COMMENTARY | After four years of cultivating a love-hate relationship with their quarterback, fans of the Chicago Bears finally started to warm to Jay Cutler in season No. 5, but a four-turnover performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 4 has fans reexamining whether or not their QB is just the same old Jay.
Through his first four years in the Windy City, Cutler connected on 81 touchdown passes while also coughing the ball up by way of the interception 63 times. The Bears' record over that stretch was 36-28, but their only playoff appearance came in 2010, which ended in infamy in the NFC Championship game when Cutler was forced to leave with a knee injury many questioned.
Looking back after five years, was trading for Cutler really the right decision for the Bears?
The Trade -- The Bears acquired Cutler via a trade with the Denver Broncos before the 2009 season. Chicago packaged Kyle Orton, the 2009 and 2010 first-round draft picks, and an additional third-round selection in 2009.
Considering the players those picks would eventually become for other teams may make it a little difficult for fans to truly feel like they came out ahead in the end. If Cutler never brings a Super Bowl trophy to the Windy City, how hard will it be for fans to forget what could have been?
2009 NFL Draft -- In 2009, the Broncos turned the Bears' first-round pick into defensive prospect Robert Ayers. While Ayers has not lived up to the billing thus far in his career, the Bears' veteran D-line would have made it very unlikely the pick would have been used on Ayers.
Let me float a linebacking unit at you and see what you think: Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Clay Matthews. Had Chicago kept their pick in 2009, the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl linebacker would have been sitting there waiting for them at No. 18. Matthews made an immediate impact in the NFL as he recorded 10 sacks his rookie season. Former Minnesota Vikings' explosive slot receiver Percy Harvin was taken at No. 22 in the draft.
But the 2009 draft wasn't done ramping up the what-if machine. The Broncos also held Chicago's No. 84 overall pick, but they decided to ship that selection to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With that pick, Steel City took a chance on a speedster from Ole Miss named Mike Wallace. From 2009 to 2011, the Steelers' go-to deep threat would total 3,206 yards and 22 touchdowns. Those aren't Devin Hester or Roy Williams numbers, but then again, few are. Could Wallace have been the play-making threat Chicago was looking for during the years their dominant defense got very little help from the offense?
2010 NFL Draft -- If the prospect of Matthews and Wallace does not tip the scales towards the idea that Cutler's trade was a bad one, the 2010 draft could push it over the top. In 2010, there were 15 future Pro Bowlers selected in the first 27 picks. The Broncos ended up taking wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who has quickly become Peyton Manning's No. 1 option in Denver's league-leading passing attack.
Other Franchise Quarterbacks -- With Cutler in the fold, Chicago passed on the available arms in the 2011 draft. But had the Bears not completed the trade for Cutler, their No. 29 overall pick would have put them in perfect position to jump on either Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick. The two up-and-coming stars were selected consecutively at No. 35 and No. 36 on the board.
And the type of personnel Chicago would have had might have been reason enough for them to nix the idea of trading tight end Greg Olsen for no apparent reason whatsoever. The Brandon Marshall trade in 2012 never would have happened if Wallace and Thomas were already ensconced at wide out, but which set of receivers would most fans rather have?
Jay Cutler, QB
Brandon Marshall, WR
What Could Have Been
Colin Kaepernick, QB
Mike Wallace, WR
Demaryius Thomas, WR
Clay Matthews, LB
Greg Olsen, TE
This is always the best-case scenario for what could have happened. Knowing the Bears' luck, they probably would have been the ones to draft Tim Tebow, who would later convince them to take a chance on his relatively unknown college roommate Aaron Hernandez.
It's always fun to speculate, but the truth is, with Cutler and Marshall, the Bears are 3-1 and look like real contenders in the NFC this season, despite a disappointing showing in Week 4.
For all the fingers that have been pointed in Cutler's direction over these past four seasons, he is about to place his name very high up in Chicago lore. Cutler will become the Bears' all-time leading passer in 2013. After the first four games of 2013, Chicago's signal-caller sat 1,385 yards short of passing Sid Luckman to become the very face of Chicago quarterbacks.
Even though it will only take Cutler five seasons to become the most prolific passer in franchise history, he has yet to bring the Bears to the Promised Land. Does Cutler need to win a title to justify this trade, or do his numbers alone already make this a deal that was worth doing?
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jay Cutler
- Chicago Bears
- Clay Matthews
- Mike Wallace