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Thursday, April 2, 2009
Jay Cutler can have fantasy success in Chicago

Brace yourselves, folks, the Bears have themselves a quarterback!

The Jay Cutler saga, which frankly seemed to attract comparable media overexposure to last summer's Brett Favre fiasco (albeit for a much shorter period of time), is finally over, as the Broncos finally found a taker for their disgruntled quarterback on Tuesday. That team is the Bears, who acquired Cutler in exchange for Kyle Orton, first-round picks in both 2009 and 2010, and a 2009 third-round pick.

It's a substantial upgrade for the Bears, a team that has employed several dozen quarterbacks over the past two decades, culminating in a 2008 campaign in which Orton and Rex Grossman led the team to a No. 29 ranking in passing yards per attempt (6.1), 26th in completion percentage (57.6) and 26th in passer rating (77.1). Cutler presents Chicago with its most talented quarterback certainly since Erik Kramer -- and he was really just a one-year wonder (1995) -- and perhaps since Sid Luckman back in the 1940s.

Looking at what Cutler has done in his brief career in Denver, the Bears should receive a significant boost on offense with his addition. The Broncos ranked ninth (7.3), 14th (62.3) and 11th (85.9) in the aforementioned three categories in 2008, and Cutler himself is coming off a 4,526-yard, 25-touchdown passing season, one that ranked him fourth among fantasy quarterbacks and sixth in our game overall.

Not that Devin Hester and Rashied Davis rank talentwise with Broncos receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, but Cutler is the kind of quarterback who elevates the play of his receivers more than the other way around; to expect Hester and Davis to each see his stock rise seems reasonable. They were somewhat forgettable fantasy types under the Orton/Grossman regime, but Hester, at the very least, will warrant third- or fourth-receiver status now. He has the kind of big-play potential that might make him a breakout candidate if he develops good chemistry with his new quarterback.

Besides, the Bears didn't stop with their acquisition of Cutler; the Chicago Sun-Times reported they agreed to terms with left tackle Orlando Pace shortly after making the trade. He'll boost the performance of the offensive line, increasing the chances that the drop-off in receiver talent won't sag Cutler's statistics any.

Talented Mr. Roto begs to differ

The trade from Denver to Chicago knocks Jay Cutler out of the top 10 of Matthew Berry's fantasy quarterback rankings for 2009. The new list:

  1. Drew Brees
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Kurt Warner
  4. Peyton Manning
  5. Aaron Rodgers
  6. Tony Romo
  7. Philip Rivers
  8. Donovan McNabb
  9. Matt Ryan
  10. Matt Cassel
  11. Jay Cutler

Fantasy owners can regard Cutler as a candidate for top-five fantasy quarterback status in 2009, though he'll presumably come cheaper than that, accounting for the weaker options he has at receiver. As a soon-to-be 26-year-old only nearing his prime, though, he should be expected to at least match his 2008 numbers.

What will be interesting to see as a result of this trade is how Denver approaches the quarterback position. Rumors had flown for weeks that the Broncos could deal Cutler only if they received a starting quarterback in exchange, which paints the picture that Orton will be their starter in Week 1. That's a noticeable downgrade at the position -- just reverse the teams' stats and you'll get the idea -- as while Cutler will help elevate the play of a Hester or Davis, Orton will probably slightly depress the values of Marshall, Royal et al.

Brandon Marshall
Marshall will fall on a lot of draft boards with a new quarterback.

That said, Orton might stand a better chance at fantasy success -- even if it's as a matchups or backup type -- working in new coach Josh McDaniels' system. Remember, McDaniels was one of the masterminds behind Matt Cassel's breakout 2008 campaign, and while he fell short in his quest to land Cassel this offseason, that McDaniels regards Orton as starter material at least should offer some encouragement for his 2009. This will be a key situation to monitor once training camps open, as positive reports out of camp on Orton's adjustment might lead to making him a sleeper candidate.

Marshall is the big loser here fantasywise. The downgrade from Cutler to Orton will surely adversely affect his production, and he's coming off surgery on his hip this past Tuesday besides, which puts his health in question heading into training camp. Chances are that Marshall might also draw a suspension for his arrest for disorderly conduct, dropping his value from the top tier of receivers to more of a middling No. 2 option.