Four Down Territory, Feb. 10: From Orton to Sanchez and Stafford

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As we pledged to do this offseason, we’re not going to take our eye off the quarterback position for long. With that, let’s dive right into Tuesday’s Four Down Territory and start with a couple of QB queries.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kyle Orton? How much is his dropoff in production in the second half attributed to his ankle injury? Is he the longterm answer at quarterback? How much can he reasonably improve if the wide receiver corps remains so mediocre?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: If anyone has the answer to this question, Jerry Angelo would like to hear from them. Pronto. Here is the bottom line–Orton will be the starting quarterback for 2009. Even if the club brings in a veteran there isn’t going to be any type of derby. Not after the maneuvering the team has done since the season ended to make sure everyone knows it believes in Orton.

There’s no question Orton made steady progress from his rookie season of 2005 after watching for two years. The first half of the season he looked like a quarterback the Bears could invest in for the long haul. The second half of the season he looked like a quarterback the Bears needed to replace. Is he the passer you saw the first two months? The passer you saw the final two months? Or somewhere in between? Keep in mind that Brandon Lloyd going down in Week 4, and never really returning, didn’t help him. He had emerged as a steady target.

Orton never blamed the ankle injury for his deteriorating performance but certainly it played a factor. The club came out and admitted, after the fact, that he shouldn’t have been pressed back into action Nov. 16 at Green Bay. The club has pinned high hopes on him. If he plays well, the Bears will work to lock him up with a multi-year contract. If he doesn’t, the Bears are back to the drawing board and Angelo will be seeking his 12th starting quarterback. Yes, the GM has used 11 starters at the position since 2001.

The Bears are hoping he can take a significant step forward. He hasn’t had one offseason where he’s been the No. 1 and gotten the bulk of the first-team work. He split those duties with Rex Grossman last year. It’s fair to call the wide receivers mediocre, no question, but Orton needs to take some blame here too. There were plenty of instances when Devin Hester was open to make a play and didn’t get the ball. Orton has to hit some of those plays and that’s an area he’ll need to improve upon.

Q: Looking at all the mock drafts out there most prognosticators have the Bears going defensive end, wide receiver or offensive tackle. Considering the needs of the teams ahead of the Bears, I really think either Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford will tumble if the Lions choose to go adifferent route than quarterback with the first pick in the draft. The last few years have seen a few quarterbacks drop (Brian Brohm, Aaron Rodgers, Brady Quinn) because there was simply not a team out there who wanted to gamble on a franchise quarterback or felt that they had bigger needs. If Sanchez or Stafford fell to the Bears, would they jump at the chance to take him or are they more likely to try and negotiate a trade back with another team in the second half of the draft order looking for a quarterback?

Nick L., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

A: You’re right, we’ve seen some quarterbacks do freefalls through the draft the last few years. Remember, Ben Roethlisberger was getting antsy in the green room when he was selected in 2004, 11th overall. So, you’re suggesting the Lions, with a pseudo new management team in place, are going to continue old habits and draft Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree with the No. 1 pick? OK. I’ll buy that, or at least agree there is a chance Detroit addresses a need other than quarterback, which is a glaring one.

Let’s take a look at some teams drafting before the Bears at No. 18:

2. St. Louis: Is Marc Bulger still the answer?

3. Kansas City: New head coach Todd Haley takes over a club with Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle at quarterback.

10. San Francisco: That Alex Smith Era didn’t last too long.

11. Buffalo: Trent Edwards?

13. Washington: The Redskins have been known to think outside the box, far outside the box, and Jason Campbell didn’t get it done for first-year coach Jim Zorn.

17. New York Jets: The contingency plan without Brett Favre is what?

There are six clubs right there that could pull the trigger on a quarterback. Don’t discount the fact that Tampa Bay (19), Detroit (20), Minnesota (22) or even Miami (25) could have an interest in a passer and consider swinging a deal to trade up. The Lions could go with another position at No. 1 and then target a quarterback later in the round. I’m not saying that is going to happen, and I can’t give any certain idea what the draft plans of other teams are, but you can’t rule anything out on draft day. Certainly the Bears will have to consider a scenario and what to do if Stafford or Sanchez falls to them at No. 18 in the draft. That will surely be done in the coming weeks and months. Don’t discount the needs of some other teams, too, in this process though. The Bears aren’t the only quarterback-starved franchise out there. They’re just the one that has been starving longest.

Q: When, if ever, have the Bears traded up in the draft ?

Crystal Z., Parts Unknown

A: How easily you forget. The Bears packaged the 176th, 193rd and 218th picks in 2003 for No. 143, getting that from the Jacksonville Jaguars to select wide receiver Justin Gage in the fifth round. Gage was selected four picks after the team drafted fellow wide receiver Bobby Wade. That is the only time general manager Jerry Angelo has traded up–picks for picks–in seven drafts he has conducted with the Bears.

He’s more prone to dealing down in the draft to collect picks. The Bears traded down in the fourth round twice last April. In fact, Angelo has traded down in five of the last six drafts, dealing down twice in the first round in 2003. The Bears have adapted a philosophy of looking for a combination of players. The theory was born at the very top of the draft where teams are required to spend so much money on one player who isn’t a sure thing. At some point, the Bears came to the conclusion that rather than invest that heavily in one player (they dealt out of the No.4 pick in 2003) they would look at the combination of players they could get for the pick. Since, they’ve adapted that approach to other areas of the draft.

Angelo traded the 26th pick in 2006 and turned it into Danieal Manning and Dusty Dvoracek. In 2007, he traded the 37th pick to San Diego (who selected safety Eric Weddle) and that became Dan Bazuin, Garrett Wolfe, Kevin Payne and Marcus Harrison.

Basically, when the Bears’ turn to pick comes if there are three or four players they like equally and they believe at least one will last, they’ll explore options to move down and add more picks. Unfortunately, they haven’t done a very good job of pulling it off lately and they’ve missed on getting impact players at the top of the draft.

For what it’s worth, and it’s not much, the second-most recent trade up occurred in 1997. That was when the Bears traded picks No. 40 and No. 173 for No. 38, a move made to select Southern Cal tight end John Allred. Oops. They also traded up in 1996, dealing picks No. 18, 83 and 201 for No. 13 to select cornerback Walt Harris.

Q: I have seen you say that Marcus Hamilton $10 million likely to be earned incentive is now with the Bears. Why would it transfer from the Tampa Bay? Seems to be double dipping then. When the Bears picked him up on waivers, doesn’t only his salary come to the Bears? Because Tampa had to account for it in the cap space before the year began?

John D., Parts Unknown

A: When a player is claimed off waivers, a team gets the player and his existing contract. So, all of the terms of Hamilton’s contract applied when he was claimed by the Bears. Any bonuses or other money already paid to the player are the responsibility of his former team. By shedding Hamilton when they did, the Buccaneers created $10 million in cap space at that time. To add him, the Bears needed $10 million in room, which they had.

Since, Hamilton’s contract was adjusted. The Bears renegotiated his contract on Dec. 6, lowering the LTBE incentive to $9.7 million. That freed up $300,000 in cap room, which was likely needed for some of the moves down the stretch–signing wide receiver Devin Aromashodu Dec. 9, linebacker Gilbert Gardner Dec. 12 and safety Cameron Worrell Dec. 26. The cornerback is an exclusive rights free agent.

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