Thursday, April 2, 2009 Updated: April 3, 10:47 AM ET
Cutler, Angelo, McDaniels on hot seat
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
So the Jay Cutler era in Denver -- all two seasons of it with him as a full-time starter -- is done, and the Cutler era in Chicago begins. And all because the Broncos once explored the possibility of trading Mr. Sensitive for a package that included Matt Cassel?
I don't get it. Never did. But it doesn't matter now. It doesn't matter if we ever know the actual truth behind who lied to whom, who did or didn't call, who was first to draw a line in the stadium turf.
All that really matters is that Cutler wanted a trade (or didn't, depending on whose version you believe) and got it; that new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels wanted Cassel, didn't get him, and couldn't repair whatever deep, psychological damage was done to Mr. Sensitive; that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo did what few people in Chicago thought he'd do -- pay the price necessary to acquire Cutler.
So this is a trade tree with three legacies on the branches. It is a deal that will define the careers of Cutler, McDaniels and Angelo.
Cutler couldn't reconcile the business side of the NFL with his own feelings. He felt deceived by the Broncos, took it waaaaaayyyyyy too personally, forced a trade and got it. Now he had better deliver or else his legacy becomes one of a whiner who wasn't worth the trouble (and the new contract his agent will undoubtedly request).
McDaniels couldn't acquire the quarterback he nurtured while with the New England Patriots and could never connect with the quarterback he already had in Denver. Now he gets Kyle Orton who, until injuring his ankle last season, was tracking upward. And for what it's worth, not once did you hear a negative peep out of Orton -- not during his 2008 preseason QB battle with Rex Grossman, and not during the recent chatter involving the Bears and the possibility of trading for Cutler.
And then there is Angelo, who had said all along that the quarterback position was a huge priority for the Bears. Orton was fine, perhaps better than fine. But to Angelo, Cutler is a franchise changer, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback whose arrival could alter the balance of power in the NFC North for years to come.
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.
There is no in-between with this deal. The Broncos just gave up a guy who passed for 4,526 yards. That same guy never led the Broncos to a playoff game, and he just threw a hissy fit for the ages, but his right arm and his age were too enticing for Angelo to ignore. So he traded the Bears' first-round future for the next two years: a No. 1 in 2009 and 2010. And a third-round pick in 2009. And Orton, who was popular in the Bears' locker room, played hurt and, for the most part, played well.
In return they got a quarterback with potential, but also with baggage. And, oh yeah, a fifth-round pick in '09.
Franchise quarterbacks are difficult to find. Just ask the Bears, who have been searching for one since the days of Sid Luckman. Jim McMahon helped win the Bears a Super Bowl, but he left bits and pieces of his body at Soldier Field.
Chicago isn't big on prima donnas, so Cutler has some image rehab to do in and out of the Bears' locker room. He also won't have Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal as his wide receivers. Instead, he'll have a kickoff returner transitioning to wide receiver (Devin Hester) and Fill-In-The-Blank. Tight end Greg Olsen will be thrilled, though.
The offensive line isn't exactly the Seven Blocks of Granite. The Bears immediately signed veteran tackle Orlando Pace, which could help. Then again, if Pace is so good, why did the gawd-awful St. Louis Rams release him?
This is such a fluid situation that it's semi-impossible to name a winner and loser in this deal. Cutler pouted his way to a trade, so I suppose he won. Angelo got a potential franchise QB, so I suppose he won. McDaniels got two No. 1s, a 3 and Orton, so I suppose he won.
But on Day One of the new Broncos' and Bears' football eras, I lean toward Denver's side of the deal. Orton should thrive with McDaniels and that offense. And the draft picks give the Broncos all sorts of options, beginning with the rebuilding of the defense.
Meanwhile, the Bears have Cutler. This is a good thing. And it could be a great thing. Could be.
Chicago is a Bears town, much as Denver is a Broncos town. Cutler is accustomed to that kind of pressure. But now he'll have to deal with not only the expectations, but also the price paid for those expectations. He is either going to be the guy who leads the Bears to greatness or the guy who cost them their future.
Cutler got his wish -- to be an ex-Bronco. Now he has to do what he couldn't do in Denver: take the Bears to the postseason. Anything less, and this deal is a failure for Cutler and Angelo.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's Podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.