When the Bears acquired Jay Cutler from the Broncos in 2009, his availability was the first red flag.
The Bears were able to trade for a 25-year-old quarterback coming off a Pro Bowl season because Cutler was miffed that new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sought to acquire Patriots backup Matt Cassel — whom McDaniels had tutored in New England — and wanted out. Even after the Cassel deal fell through, Cutler demanded a trade because he didn’t think he could trust McDaniels.
It was a stroke of good fortune for the Bears and general manager Jerry Angelo, but the red flag was still there. If Cutler was that persnickety — that he couldn’t get over McDaniels initially wanting his own guy — how would he survive the annual tumult in Chicago, where nothing goes right without a lot going wrong?
Sure enough, those concerns were warranted. Cutler undercut his immense talent with fits of petulance, defiance, distraction and annoyance in his time with the Bears. He clashed with his offensive coordinators (one reason why he had six of them during his eight years) and struggled to get acclimated to things that weren’t just right, such as a developing Devin Hester as a receiver or left tackle J’Marcus Webb learning on the job.
Cutler matured out of a lot of that as he got older and, probably not coincidentally, became a father. But there is little doubt his makeup prevented him from being more successful than he was.
Twelve years later, a similar scenario might present another opportunity for the Bears to find a quarterback, with one difference: Deshaun Watson is, by all accounts, everything Cutler wasn’t as a leader of a football team. He has the ‘‘it’’ factor Cutler never had.
The Texans’ 4-12 record in 2020 hasn’t diminished Watson’s reputation as a leader and winner who overcomes adversity. He beat the Bills in a playoff game last season despite being sacked seven times. It’s true that he also was caught in the undertow of the Texans’ inglorious collapse in a 51-31 loss to the Chiefs the next week, but he still threw for 388 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in that game.
By all accounts, Watson is the same guy who willed Clemson to a victory against Alabama in the national-championship game, putting up 35 points against a defense that not only was the best in college football but had 10 starters drafted (seven of whom started on NFL playoff teams in 2020). Whatever ‘‘it’’ is, he still has it.
So reports that Watson ‘‘wants out’’ of Houston because of his unhappiness with the Texans over their GM and coaching searches have Bears fans dreaming.
And, coincidentally, the Patriots again figure in the discontent. The hiring of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio as the Texans’ GM was at the root of Watson’s recent ire. He was miffed he wasn’t part of the process.
Texans owner Cal McNair’s decision to retain executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby only angered Watson more. ESPN has reported that ‘‘people in and around the Texans’ organization’’ think Watson won’t play for them again and that they already are discussing trade scenarios.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that ‘‘sources close to Watson say . . . that unless Cal McNair can fire himself, Deshaun Watson is not about to change his mind that he does not want anything to do with the Texans going forward.’’
McNair still hopes to smooth things over, telling John McClain of the Houston Chronicle that he plans to have Watson ‘‘in the loop’’ on the selection of a head coach and that he is back on texting terms with him.
Whether Watson is traded, he’s a long shot to end up with the Bears. But that won’t stop Bears fans from dreaming about a scenario that finally brings him to Chicago, where he should have been all along. And if Watson becomes available, Bears GM Ryan Pace has to give it a shot.
Pace’s refusal to admit his mistake in drafting Mitch Trubisky over Watson and Patrick Mahomes in 2017 was one of several flash points of the Bears’ season-ending news conference Wednesday that enraged fans. Acquiring Watson would go a long way toward rectifying that.
There are other factors involved. Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract. If he’s miffed at the Texans for ignoring him in the GM search, why would he waive his no-trade clause to go to the team that ignored him in the draft process in 2017? It’s a fair point, but Watson also might see it as the ultimate compliment: a team willing to admit its mistake and embrace him as its savior.
And here’s the kicker if Watson forces the Texans’ hand: Pace has an outstanding working relationship with Caserio from Caserio’s days with the Patriots. They collaborated on several transactions, trades that sent Bears tight end Martellus Bennett (2016) and linebacker Jon Bostic (2015) to the Patriots and trades for draft picks the Bears used to acquire receiver Anthony Miller (2018) and running back David Montgomery (2019).
Though Bill Belichick is ultimately in charge of personnel with the Patriots, Caserio was the point man.
‘‘I would say mainly it’s 99% Nick Caserio on these deals,’’ Pace told the Sun-Times in 2019. ‘‘I’ve known him for a long time. He’s phenomenal. He’s really, really good.
‘‘Any time you do trades with these clubs, I think you get more comfortable working with people on both ends. Nick Caserio and I have a good working relationship, so I think it’s easier to be open and honest and get to the point.’’
Of course, Caserio probably has an even better working relationship with Belichick, who needs a quarterback. And the Dolphins and Jets are among teams that have better draft capital to bargain with if they’re interested in Watson.
But if the Texans don’t want to trade Watson to an AFC team, the Bears would be a contender. In fact, the Bears are the top NFC betting choice (11-2 odds, per BetOnline.ag) as a landing spot for Watson if he is traded — behind the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
Those odds notwithstanding, acquiring Watson is an even bigger long shot for the Bears than trading for outside linebacker Khalil Mack. But Pace is bold, if nothing else. And a little desperate.
This time, however, the interest in Watson would come with a twist. Instead of trying to determine whether Watson is good enough for the Bears, the Bears would have to prove they are good enough for him.