when he began receiving interest from other teams.

Lions: Quarterback depth is valuable, but you wonder if a team with tight salary cap problems can afford to keep two vested veterans behind their franchise quarterback. Hill ($3.02 million) and Stanton ($900,000) accounted for about $4 million in cap spacein 2011, and if the Lions desperately wanted to shave that figure, they could promote Stanton and sign him to a cheaper contract than what Hill was paid last season. But Hill has a longtime association with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and is generally considered one of the most reliable backups in the NFL. There are no easy answers here.

Bears: Hanie's disastrous stint as Cutler's replacement might have sealed his exit from Chicago. But the Bears will have new offensive leadership with coordinator Mike Tice and a quarterbacks coach/passing coordinator who has yet to be hired, so it's possible the new regime will have other thoughts. The Bears didn't think enough of rookie Nathan Enderle to start him in a meaningless Week 17 season finale, making it hard to imagine his ascendance to No. 2. That could leave veteran Josh McCown, another pending free agent, as an option. Or the Bears could seek help on the free agent market themselves.

Vikings: The situation in Minnesota is less clear-cut. Ponder remains the starter, and 2011 backup Joe Webb is under contract for 2012. Webb was impressive in one start and appearances in 10 other games, accounting for five touchdowns, but the Vikings' continued commitment to Ponder suggests they might look for other ways to use Webb. If he develops into a hybrid receiver/quarterback/returner, it's possible the Vikings would want an established veteran behind Ponder. That could be Rosenfels, a longtime favorite of general manager Rick Spielman, or he could come from elsewhere.

Final Word: NFC North

December, 30, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 17:

Lambeau Field rematch: The season's first game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions was a tense, physical and emotionally-charged Thanksgiving Day affair that included two ejections and eventually ended in a 27-15 Packers victory. The rematch figures to be less intense. The Packers are hoping to become the sixth team in NFL history to win 15 games in the regular season, but they aren't likely to sacrifice their health to do it. It's likely that coach Mike McCarthy will empty his bench at some point, even if most of his regular players start the game. Historically, the Packers have been strong finishers regardless of the circumstances. They have won their final regular-season game for eight consecutive years, the best active streak in the NFL, and are 16-1 in regular-season finales since 1994.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Lions will also have to prepare for Matt Flynn for their Week 17 game against the Packers.
Lions positioning: The stakes are simple for the Lions. A victory would be their first in the state of Wisconsin in 20 years, ending the longest streak of consecutive road losses to one opponent in NFL history at 19. It would give them their first 11-victory season since 1991, and would also clinch them the NFC's fifth seed in the playoffs and a first-round matchup at the winner of Sunday night's game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. Even if they lose, the Lions would still be the fifth seed if the Atlanta Falcons lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Otherwise, they will be the No. 6 seed and face a trip to play either the New Orleans Saints or the San Francisco 49ers.

Unleash Flynn: McCarthy hasn't said much about his personnel plans for Sunday's game, but he apparently told former NFL quarterback and current broadcaster Rich Gannon that backup Matt Flynn will get at least some action. Starter Aaron Rodgers has suggested that Flynn is ready to compete for another team's starting job, and Flynn could sign elsewhere this offseason as a free agent. But there is a limited amount of regular-season tape to evaluate Flynn on, and none of it is from this season. So that makes whatever time he gets in Sunday's game particularly valuable to his future.

Quarterback issues: The Chicago Bears will start 32-year-old journeyman quarterback Josh McCown at the Metrodome on Sunday, which I suppose is merited after his better-than-expected performance Sunday night against the Packers. But I strongly agree with Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune, who wrote this week that the Bears would be ignoring the central flaw of their season by not giving rookie Nathan Enderle extensive playing time. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie flopped after taking over for injured starter Jay Cutler, sparking what is now a five-game losing streak. Part of developing backup quarterbacks is getting them regular-season playing time. If you can't squeeze a rookie quarterback into a Week 17 game after you've been eliminated from the playoffs, when can you? If Enderle is so ill-prepared that the Bears deem him unfit for even that assignment, they might as well cut their losses with him now.

Vikings stakes: I wonder if Vikings fans are rooting for a victory or loss Sunday against the Bears. A win would allow them to avoid tying the franchise record for most losses in a season (13). They would also circumvent their first winless division record in team history. On the other hand, a loss would give the Vikings a top-three pick in the 2012 draft. A victory could drop them as far as No. 6. One thing is for sure: Everyone will be rooting for the Vikings to get into a goal-line situation. Coach Leslie Frazier has already said he'll give the ball to tight end/H-back Jim Kleinsasser, who will be playing in his final career game.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson convinced Dr. James Andrews to perform a quicker-than-normal surgery on his injured left knee because he has been in "severe" pain, according to Tim Yotter of Viking Update, and wanted to get the rehabilitation process started as soon as possible.

