The trade the Bears made for Jay Cutler six years ago didn’t go as planned, but they’re as much at fault as he is.
With a new general manager, a new head coach and Cutler turning 32 years old, they’re likely going to have a new quarterback in the near future, but they can’t repeat the mistakes they made with Cutler.
This isn’t a defense of Cutler as much as it is an indictment of the previous two Bears regimes. The GM/coach combination of Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith didn’t understand what it took to help a quarterback be successful. The duo of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman were better at offensive player evaluation, but couldn’t put together a defense that wasn’t awful.
If you had to pick which group was more successful, it would easily be Angelo and Smith as the Bears won 58 percent of Cutler’s starts in the three years they were all together and 67 percent the last two. Cutler was injured 10 games into the 2011 season and nobody seemed to be questioning how valuable he was.
If Cutler wasn’t injured in 2011 or in the 2010 NFC Championship game, maybe the story would be different. the new Bears regime seems to be at least a little interesting in finding that out. Still, there’s no questioning that the Bears failed their quarterback by not providing him with adequate blockers or pass catchers at that time.
The last two seasons have been a failure of the defense, while Cutler was productive, although still prone to turnovers. He will always be prone to turnovers, it doesn’t make him a bad quarterback, it makes him a flawed one. Every quarterback has flaws.
The mistake they have consistently made the last six years is thinking that a quarterback can carry them when everything else goes wrong. That can be true for short spurts, but football is the ultimate team sport. Maybe if Cutler was Tom Brady or Peyton Manning he could’ve overcome a lack of adequate receivers. As for the lack of a defense, not even they have won with defenses that ranked in the bottom five.
The Bears may or may not still be in the market for a quarterback, depending on who you ask. They seem to like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, but that could also be a smoke screen. Maybe there’s another quarterback they like enough to take in the second or third rounds, we won’t know until draft day. What we do know is they need to build around whoever the quarterback is on both sides of the ball and the best way to build a good and deep team is through the draft.
Since acquiring Cutler in 2009, the Bears have drafted three skill position players and two offensive linemen in the first four rounds. In that same span, the Packers have drafted five skill position players and five offensive linemen. Go back a year earlier when they knew Aaron Rodgers was taking over and the Packers drafted Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley in the second and third rounds, as well as Josh Sitton in the fourth. They also have a coach who helped Aaron Brooks look like an NFL quarterback.
The Patriots have drafted five offensive linemen in the first four rounds since 2009, to go with nine skill position players. While they have changed offensive coordinators, their system has remained the same with each new offensive coordinator developing on their staff.
Even if you count the two third-round picks (which should really count as one considering they traded pass-catcher Greg Olsen away for one) the Bears gave up to get Brandon Marshall, they still invested less than the teams with the best quarterbacks in the league. They have also had four different people design and call plays for four very different systems.
In that same span, the Patriots have never had a defense that ranked outside the top 20 in points allowed, while the Packers have only once and the Bears have three times.
This week’s hot rumor has the Bears going after Mariota, possibly trading up — in a deal that would supposedly involve Cutler — to get him. As with all rumors, especially those reported by Jason Cole, that one almost certainly isn’t true. If the Bears love Mariota, they should try to get him, but beware of the asking price to trade up.
If you scan the best quarterbacks in the league, you’ll notice almost none of them required major non-financial investments.
Peyton Manning was the first pick in the draft, as was Andrew Luck, their teams didn’t trade any other picks for them. Rodgers was a late first-round selection and walked into a Super Bowl-ready team. Tom Brady was taken in the sixth round, Russell Wilson was in the third, both to teams that already had solid rosters. Drew Brees was a free agent signing, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco both dropped in the draft.
Of the last 16 Super Bowl champions, the only quarterback who cost his team more than one high draft pick is Eli Manning. Perhaps that is proof that a team shouldn’t invest more in their quarterback than they do in his supporting cast.
Whether they add a quarterback or not this year, the Bears still need to upgrade their offensive line, add another receiver, find a running back to replace Matt Forte and have a long list of things that need to be done on their defense. If they sell the farm for Mariota, or anyone else, they’ll be putting him in a no-win situation. It’s something they tried before and, so far, it hasn’t worked.
As important as having a great quarterback is, it’s just as important to have a good team around him. The Bears failed to do that over the last six years, it’s a mistake the team’s new leadership must learn from.