Ten years after: The Jay Cutler trade — was it worth it for Bears?

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (center) poses with general manager Jerry Angelo (left) and coach Lovie Smith (right) at a press conference on April 3, 2009 at Halas Hall after the Bears acquired Cutler in a trade with the Denver Broncos the previous day. | Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

The excitement in Chicago about the Bears’ trade for Jay Cutler 10 years ago Tuesday was palpable. And overwhelming. It even caught the man who made it happen, general manager Jerry Angelo, by surprise.

‘‘I’m really shocked by it,’’ Angelo said a day later. ‘‘I knew we’d create some energy, but it’s almost like a tsunami type of energy.’’

Even though he had built a Super Bowl team just two years before, the Cutler trade was Angelo’s crowning moment. It was a bold move most thought neither he nor the Bears had the gumption to make — and it was the beginning of the end. Three years later, Angelo was suddenly and unceremoniously fired by president Ted Phillips after 11 seasons as GM.

The rise and fall of Angelo illustrates the hope and ultimate futility of the Cutler era more than anything else. The trade transformed Angelo from a target to a genius overnight — ‘‘I’ll dine for free tonight,’’ Angelo said that day — but it also accelerated upheaval in an organization already wracked by dysfunction.

In Cutler’s eight seasons, the Bears fired two GMs (Angelo and Phil Emery), two head coaches (Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman) and four offensive coordinators (Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice and Aaron Kromer).

For all that change and all the moves they made to give Cutler a comfort zone, the Bears had one playoff appearance — a trip to the NFC Championship Game after the 2010 season.

We’ll never know if the Bears would have been better off had Angelo not pulled the trigger on the Cutler deal. But if the Cutler deal was a mistake, it was a mistake Angelo had to make. The Bears were that desperate for a quarterback.

Regardless of the outcome, the Cutler trade will stand as one of the most memorable moments in Bears history. In that spirit, here’s a look at how that seemingly glorious moment transpired.

The backdrop

After losing Super Bowl XLI to the Colts, the Bears were 7-9 in 2007 and 9-7 in 2008, when they missed a playoff berth after losing to the Texans in Week 17.

Kyle Orton was the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2008. He completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 2,972 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The urgency

In Angelo’s first eight seasons as GM, the Bears had 11 starting quarterbacks.

‘‘We’ve got to get the quarterback position stabilized,’’ he said after the 2008 season. ‘‘We’re fixated on that, and I don’t want us to lose sight of it.’’


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The setup

The opportunity arose when Cutler was miffed after learning new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels wanted to acquire Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel. Discussions with owner Pat Bowlen and McDaniels failed to repair the broken trust, and Cutler was on the block.

The deal

In a stunning move, the Bears traded first-round draft picks in 2009 and 2010, a third-round pick in 2009 and Orton to the Broncos for Cutler and a fifth-round pick in 2009. The Bears drafted receiver Johnny Knox with the fifth-round pick from the Broncos.

The reaction

The trade generally was hailed by stunned Bears fans as a masterstroke by Angelo. But media reaction was a little more measured.

Rick Telander in the Sun-Times: ‘‘This trade will be the one Angelo rides to enshrinement or out of town on a rail. There’s no middle ground here.’’

Rick Morrissey in the Tribune: ‘‘If Jay Cutler doesn’t raise red flags, Bears fans, you are colorblind. From all appearances and indications, he has the maturity level of larva.’’

The man of the hour

Cutler said all the right things in his introductory news conference at Halas Hall on April 3, 2009, but he disagreed with the notion of being a savior.

‘‘I don’t see myself as that at all,’’ he said. ‘‘In this league, I think I’ve learned over the past three years that it takes offense, it takes defense, it takes special teams and it takes great coaching. If you don’t have all four of those, you’re not gonna go very far.’’

The upshot

Cutler’s assessment of his role with the Bears would turn out to be painfully accurate. He ended up setting franchise records for passing yards (23,443), passer rating (85.2), completion percentage (61.8) and 300-yard games (16), but he was no savior.

As it turned out, Cutler was as talented as advertised. He was a good teammate and passionate about being the best he could be — two misunderstood qualities about him. But he lacked the ‘‘it’’ factor, the intangibles that often make a productive quarterback a winning one.

He couldn’t summon the laser focus when he needed it most. He couldn’t avoid the crucial mistake. He couldn’t avoid bad luck and too often struggled to overcome it. He earned the respect of his teammates — especially in his later years with the Bears — but he didn’t have the presence that compelled them to reach another level.

Cutler never instilled the kind of fear in his opponents that made them play stupid, like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers do so well. He could lead a team to victory, but he couldn’t carry it there. All in all, it was a roll of the dice that ignored one reality: As talented as he was, Cutler needed more help than the Bears gave him.

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