It is easy to get sucked into the mystique of a young quarterback with a high-caliber are coming into his own in the NFL. Those who follow the league may be great football minds, but everybody tends to suffer from a lack of foresight every now and then. In the case of Jay Cutler, it seems there were plenty of swings and misses when the Chicago Bears acquired Cutler in an offseason trade in 2009.
The Denver Broncos used the No. 11 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft to select Cutler out of Vanderbilt after putting together a First-team All-SEC season in 2005. Other than Vince Young and Matt Leinart, Cutler was considered the top quarterback in the draft in 2006. The Broncos moved up to draft Cutler as it became apparent the time had expired on the Jake Plummer experiment in Denver. It was time for the Broncos to find their new franchise quarterback years after seeing John Elway set off into retirement as a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Cutler appeared in five games in Denver in his rookie season and took on the full-time starting duties in 2007. By the end of the season, NFL analysts were excited about Cutler’s future and beginning to draw comparisons to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. With the Broncos missing out on the playoffs for a second straight season with an 8-8 record in 2008, the Broncos made a change at head coach by firing Mike Shanahan and hiring New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.Looking to start fresh, the Broncos and McDaniels began floating Cutler as a trade piece. Once Cutler caught wind of the trade rumors, the relationship between the quarterback and team hit a boil. McDaniels publicly stated Cutler would be Denver’s quarterback.
Looking to start fresh, the Broncos and McDaniels began floating Cutler as a trade piece. Once Cutler caught wind of the trade rumors, the relationship between the quarterback and team hit a boil. McDaniels publicly stated Cutler would be Denver’s quarterback, but the first head-to-head meeting between Cutler and McDaniels did nothing to calm things down and a little more than a month later Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears. It was a clean break for Cutler and a chance to compete with a team in desperate need of a quarterback.
At the time, the trade was considered a major franchise-changing trade for the Bears, who had struggled for years to find a steady quarterback. Now, Chicago had one of the top quarterbacks on the rise. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN wrote “such a deal could be considered among the most significant in NFL history,” and “certainly…among the most notable in the past 20 years.”
More from Pasquarelli’s column in 2009;
When it comes to pure numbers, the 1989 trade in which Minnesota acquired tailback Herschel Walker from Dallas, is recognized as the biggest in NFL history. A total of 18 “bodies” (players and draft choices) changed teams between the Cowboys and Vikings in that megadeal. There are five other trades in league history that involved 10 or more bodies. Notably, only one of those deals included a veteran quarterback, and he was a backup.
So in terms of impact and significance, if not raw numbers, the Cutler trade almost certainly ranks among the most notable in NFL history.
Pasquarelli was not alone in thinking the Bears just struck gold with one of the biggest trades in NFL history. John Clayton was all in on Cutler from the start. Mike Mulligan of The Chicago Sun-Times said “Face it: He’s a winner” in a column. How about this statement from Jason Cole on Yahoo Sports?
“Cutler doesn’t just make the Bears a contender next season, he makes them a contender for the next 10. In a division that has been starved for great quarterback play for decades–for every Brett Favre or Fran Tarkenton or Bart Starr–the rest of the teams in the division can each name 40 frauds who have started for them–the Bears got a guy with a chance to be great.
In Detroit, sportswriter Drew Sharp made this prediction about Cutler’s future in Chicago…
“Jay Cutler goes to Chicago. He’s now guaranteed another Pro Bowl season because he’ll face the Lions twice a season.”
Cutler never went to one Pro Bowl during his time in Chicago. His last, and only, Pro Bowl season was his final season in Denver. Quarterbacks will take the brunt of the blame when things are not going well in the NFL, and Cutler deserved his share of the blame. But the problems holding Chicago back did not always fall entirely on Cutler’s shoulders.
Today, Cutler sits idle in free agency, just waiting for the call to join a team in 2017. The Bears cut ties with their longtime starting quarterback this offseason after being unable to find a trade partner during the offseason. Odds are Cutler still has enough in the tank to find a spot on an NFL roster somewhere. It just won’t be for big money as a franchise quarterback. It is more likely he will be used as either a backup option somewhere or perhaps join a team to serve as a transition quarterback to provide veteran leadership to a younger franchise quarterback option. That tends to happen after 11 seasons in the league.
When (if?) the time does come for Cutler to get going with a new team, do not expect to read the same kind of glowing reviews of the offseason move this time around.