It wasn't exactly the Herschel Walker trade that created the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty, but the steep price the Bears paid for Jay Cutler set the Broncos up nicely. Five seasons later, who got the best of the deal?
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Five years later, the Broncos are the winner of the Jay Cutler trade.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears have been to the playoffs one time with Cutler in the past five seasons and gave up two first-round picks, a third-round choice (the Bears got Denver's fifth-round pick and selected former wide receiver Johnny Knox) and quarterback Kyle Orton to obtain him. In that same five-year span, the Broncos have gone to the playoffs three times (Tim Tebow has been to the postseason as many times as Cutler) and are poised to win their first Super Bowl championship since the late 1990s on Sunday. I won't even bore you with the details that Denver eventually parlayed some of those picks from the Bears into wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. You know why? Because I don't need to. Success in the NFL is measured in playoff appearances and Super Bowl championships. Cutler supporters will view this as a shot at the quarterback. It's really not. I deal in reality. When a team surrenders two first-round draft picks, a third-rounder and its starting quarterback (Orton) to acquire a supposed franchise quarterback and then reaches the postseason just one time in the five years after the deal from a team that ends up reaching the playoffs three times and playing in a Super Bowl over the exact same time period, the winner is obvious: the second team. Spin it any way you want, the Broncos crushed the Bears on that trade five years ago.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears traded picks for a franchise quarterback, and that is what they have in Cutler. It hasn't been easy, but after a few stops and starts, it looks like Cutler is finally poised to live up to the expectations brought about with that trade. If he had been traded to a team with big receivers and an offensive-minded coaching staff, this wouldn't even be a question. It's a testament to the Broncos that they wisely used the picks to get Super Bowl contributors in Robert Ayers and (through trades) Thomas and Decker. When you trade a star to get draft picks, that's how it should work, a win-win for both sides. But the real key, of course, is Peyton Manning being available. Otherwise, this isn't even a debate.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should pursue Martellus Bennett's brother Michael in free agency.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. It should be noted that with the record amount of underclassmen declaring for this year's draft, the Bears should be able to find young talent on the defensive line in May. But Bennett is playing the best of any Seahawks defensive lineman in the postseason, and should be a hot commodity in free agency. However, don't be surprised if Seattle makes a strong attempt to re-sign Bennett after it lucked out last offseason and signed him to a one-year deal after the veteran defender left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That being said, I assume the Bears will pursue Bennett and attempt to unite him with his brother in Chicago. But I have no idea if the Bears will be able to accomplish this until we see what kind of market there will be for Bennett when the new league year begins in March, or if Seattle tries to complete a deal with him before we reach that point of the NFL calendar.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. But the problem is money. Can the Bears afford both Bennetts? Though Chicago will almost certainly have to reconfigure contracts to make more salary room, it's easy to believe that Michael Bennett will command more than the Bears can offer. And he just might want to stay in Seattle, which is in, you know, the Super Bowl. As Martellus told reporters this week in New York, his brother's best friend is going to be Benjamin Franklin, because he wants to get paid. Still, the Bears have to pursue him.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should use all of their draft picks on defensive players.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's never a smart idea to enter a draft fixated on a single player or side of the ball, except of course if a team holds a top-five pick in the first round. Fixing the defense is clearly the Bears' No. 1 priority in the offseason, but general manager Phil Emery should not hesitate to devote a mid-round or later-round selection to improving the offense, if that player is hands down the best available talent on the board at that stage of the draft, and the Bears believe he can help them in 2014. Don't forget, the Bears still need another tight end to complement Martellus Bennett, and they could also be in the market for a starting center if veteran Roberto Garza finds a better offer on the open market and departs via free agency. Wide receivers and young backup quarterbacks are always considered commodities in the NFL. Eventually, the Bears will need a young quarterback on the depth chart to replace Josh McCown, or even Cutler in the future. Brandon Marshall is in the final year of his contract, and while the Bears could re-sign him or turn to 2013 seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson in the immediate future at the position, if a dynamic pass-catcher is available in the later rounds, take him. Good organizations usually share a common theme: They are flexible on draft weekend. While the Bears are likely to use some of their early picks on defense, it's best to keep an open mind when the draft reaches its later stages.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. You can't solve an immediate problem like the Bears' defense with a bunch of rookies. The Bears should look to address depth on the defensive line (cheaper than a premier free agent) and add a young safety in the first two rounds, and after that it's all about best player available and creating depth across the team. A good general manager, and Emery is one, uses the draft to help balance salaries across every position. I could see the Bears drafting another young offensive lineman, a young tight end and, yes, maybe a quarterback. It's all about finding value. But to fix the defense, the Bears are going to have to sign free agents. So the draft is not a cure-all for their ailments.
Fact or Fiction: Marquess Wilson will emerge as the Bears' No. 3 receiver in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. This is a tough one. Wilson absolutely figures to have a larger role in the Bears' offense moving forward. But I hesitate to close the door on Earl Bennett after he had a relatively productive year in 2013 given his pecking order in the offense behind Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett. Presently, Earl Bennett is scheduled to count $2.450 million against the salary cap in 2014 after he took a pay cut last season that reduced his cap number to $1.350 million. Maybe another salary reduction is in the cards for him. You have to figure it's a strong possibility. If he accepts and again tries to earn some of the lost money back via incentives, I believe Earl Bennett has a strong chance to keep his stranglehold on the No. 3 wideout spot. He is a proven player. Wilson is not. At least, not yet. But this one is subject to change, because the Bears do think Wilson can develop into a serious playmaker in the coming years. If that in fact does occur, it could put Earl Bennett's roster spot in jeopardy at his current salary structure.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears would be wise to rework Earl Bennett's deal and keep him around another year. Last season, they restructured the deal to save cap money, and I assume that would happen again to keep him on the roster making more than $2 million. I don't know enough about Wilson to hand him the third receiver spot a month after the season ended, and I doubt the Bears do, either. Maybe they'll see something in OTAs that will convince them he's ready to step up into a prime-time role. But the Bears should want to keep Earl around for another season, at least, as the offense continues to improve.