Peterson will have surgery Friday, six days after tearing two ligaments and suffering other damage in the knee. Typically, doctors prefer patients to wait until swelling has reduced, but that was not the case in this instance.

The Vikings have set a goal of getting Peterson back for the start of the 2012 season, a timetable that probably represents a best-case scenario.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Vikings need a victory Sunday to avoid going winless in the NFC North, a sign of how much work they have ahead of them, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • The Vikings are investigating a number of stadium sites in downtown Minneapolis, according to Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune.
  • Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiles retiring tight end Jim Kleinsasser.
  • Sunday could be a chance to change the career of Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, writes Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "It looks like Chad Clifton will get every chance in the next week and a half to move back into the Green Bay Packers’ starting job at left tackle for the playoffs after missing the last 2 months because of hamstring and back injuries."
  • The Packers are still rotating players at right outside linebacker, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford knows he will be judged by how he plays in the playoffs. Mike O'Hara of the Detroit News explains.
  • Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has resurrected his career over the past few years, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Pro Bowl special-teams ace Corey Graham wants to play defense for the Chicago Bears, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune thinks the Bears are making a mistake if they don't use rookie quarterback Nathan Enderle extensively Sunday against the Vikings. Pompei: "You can't shove a young quarterback in the back of a freezer until you need him and then expect him to be microwave ready at a moment's notice. Getting a young quarterback ready to play is a process that should be deliberate and calculated."
  • Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't bite on a question about his request for a new contract, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.

Devin Hester active for Bears

December, 25, 2011
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Chicago Bears will play their top rivals Sunday night without their top two running backs and appear to be bracing for limited duty from receiver/kick returner Devin Hester.

Hester is active but the Bears also have receiver Max Komar in uniform for the first time all season.

Matt Forte (knee) and Marion Barber (calf) are inactive, as expected. Kahlil Bell is expected to get his second NFL start.

The Bears also deactivated rookie quarterback Nathan Enderle, meaning that deposed starter Caleb Hanie is the only quarterback available to play in relief of new starter Josh McCown.

The Green Bay Packers will have linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) in uniform for the first time since Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, defensive end Mike Neal (shoulder) is in uniform, but the Packers announced that Howard Green will start for Ryan Pickett at left defensive end and that C.J. Wilson will start at right defensive end.

The team also confirmed that T.J. Lang will start at right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith will start at left guard.

Few options for Bears at quarterback

December, 20, 2011
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Few people would dispute that Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie has played poorly enough in his four-game stint to merit a search for better options. Bears coach Lovie Smith apparently agrees, as Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com reports.

Veteran Josh McCown will get the first practice repetitions this week, according to Dickerson, and probably would have to have a horrible week not to start Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. McCown hasn't started a game since 2007 and has appeared in only four games in the past four years, but the Bears don't have many options.

You could make a reasonable argument that, at the end of what appears to be a lost season, rookie Nathan Enderle might be a better choice. McCown, after all, was coaching high school football earlier this fall and is highly unlikely to return next season.

But however unlikely it might seem, the Bears are not yet eliminated from playoff contention. I'm guessing Smith would have a tough time conceding that possibility by starting a rookie who, as the No. 3 quarterback, has gotten almost no practice repetitions with the Bears offense this fall.

If the Bears are officially eliminated this weekend, which would happen if they lose to the Packers, Enderle would seem like the better option for their Week 17 game at the Minnesota Vikings. More to come, I'm sure.

NFC North at night

December, 19, 2011
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Catching up on Mondays newsbits in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears: Receiver Johnny Knox had successful back surgery Monday, the team announced, and the prognosis for continuing his career is good. Meanwhile, coach Lovie Smith refused to name a starting quarterback for the Bears' next game, sparking speculation that he will bench Caleb Hanie for either Josh McCown or Nathan Enderle.

Detroit Lions: Coach Jim Schwartz said he hasn't ruled out any player on the active roster for Saturday's game against the San Diego Chargers. That includes defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh), cornerback Chris Houston (knee) and safety Louis Delmas, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on Saturday.

Green Bay Packers: Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has a sprained knee cap and isn't likely to play Sunday night against the Bears, coach Mike McCarthy told reporters. Rookie offensive lineman Derek Sherrod has already undergone surgery on his broken leg. McCarthy indicated the Packers will practice this week with T.J. Lang at right guard and Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard, but he also said that veteran left tackle Chad Clifton is expected to return to individual drills Wednesday.

Minnesota Vikings: Two players are being monitored after suffering concussions Sunday: Left guard Steve Hutchinson and cornerback Asher Allen. Meanwhile, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe told reporters that some of his teammates quit in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints. "Not a lot though," Shiancoe said. "Like a very small handful of guys."

