Lucky Bears get their man Cutler

It appears that all it takes for the Chicago Bears to realize they need a great quarterback is a historic economic calamity.

The last time the Bears, who pulled a quick and stunning deal to get Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos on Thursday, were this aggressive in getting a quarterback was a mere 70 years ago. That’s when George “Papa Bear” Halas traveled to New York to convince Columbia University graduate Sid Luckman to forego a career managing a trucking company to pursue a job in the NFL.

Luckman, who had been out of college a year and was already married, gave up the appearance of a solid career to join a football business that was all of about 15 years old.

“I had to ask my late wife Estelle,” Luckman joked as he sat in the living room of his high-rise condo in Aventura, Fla., in 1995. “It was the tail end of the Great Depression, everyone was still worried about getting a job, going out in the real world. My wife understood I loved football, but she didn’t know about this NFL and I had a good job working for her father.

“But when I told her they were going to pay be $5,000 a year and I was going to be the highest paid player in the league, she was OK with that,” said Luckman, who died in 1998.

Like those Depression Era days, the Bears were again willing to pay a healthy price in a rare opportunity to get a highly talented quarterback. Chicago gave up its first-round pick (No. 18 overall) and third-round pick (No. 84 overall), its first-round pick in 2010 and quarterback Kyle Orton for Cutler and a fifth-rounder this year.

“It’s a first time for me,” said Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who sounded as if he was just starting to come down from the adrenaline high of making the deal. “Just look at the history of the league. I can’t recall a situation like this.”

Angelo is beginning his 30th year in the NFL, so that statement speaks volumes. Throw in the fact that Angelo has looked high and low for a great quarterback during his time in Chicago and you understand his perspective a little better.

“It has been part of my goal for the organization [to upgrade that position],” Angelo said.

In one dramatic move, Chicago filled a chasm in its lineup. The list of quarterbacks who have played for the Bears since Luckman left the team in 1950 after winning four titles reads like a telephone directory. (Jim McMahon fans, there’s a reason McMahon played for seven teams in his career. He was the definition of “caddy” in 1985.)

Cutler doesn’t just make the Bears a contender next season, he makes them a contender for the next 10. In a division that has been starved for great quarterback play for decades – for every Brett Favre or Fran Tarkenton or Bart Starr, the rest of the teams in the division can each name 40 frauds who have started for them – the Bears got a guy with a chance to be great.

Yes, the Bears will have to surround Cutler with more talent than they currently have. Running back Matt Forte is good, but the Bears’ receivers are pedestrian and the line needs serious repair, even with the simultaneous signing of Orlando Pace on Thursday.

And Cutler is also coming off a troubling situation in Denver where you have to wonder why he didn’t make it work with new coach Josh McDaniels. Or as Angelo put it: “There was so much written, read and said that you didn’t need to be a fly on the wall to figure it out.”

But there is no doubting Cutler’s talent. There is no doubting that he can make any throw and that he can handle the pressure of having the game plan put on his shoulders. That’s what former Denver coach Mike Shanahan had to do last year as he went through a slew of running backs. By the end of the season, Shanahan basically said to Cutler, “Wherever we’re going, you’re taking us.”

That’s no small amount of respect from a brilliant offensive coach to a third-year quarterback.

Cutler threw 616 times and was sacked only 11 last season, a testimony to his ability to read a defense and quickly release the ball. In a little more than two seasons as the starter (he took over with five games left in 2006), he has been sacked only 51 times in more than 1,300 dropbacks. Those numbers compare favorably to the likes of Dan Marino.

Beyond that, both Super Bowl-winning quarterback Phil Simms and brilliant offensive coach Mike Martz thought Cutler was easily the best quarterback in the 2006 draft that featured him, Matt Leinart and Vince Young.

But the real issue is how Cutler impacts Chicago’s standing in the NFC North and the NFL overall. Of the other three teams, Detroit is still struggling to replace Bobby Layne (yeah, that’s new coach Jim Schwartz’s line, but it’s a great one) at quarterback. The Cutler move certainly has to make the Lions think harder about whether to use the No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback. Minnesota spent the end of last season debating over Gus Frerotte vs. Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback for the playoffs. Not exactly the stuff of dreams as the Vikings wasted another year of good defensive play and excellent running by Adrian Peterson.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has a chance to be very good, as his first year starting showed. But Rodgers still isn’t on Cutler’s level in pure ability. Thus, the Bears have the best quarterback in the division and a guy who can go toe-to-toe with the best of the rest in the NFC, be it Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb or Drew Brees.

That’s critical in the grand scheme of the NFL. This isn’t the golden era of quarterbacks that existed from the early 1980s to the late 1990s (Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Jim Kelly, Steve Young and some other really good ones like Simms), but it’s a pretty solid time between with the likes of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and the Manning brothers. That quartet has combined to win seven of the past eight Super Bowls.

In other words, if you expect to be a contender every year, you better have a guy who can sling it. Otherwise, you’re just hoping that there are some injuries along the way that open the door for a random opportunity.

If you want to do that, you’re probably going to be waiting a long time. Maybe 70 years.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Apr 2, 2009