Finally, the Bears had a franchise quarterback.
Remember? Oh, the elation! The soaring hopes! The virtual ticker-tape parade down Michigan Avenue! After suffering through the horrors of Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Chad Hutchinson, Rex Grossman and too many others to count, Chicago was going to be like the cities that had iconic pigskin slingers. Here was a quarterback who would take the team out of the offensive Dark Ages and lead it to consistent success.
And, broken down to its most basic elements, there was some truth to it: The Bears are a “franchise,’’ and Jay Cutler is a “quarterback.’’
But putting those two terms together has not created a franchise quarterback. It was silliness to ever think it would.
This is going to look like piling on after two of the worst losses in Bears’ history, but it’s not. And it might look like 20-20 hindsight given Cutler’s struggles in Chicago, but it’s not.
I wish Kyle Orton were the Bears quarterback Sunday when the Vikings come to Soldier Field. I wanted him to remain the Bears quarterback in 2009. When former general manager Jerry Angelo traded Orton, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to Denver that year in exchange for Cutler and a fifth-round pick, I was part of a small, lonely group in Chicago that thought it was a bad move.
Cutler wanted out of Denver because new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels had dared to express interest in trading for then-Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel. Cutler was insulted. He refused to take phone calls from Broncos owner Pat Bowlen during his snit. I wondered in print how someone so delicate would respond to teammates and coaches in Chicago when things weren’t going his way. I thought Cutler was immature.
Those worries turned out to be justified. But the bigger problem was that the Bears were completely wrong about Cutler’s ability to be a top-tier quarterback. People continue to talk about his raw talent, but no one has been able to stop him from making brain-dead decisions. Five and a half seasons into his stay here, it’s clear he’s a big tease.
But the Bears compounded the problem earlier this year by giving him a seven-year contract with $54 million guaranteed. It was a decision of circumstance rather than firm belief. The Bears needed to rebuild an awful defense in the offseason, and all their energy went into that. But if you have doubts about whether you can win a Super Bowl with your quarterback – and the Bears should have — it’s time to start looking for a replacement. That’s what decisive, championship-driven organizations do. They don’t say, “There’s not a better quarterback available right now, so let’s lock ours up for at least the next three years.’’ They say, “We have enough confidence in our scouting department that we’ll eventually find a better alternative and get this right.’’
But back to 2009. Orton? Who would want Orton? Not the strongest arm. Didn’t move well. Bad neck beard. Few people in Chicago were smitten with him. But he was smart, kept mistakes to a minimum and his teammates responded to him. The Bears, however, were selling Progress. A new highway was being built, and Orton’s house was in the way.
In the two seasons he was with the Broncos, he threw 41 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Then Denver went completely stupid and chose Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback.
In six starts with Buffalo this season, Orton has completed 64 percent of his passes, thrown 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, and put together a passer rating of 93.5. Those numbers are similar to Cutler’s stats this season, and Buffalo is only paying Orton $2.5 million this season (in addition to a $3 million signing bonus).
The Bears would need the Jaws of Life to get out from under Cutler’s contract.
Giving up those first-round picks in the Cutler deal has only added to the Bears’ misery. We’re seeing the effects of a bad trade and bad drafts. This is a 3-6 team with few homegrown players and a talent deficiency, especially on defense.
The ranks of Cutler’s backers are dwindling. More and more people are finding it hard to explain away the silly interceptions and the sillier fumbles. Since having a great game against Atlanta (381 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers), Cutler has had a total of four interceptions and three lost fumbles in the past three games, all losses.
Angelo said he wanted to get the quarterback position “right.’’ Turns out he got it very, very wrong.