David Haugh: Jay Cutler helped Broncos reach Super Bowl
By David Haugh Chicago Tribune (MCT)
Updated Jan 27, 2014 at 10:42 PM
NEW YORK — Never let it be said in Chicago that Jay Cutler cannot help a team get to the Super Bowl.
Just look at the Broncos.
Peyton Manning isn’t the only quarterback Denver can thank for wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker becoming one of the most productive pairings in the league. The Broncos selected Thomas and Decker with draft picks they received as a result of trading Cutler to the Bears on April 2, 2009, in a blockbuster deal that benefited both sides — but looks rather lopsided days away from Super Bowl XLVIII.
If the Broncos beat the Seahawks, will former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo warrant a winners’ share?
The Broncos did what the Bears believed they were doing on that memorable day nearly five years ago when Angelo excited Chicago with news greeted with euphoria unmatched since in our football city: Boldly making a deal to move closer to a championship. When the Broncos landed Sunday night in New Jersey for a week on top of the football world, they officially won the trade. The Broncos have gone 46-34 with three playoff victories since Cutler left town, while the Bears are 44-36 with one since he arrived but, without question, a Super Bowl berth confirms the deal benefited Denver more.
Signing Manning as a free agent in 2012 remains the biggest reason the Broncos will represent the AFC on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. But orchestrating the Cutler trade with the Bears for the valuable NFL currency of draft picks, which the Broncos invested in shrewdly, represents the Rocky Mountain version of the 1989 Herschel Walker blockbuster in which the Cowboys changed their future, thanks to the Vikings.
Following all of the Broncos’ subsequent draft machinations requires enrolling in a night class for draftniks. Suffice to say the Broncos super-sized a package from the Bears that included two first-round draft picks and a third-round choice with quarterback Kyle Orton for Cutler and a fifth-rounder who turned out to be wide receiver Johnny Knox. Knox suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2011.
To finagle a way to get Thomas and Decker in the 2010 draft, the Broncos (don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz):
1. Used the No. 11 overall pick from the Bears to trade down to No. 13 while adding a fourth-rounder (113th overall) from the 49ers that would come in handy.
2. Moved down further to No. 24 in exchange for the Eagles’ Nos. 70 and 87 picks in the third round.
3. Sent the fourth-round choice the 49ers gave them to the Patriots to move back up in the first round to No. 22.
4. Kept the 22nd overall pick and selected Thomas.
5. Used the 87th pick acquired from the Eagles to draft Decker.
You wonder if Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels realized the irony watching Thomas and Decker make plays in the AFC championship game to keep him from the Super Bowl. McDaniels was the Broncos head coach who clashed with Cutler enough to force the trade that eventually brought the receiving duo to Denver.
Besides Thomas and Decker, who combined for 179 receptions for 2,718 yards and 25 touchdowns, the Broncos also used the Bears trade in the first round of the 2009 draft to take defensive end Robert Ayers, a key backup with 51/2 sacks. The final overall bounty also included two now ex-Broncos the team was able to draft because of the Bears deal: tight end Richard Quinn and quarterback Tim Tebow.
In retrospect, when you remember Orton started for two productive seasons for the Broncos, the Cutler trade begins to resemble the front-office equivalent of a blowout. In context, the Bears have no reason to feel any regret over a deal they had to make at the time — and would have to do it all over again even knowing what they know.
Love him or hate him five seasons later, Cutler gives the Bears a dimension they never had. They badly needed the credibility Cutler offered the offense. They wanted to experience a bona fide NFL quarterback. Revisionist historians often forget that. The fault wasn’t giving up a king’s ransom for Cutler as much as it was getting bad playmakers to surround him (with due respect to Roy Williams and Dane Sanzenbacher, of course).
Sure, Cutler fell short of impossibly high expectations because of well-documented inconsistency but not until last season did the Bears front office help extend his reach. Even a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback such as Manning needed the signing of Wes Welker, defensive improvement and the continued development of his young wide receivers.
One day the Bears still can get to the Super Bowl with Cutler. Even if the Broncos got there first without him.