Free Head Exam: Chicago Bears

December, 19, 2011
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After the Chicago Bears' 38-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, here are three issues that merit further examination:

    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against the Seahawks, the Bears take a seat in the examination room.
  1. Generally, I'm not in favor of promoting untested players solely for the purpose of evaluation. There should be a justifiable reason for getting that player on the field. None of us have seen rookie quarterback Nathan Enderle in practice, or for that matter veteran Josh McCown. So we can't say that either player has demonstrated a capacity for better performance than current starter Caleb Hanie. On the other hand, prolonging failure based on the perceived lack of a better option isn't healthy, either. So after watching Hanie flail for a full four games, I think it would be reasonable to consider other options. And even though the Bears are still technically in the playoff race, it would be incredibly short-sighted to start McCown against the Green Bay Packers next Sunday night. McCown is the shortest of short-term backups. Hanie might have played himself off the 2012 roster, and Enderle's pedigree as a fifth-round draft choice suggests he should be in the mix for the No. 2 role. McCown is not, but he could always rescue Enderle if the rookie proves to be in over his head.
  2. If you're an eternal optimist, you could use ESPN.com's Playoff Machine to find how the Bears could still make the playoffs. First, they would have to defeat both the Packers and Minnesota Vikings, on the road, without running back Matt Forte and receiver Johnny Knox and, probably, quarterback Jay Cutler. Then they would need the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions to lose their remaining games, and then hope to win some tiebreakers with the remaining field. The biggest obstacle would be finishing 2-0 themselves. They've lost four consecutive games in increasingly uncompetitive fashion and, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune points out, they've scored two offensive touchdowns in the past 188 minutes.
  3. Lost in this four-game losing streak has been defensive end Julius Peppers' return to the double-digit sack club after a one-year absence. His sack/forced fumble in the end zone of Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson led to an Israel Idonije touchdown. Playing on a gimpy knee for much of the season, Peppers has 10 sacks, four pass knockdowns and three forced fumbles in 14 games. I have no idea how the voters will stack them for the Associated Press All-Pro team, but I would imagine Peppers is in the conversation for being one of the two defensive ends on the first team once again.
And here is one thing I still don't get:
Hanie has been with the organization for four years under two offensive coordinators. Did the Bears miss that badly on their evaluation of him? Has he choked under the pressure? Or is it a combination thereof? I realize Hanie didn't have much regular-season experience when he took over for Cutler, and not all of his mistakes have solely been his fault. But can you see any measure of improvement from his first start to his fourth? Me either. Progress is a fair expectation for a player who has spent nearly four years on an NFL roster. Even some rookies would have pulled the ball down upon finding Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright closing in for a sack. Instead, Hanie inexplicably threw into the hands of defensive end Red Bryant for what turned out to be a touchdown. It's too bad, because Hanie is one of the nicest people in the Bears' locker room and someone who seemed to have received a career-changing break when Cutler was injured. Instead, it could be a career-ender.

Bears: Donovan McNabb or Josh McCown?

December, 1, 2011
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Three teams placed waiver claims last week on former Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton. He was awarded to the Kansas City Chiefs, so it's at least fair to speculate that the Minnesota Vikings' reported decision Thursday to waive quarterback Donovan McNabb is based on a hope that he would be claimed as well in a time of high injury rates for quarterbacks around the league.

McNabb hasn't taken a snap since the Vikings benched him late in their Oct. 16 game at the Chicago Bears. Rookie Christian Ponder has started the past five games, and at 2-9, there is no competitive reason for the Vikings to maintain a veteran option at quarterback. If Ponder is injured, third-string quarterback Joe Webb could reprise his 2010 role and play out the proverbial string.

Speculation has immediately turned toward the two teams that missed on Orton -- the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys -- as well as the Houston Texans, who signed veteran Jake Delhomme off the street this week to serve as rookie T.J. Yates' backup.

I'm sure McNabb would love the Bears to claim him. He grew up in Chicago and starred at Mt. Carmel High School. It's not yet clear if the feeling is mutual. The Bears had a long and favorable history with Orton, and the only thing they know about McNabb is what the rest of us have seen over the past two years: A precipitous decline in play for a five-time Pro Bowler.

Perhaps McNabb would be an upgrade in an emergency over Josh McCown, whom the Bears signed after Orton was awarded to the Chiefs. But it's probably too ambitious to think McNabb can learn their offense and make an impact on their playoff push.

