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Jury still out on Cutler trade anniversary

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
1:50
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Jay CutlerRob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler has thrown 101 TD passes and 75 interceptions in his five seasons with the Chicago Bears.
The fifth-year anniversary of the trade between the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos that brought Jay Cutler to Chicago arrived on Wednesday, and for a variety of reasons, the verdict is somewhat still out regarding the effectiveness of the transaction, which was arguably the most significant in franchise history.

Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who initiated the move, told The Game 87.7 FM on Wednesday that he’d "absolutely" do the deal all over again because, “You’ll never see a situation like that ever come about again. It never did before, and it certainly won’t (in the future)."

Most likely, Angelo is correct.

“You don’t let a quarterback in his prime who went to a Pro Bowl, where the arrow is going up, out of the building,” Angelo said. “There were some circumstances mostly due to egos that created that. So you seize the moment. There were a lot of teams in line trying to trade for Jay, and if the Bears didn’t sign Jay, I said this: 'There would be four or five teams standing at his doorstep waiting to sign him.'”

The Bears surrendered two first-round picks, a third-round selection, and their starting quarterback in Kyle Orton at the time in a trade on Apr. 2, 2009 that many thought could reverse Chicago’s fortunes, given its need for a bona fide signal caller. But several circumstances have conspired to prevent Cutler from leading the Bears to a Super Bowl. We’ll get into those later, but let’s first look a little more deeply into the trade.

With the first-round picks the Broncos acquired, they traded one in the 2010 draft to San Francisco, which selected offensive tackle Anthony Davis No. 11 overall. Denver used the other in 2009 to acquire defensive end Robert Ayers. Denver traded the third-round pick acquired from the Bears to Pittsburgh, which snatched up receiver Mike Wallace.

Ultimately, Denver traded away two of the three picks received from the Bears and eventually parlayed those into the acquisitions of receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who recently joined the New York Jets via free agency.

The Bears, meanwhile, used the Denver’s fifth-round pick in 2009 to select receiver Johnny Knox, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie return specialist.

Since the trade, Cutler has led the Bears to the playoffs just once over five seasons, and the Broncos have advanced to the postseason three times, and appeared in Super Bowl XLVIII. ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson made a salient point during a Jan. 31 Four Downs feature when mentioning that “when a team surrenders two first-round picks, a third-rounder and its starting quarterback 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 the 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.”

Maybe they did, but it’s still worth mentioning some of the challenges Cutler has faced throughout his tenure in Chicago. The man who made the trade, Angelo, was fired by the club, and former coach Lovie Smith suffered the same fate last offseason. Further chipping away at any sense of stability for Cutler is the fact he’s played for four different offensive coordinators -- and four different offenses -- in five years with the Bears.

And after four years of horrid protection (Cutler has played only one full 16-game season since joining Chicago), a lack of offensive weaponry, and outdated schemes, it appears new general manager Phil Emery has finally fixed those issues. Cutler almost immediately responded with his best year as a pro, which in turn led the Bears to signing him to a seven-year extension.

Here’s what ESPNChicago.com colleague Jon Greenberg wrote about the trade back on Jan. 31: “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 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.”

Both Dickerson and Greenberg make strong points, and on the surface, it certainly appears Denver came out the winner in the trade. But my thought is that even after five years, it’s absolutely fair to reserve complete judgment until after the 2014 season, with Cutler in the second year of a real offensive system, surrounded by competent weapons and strong protection.

If Cutler falters, then Denver won big in the trade. If he shines, depending on how bright, perhaps we might be able to one day call it a draw.

“The position speaks for itself. It’s the value of what (Cutler) does,” Angelo explained. “He’s very, very talented. We all know that. The Bears have won a lot of games with Jay. If Jay stays healthy, particularly in this kind of an offense with the weapons he has, I think the sky’s the limit.”

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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