First of all, this is what a Chicago Bears quarterback looks like in the best of times:
And this is what they look like under normal circumstances:
On rare occasions, you might find a Bears QB fumbling away a Super Bowl, dancing like an old man, or locked in a tender embrace with a bottle of something special. But there is no precedent for a Chicago quarterback doing this: 616 pass attempts, 384 completions, 4526 passing yards, 25 TDs.
Those were Jay Cutler's totals last year, at age 25. If he'd had that season with the Bears, he would have rewritten the team's record book -- in fact, Cutler would have passed for 688 more yards than anyone in franchise history.
The big question confronting fantasy owners is whether Cutler will deliver numbers like that in Chicago, where we're accustomed to a run-first, screen-second, run-third offense. And the big answer, at least for 2009, is no. The Bears gave 379 touches to a rookie running back in '08, and they gave 213 touches to a miserable running back in just 11 games in '07. The Bears aren't likely to reach 600 pass attempts next season. If history is any guide, the Bears are unlikely to throw 500 times.
But history also tells us that the Bears don't pursue elite, strong-armed, intelligent, accurate, game-changing quarterbacks. So history can just go (profane). It no longer applies.
Fantasy-wise, Cutler's value takes a hit. You might recall that in our first attempt at a mock fantasy draft, Cutler went at the top of Round 3. He was the fourth quarterback selected overall. But if we're drafting a fantasy league today, knowing that Matt Forte, Greg Olsen and Devin Hester are the only credible receiving threats on the Bears' roster -- and that the best WR in Chicago is currently employed by the Cubs -- then it's tough to rank Cutler higher than tenth among the QBs. He temporarily belongs to a tier that includes Donovan McNabb and a bunch of Matts: Ryan, Cassell and Schaub.
Chicago is suddenly an attractive destination for disgruntled/free agent receivers, however. At some point, the Bears will surround Cutler with better options. They took immediate action to improve Cutler's protection, signing Orlando Pace to a three-year deal.
When general manager Jerry Angelo was asked which issue will next be addressed, this was his reply:
"I can't sit here and tell you that we're pristine at other positions, but we feel good that we can take our present team and play, so anything that we do going forward is going to create more competition, particularly at the receiver position."
That sounds like a guy who doesn't intend to acquire a big name...yet. But he'll acquire someone. The Bears first pick in the NFL Draft is No. 49 overall, so they aren't going to get a no-doubt talent. Could Earl Bennett get interesting next year? Sure. But he still doesn't have an NFL reception. He's looking like a final round flier at the moment.
Let's quickly run through the marquee names affected by this deal:
• Matt Forte won't (or shouldn't) find himself involved in the same ridiculous percentage of the Bears offensive plays. However, with Cutler at the controls, opposing defenses have to worry about defending a lot more field. That helps every Chicago skill position player, Forte included. He was going to be a mid-first round selection in fantasy drafts, and there he'll stay.
• Greg Olsen becomes a second-tier tight end, with a chance to enter 2010 as a top-tier option. He'll also get plenty of preseason hype, so you can't expect him to be any sort of value pick. The Scheffler/Olsen columns are already written. Olsen has a realistic shot at a 70-800-8 season.
• Devin Hester gets more interesting, and it certainly helps that the Cutler deal happened in early spring. The timing here is not Favrian. Hester and his new QB will have plenty of time to work together, and Cutler has the arm to take advantage of No. 23's deep-threat ability. The obvious problem is that Hester doesn't have the hands to take advantage of Cutler's arm. Still, if his route running and recognition continue to improve (huge ifs), then Hester has a chance to finish the year as an every-week fantasy play. You can't draft him expecting that sort of performance, however.
• Brandon Marshall just lost a QB who targeted him a league-leading 182 times in 15 games last year. The Cutler situation is just one of the variables that impacts his '09 value, though. Marshall recently had hip surgery, he's being investigated by the league following an arrest, and there's a new playbook to learn. So the guy has a pretty full plate. He's also enormously talented. We likely would have ranked him somewhere in the 7-10 range, but today he looks more like the No. 13 or 14 wide receiver, behind Colston and Bowe. Basically he's a high-end WR2, not a low-end WR1. Not a huge downgrade. But stay tuned. Marshall tends to have busy off-seasons.
• Eddie Royal still looks like a nice value play. It's tempting to assign a Wes Welker-ish role to him under Josh McDaniels. If Royal stays healthy, he remains a very interesting fantasy commodity. With Cutler, some of us (raises hand) would have ranked him in the late-teens at WR. He won't drop too far. Royal caught 91 passes on 129 targets last year; expect him to maximize the opportunities that the new system and quarterback present. And speaking of the new QB...
• Kyle Orton is the presumptive favorite to quarterback the Broncos in 2009. Jay Cutler is a more talented player by orders of magnitude, but Orton clearly has better weapons. When pressured, Kyle has a disturbing tendency to throw the ball directly at an opposing lineman's face. But that's your problem now, Denver.
It should be noted that Orton had his best games in '08 exactly when the fantasy community knew he would, in Weeks 5 and 7, against Detroit and Minnesota. He was a match-up play last year. It's the same story in '09, but expect him to be ranked as a viable fantasy starter with greater frequency. Orton will likely move into the mid-teens in the early QB ranks.
If you'd like to argue that he'll be a more valuable fantasy piece than Cutler in '09, comments are the place to do it. Fire away...
Photos via AP Images