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Fantasy Notebook: Special Bears-Broncos Trade Post Mortem
Another Sunday, another Fantasy Notebook. ... Say. Did anybody hear about that big trade between the Bears and Broncos? You know, the one that sent starting QBs and draft picks shuffling from the Windy City to the Rocky Mountains and back?

That's right.

I would be referring to the April 2 trade in which the Bears landed Jay Cutler and a fifth-round draft pick from Denver in exchange for Kyle Orton, two first-round draft picks (this year's and next's) and a third round pick.

It was kind of a big deal.

In fact,'s Alex Marvez reported that landing Cutler required the Bears to offer the highest compensation for any NFL player since 2002. That's when Miami acquired running back Ricky Williams from New Orleans for two first-round picks and a swap of fourth-rounders.

And this week's Notebook is going to take an in-depth look at all aspects of this deal -- including some ramifications for those who came up short in talks.

Given that objective, I'll get the ball rolling this week by reminding you the intrigue surrounding the trade had as much to do with how it came about as the fact it went down at all.

A major element was the "soap-opera" like atmosphere created by a "he said-he said" back and forth (primarily) between McDaniels and Cutler (often through agent James "Bus" Cook with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen jumping into the fray as it wound down), considerable (in my opinion feigned) indignity on the part of Cutler and what often came across as the rather smug demeanor of incoming Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.

Issues leading to the trade began with Bowlen's decision to fire Mike Shanahan on Dec. 30 -- a surprising development that clearly caught Cutler off guard.

"I hope it all works out," Cutler told the Rocky Mountain News immediately after the firing. "But I know I'm disappointed, I'm not happy, and it's a lot to think about. I just want to continue the things we were able to do this year on offense and get better all the time."

Cutler was said to be particularly interested to hear what the fate of current quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates would be. Bates just finished his first year as the team's play-caller on game day.

Bowlen subsequently hired McDaniels, formerly offensive coordinator in New England, as Shanahan's replacement -- a decision that played a major role in Bates accepting a similar job at USC.

It's worth noting at this point that both's Peter King and insider John Czarnecki reported that Cutler made his first trade request when Bates left -- (leading me to suggest Cutler's subsequent outrage was disingenuous at best).

Things heated up noticeably, however, on Feb. 28, when we learned the Buccaneers were trying to acquire Cutler in a trade for a first-round draft pick. In turn, the Broncos would trade the first-round pick to the Patriots for Matt Cassel.

"I'm upset," Cutler said in reaction. "I mean, I'm really shocked at this point."

Again, I'll note Cutler's indignation comes after he reportedly made his first (albeit informal) trade request.

The Broncos did not make the trade and Cutler remained with the team. Cassel was shipped to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round draft pick.

As the Denver Post recounted, McDaniels claimed that Tampa Bay initiated the trade talks and the Broncos would not trade Cutler. Meanwhile, the team tried to reach out to Cutler but the two sides remained distant, with Cutler in Nashville and the Broncos refusing comment.

Cook claimed Cutler remained upset that the Broncos tried to trade him (McDaniels, in his first post-trade press conference last Friday, revealed that Cutler and Cook were fully informed of all discussions -- including those initial talks that "shocked" the QB).

After two weeks of little or no communication, Cutler and Cook spoke via conference call with McDaniels, general manager Brian Xanders, Bowlen and chief operating officer Joe Ellis. Cutler was in Nashville. It was March 9.

The Broncos said it was a positive discussion and the possibility of a trade never came up. Cutler's side claimed the call did not go well.

On March 14, Cutler finally sits down with McDaniels in a meeting at Broncos headquarters. (Perhaps unfortunately,) Cook came with his client. Because Cook showed up, Xanders also sat in on the meeting.

Cutler again claimed the meeting did not go well. Bowlen said he was disappointed his quarterback and his coach were unable to end the feud -- but the owner stressed he was more disappointed in Cutler.

The next night, Cutler instructs Cook for formally request a trade.

Shortly thereafter, Bowlen and Cook have an exchange in which the owner challenges a claim made by Cook that Bowlen had lied to Cutler. Cook said Bowlen told Cutler after Shanahan was fired he would keep the offense intact.

Bowlen told's Thomas George that he does not recall the conversation.

On March 31, Bowlen states his intention to trade Cutler -- citing the quarterback's failure to return phone calls as a major reason for the owner's belief Cutler no longer wants to play for Denver.

On April 2, the Broncos announce the trade. ... According to Post staffer Mike Klis, McDaniels did not try to call Cutler to inform him of the trade -- not after the team's difficulty getting hold of Cutler the previous 10 days.

Instead, Xanders notified Cook that the deal had been consummated. "I don't feel like Jay would have had any more desire to speak to me now than he's had in the past," McDaniels said.

So there's the tick tock. ... Now for the "why."

In the end, this trade happened so quickly because, first and foremost, the owner of the Broncos felt dissed.

And as King advised readers on Monday, you do not diss Bowlen.

King explained: "Bowlen is 65. He has owned the team for 25 years. In Bowlen's world, there is a protocol to doing business, and part of that protocol is the players and coaches having respect for the owner, regardless of their personal feelings about anyone else in the organization. Imagine Tom Brady ignoring calls from Bob Kraft. It'd never happen. Imagine Dan Rooney getting snubbed by Ben Roethlisberger, or Peyton Manning ditching Jim Irsay.

