Who benefits most from Jay Cutler's arrival in Chicago?
After the recent "controversy" caused by Jay Cutler's comments on how much more passionate Bears fans are than the Broncos supporters he left behind in Denver, I'm tempted to say that the ones who will benefit the most from the new quarterback's arrival in the Windy City are the media who cover the team. Let's face it: not since the days of the "punky QB known as McMahon" has there been a team leader with half the personality of Jay Cutler. Besides, it's not like Jim Harbaugh, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Chad Hutchinson, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton had anything much to crow about. In the past two decades, the Bears' offense has finished among the NFL's top 10 only four times, never higher than eighth, and not once since 1999.
The real question in Chicago is one of the "chicken or the egg" variety. Does the quarterback make the receivers, or do the receivers make the quarterback? After all, the prevailing wisdom is that Cutler's numbers will definitely drop from last year's impressive 4,526 yards passing and 25 touchdowns that helped him attain No. 4 fantasy quarterback status with 262 points in ESPN standard scoring. (Current ESPN 2009 projections have him as the No. 10 quarterback with only 243 points.) The reasoning is simple: The Bears' receivers don't compare to the likes of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokley. Let's face it -- Devin Hester may be fleet of foot, but he has still not yet broken through with the consistency of route running that is required from a No. 1 receiver.
After Hester, it's a complete crapshoot. There's Earl Bennett, whose greatest asset appears to be the fact that he played with Cutler at Vanderbilt. If not for that, there's no way he'd likely be in the mix for the No. 2 spot. Former Arena Leaguer Rashied Davis showed flashes in 2008, but caught only eight passes from Week 10 on. And as for rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox, well, they're rookies. Early camp workouts have seen Brandon Rideau and Devin Aromashodu getting a lot of attention from Cutler, and making quite a few catches. So it appears that, at least for Chicago, the answer is that Cutler will be able to do just fine with whatever talent happens to end up in the huddle with him come Week 1. However, with so many interchangeable parts, there's still not a single one, outside of Hester, that you can truly be sure will survive training camp and be on the opening roster.
That's why when it comes to the No. 1 beneficiary on the Bears, we're going to have to look elsewhere.
Matt Forte's value might well increase if there's actually a passing attack in place to counter his rushing, but after finishing fourth in the NFL with 316 carries, the Bears are fully intent on scaling that number back a bit and using more of Kevin Jones in order to keep Forte fresh. We'll call that a wash, and render the verdict that Cutler's arrival has no net effect on the second-year back's fantasy value. Instead, we'll look to the tight end spot and Greg Olsen for the biggest winner on the Bears' roster.
Olsen has been promoted to No. 1 tight end status, with Desmond Clark no longer splitting time with the first-team offense. He certainly has gotten Cutler's attention early. "You don't find it very often with a guy with that kind of motor and as big as he is and just the way he adjusts to balls," Cutler told the Chicago Tribune. "A lot of guys that big are kind of stiff and they can't really do some of the things he can. He's a huge target and we have to use him the right way." And what is the right way? Using Olsen and running back Matt Forte over the middle in the short passing game to set defenses up for Hester's long sprints downfield.
Last season in Denver, Cutler threw to his tight ends 18 percent of the time, while the Bears threw to their tight ends 30 percent of the time. But by not having to share those targets equally with Clark, Olsen's chances should see -- at a minimum -- a 3 percent boost, and likely much more, since Chicago isn't going to turn its offensive scheme into Denver's overnight just because they traded for Cutler. In fact, in a workout on Aug. 11, who did Cutler look to in the red zone? Olsen, who is clearly already establishing himself as Cutler's go-to guy. That's why Olsen is our projected No. 4 tight end, behind only Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten. And since there's no way he'd be keeping company with those guys without Cutler sporting that "C" on his helmet, Olsen is far and away the biggest beneficiary of this offseason deal.