In reality, there isn't much to this move beyond the surprising news itself. McNabb wasn't going to get back on the field for the Vikings, wasn't going to re-sign next season and has already been paid the majority of his $5.05 million contract -- including this week's game check. If he were to end up in Chicago, his arrival would be a one-day story before the Bears returned to the primary question of their playoff push. It's up to starter Caleb Hanie, not McCown or rookie Nathan Enderle or McNabb or anyone else, to get it done.
When the music stopped Wednesday, the Chicago Bears were left with the type of quarterback you more typically find available the day before Thanksgiving. Veteran Josh McCown, whom the Bears signed moments after missing out on Kyle Orton, hasn't been on an NFL roster in two years but did spend one season with Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz when they were both with the Detroit Lions in 2006.

Orton's availability would have been a rare and perfectly timed gift following Jay Cutler's thumb injury, and the Bears were eager to acquire him. Alas, they were not the only ones and were, in fact, one of three teams to submit a claim, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Kansas City Chiefs also placed a claim and were awarded his contract based on the NFL's waiver priority system.

Bears coach Lovie Smith made a point Wednesday to reinforce his confidence in new starter Caleb Hanie. According to Hanie, Smith told him, that "Whatever veteran quarterback we bring in, you don't need to worry about it. You're our guy."

But if Hanie had been sidelined or if he bombed as Cutler's short-term replacement, Orton would have provided a more proven alternative than rookie No. 3 quarterback Nathan Enderle. I'm not sure if we can definitively say the same thing about McCown, but in any event the Bears needed a healthy third arm on their roster.

Onward and upward …

Note: For those wondering, the Detroit Lions did not place a claim on Orton in hopes of blocking his arrival in Chicago. According to Schefter, Orton was claimed by the Bears and Dallas Cowboys, along with the Chiefs. It's possible the Cowboys were engaged in some gamesmanship there, but in the end it wasn't necessary. The Chiefs had an absolute need at the position.

If you were a team in the playoff hunt and suddenly found yourself in all-out Armageddon at quarterback, who would you rather turn to: Kyle Orton or Nathan Enderle?

The answer is obvious, at least to me, and that's why it makes perfect sense for the Chicago Bears to place a waiver claim on Orton, whom the Denver Broncos waived Tuesday. Orton is three years removed from his tenure in Chicago and has no background with the offense the Bears run under offensive coordinator Mike Martz. But if current starter Caleb Hanie were sidelined while Jay Cutler recovers from thumb surgery, I would feel better with a veteran like Orton -- even if he knows 40 percent of the playbook -- than a rookie whose last game experience came while playing for the Idaho Vandals.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that he hoped to sign a veteran for depth in the coming days, and the Bears' lack of movement so far has fueled speculation they might be eyeing Orton. According to the Denver Post, Orton and his agent pushed for a move this week to give him a chance to re-join the Bears following Cutler's injury.

But keep in mind that the waiver system awards players in reverse order of record, with ties broken by strength of schedule, and there are at least two teams who have priority over the Bears that might also be interested. The Kansas City Chiefs have lost starter Matt Cassel and are going with inexperienced backup Tyler Palko. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are without starter Matt Schaub. The Chiefs and Texans have waiver priority over the Bears. *Update: The Texans are not interested in Orton, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

We'll know by Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET whether Orton has been claimed or if he is a free agent. I don't see a short-term scenario in which Orton could come in and start over Hanie, but he would be a more reliable option than Enderle at this point. From my understanding, Orton left Chicago on good terms with the organization and is respected by the veterans in their locker room. Stay tuned.

On Jay Cutler returning this season

November, 21, 2011
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To clear up the considerable confusion around the Interwebs, let's review the established facts about Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler now that coach Lovie Smith has publicly discussed the situation:
  • Cutler does indeed have a fractured right thumb.
  • Surgery will take place "soon," Smith said. The team initially reported the procedure would occur Tuesday but later recanted that timetable. Smith did say that it won't happen Monday.
  • Smith expressed confidence that Cutler will be back in the lineup before the end of the regular season, which continues for another six weeks. Smith wouldn't discuss the details and assessments that brought him to that conclusion, but he strongly rejected the idea that Cutler's injury is season ending.
  • Backup Caleb Hanie is penciled in for at least a few starts. Rookie Nathan Enderle is Hanie's backup for the moment, but Smith said he hopes to find a veteran backup for additional depth.

NFL teams are notoriously vague on injury information and projections, so I'm not sure what to make of Smith's insistence that Cutler will return during the next six weeks. Without knowing the exact nature of the injury, it's impossible to verify Smith's timetable.

For now, however, nothing has changed. The Bears' short-term fortunes are in the hands of their backup quarterback. They have a relatively favorable schedule and can count on strong contributions from their defense and special teams in the playoff chase. But Cutler's late-season return won't mean much if the train derails under Hanie's direction.

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