"Never in a million years, regardless of how they felt about what was happening with the team."

All of which confirms my longstanding belief the owner was a driving force behind this deal.

According to King, "In all the years Bowlen has owned the team, he has never felt quite the disrespect from a player or coach that he felt from Cutler ignoring his attempts to speak to him to attempt to bridge the problems between player and team."

Could McDaniels have done more to pacify Cutler? Maybe.

There are certainly those who believe the incoming coach's inexperience played a major role in the situation.

As one of the general managers involved in talking to the Broncos told King Saturday: "This should never have happened. This is bad for football. A great player talked his way off a team. If this trade doesn't work out for Denver, and Cutler plays great, which he should, Denver's going to look idiotic."

But I still agree with King's contention that Cutler owns a degree of culpability greater than the team's.

Per King: "Cutler has himself to blame for this trade because he couldn't accept that the team fired the two coaches -- Shanahan and Bates -- most responsible for the very good offense the Broncos had in 2008 and then couldn't accept that McDaniels wouldn't assure him he'd never be traded."

Kind of ironic that McDaniels turned out to be wise not to make that promise.

Whatever the case, Cutler and the Bears both feel like they come out ahead while Denver got a better deal than they could have expected given the circumstances. ... Let's examine from each team's perspective, eh?

Starting in Chicago. ... As the Associated Press framed it: "After the stormy exit from Denver, Cutler is thrust into the role of franchise quarterback for his once-favorite team.

"But don't call him a savior."

"I don't see myself as that," Cutler said in his introductory news conference last Friday.

In addition to landing Cutler, the Bears also agreed to a three-year contract with free-agent Orlando Pace, filling a hole on the offensive line with a seven-time Pro Bowler for St. Louis.

Two big moves. One big statement.

Most important for the average fan, the Bears showed they're serious about contending in the NFC after missing the playoffs the past two years. And most important for Fantasy owners, in Cutler, they finally have a top-tier passer after a decades-long search.

Indeed, 23 quarterbacks have started for the Bears since Jim McMahon in the mid-1980s, but the quarterback problems date back about six decades, since the days of Hall of Famer Sid Luckman.

"Time will tell if he's going to be a franchise player," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We're certainly hoping that's the case. But what we do know is we got a winning quarterback and we feel very good about that."

The Bears are getting a Pro Bowl quarterback who threw for 4,526 yards, 25 touchdowns with 18 interceptions. If he performs as advertised, the Bears will finally have a mobile quarterback with a rocket arm who will bring an end to the long line of mediocrity at the position.

"He does for us what Ben Roethlisberger does for the Steelers," said tackle Chris Williams, Cutler's teammate at Vanderbilt.

But as Chicago Tribune columnist Dan Pompei stressed this week, Cutler can't do it by himself.

Pompei explained: "To be the best he can be, Cutler will need better receiver play than the Bears gave Orton, better pass protection than they gave Orton and even a better running game than they gave Orton."

He had all of the above in Denver. Brandon Marshall had almost twice as many receiving yards as the Bears' leading receiver. The Broncos allowed 17 fewer sacks than the Bears did.

And the Broncos averaged 4.8 yards per carry compared with 3.9 for the Bears.

Pompei went on to suggest some of those discrepancies should be rectified through Cutler's play and through an improved offensive line. But the Bears also have to count on improvement through the draft -- a task more difficult thanks to the picks spent on acquiring him.

Positives? Cutler will have a high-end running back in Matt Forte -- something the Broncos lacked -- and two good tight ends, Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark. But the wide receivers? Well, Angelo is looking for help.

Devin Hester struggled with a bigger role on offense and saw his production on special teams drop after two record-setting seasons returning kicks. Rashied Davis struggled to hang onto the ball, and Earl Bennett didn't catch a pass as a rookie after being drafted in the third round out of Vanderbilt.

For now, it appears Angelo will get a prime opportunity to test his theory that the quarterback makes the receivers rather than the other way around. If Bennett develops into a competent NFL wide receiver with Cutler then Angelo will be proved correct.

Those who will be depend on Cutler to get them the ball believe that will be the case.

"The NFL is a quarterback-driven league," Olsen, whose ability to stretch the field vertically fits perfectly with the strong-armed Cutler's ability to go deep, told reporters after the deal was announced. "Look at the Cardinals. They made that (Super Bowl) run pretty much because of their ability to make plays (in the passing game).

"At this level, with our defense, if we can just put some points on the board and have a guy to throw it, with guys who can help him out and make plays, that's a recipe for success."

As Arlington Heights Daily Herald beat man Bob LeGere noted, Olsen has proven his ability to make plays since he was drafted in the first round in 2007. He was second on the Bears last season with 54 catches and 574 receiving yards, and he led the team with five TD catches. Olsen made significant strides from his rookie season, when he caught 39 passes for 391 yards with two touchdowns.

His production should continue to increase with Cutler at quarterback.

Hester made major progress last season in his switch from defense to wide receiver, more than doubling his receptions (from 20 to 51), and his yardage (from 299 to 651) in one year. He's looking for similar improvement in '09.

"I want to be better than what I was last year," Hester said Monday. "My goal in whatever I do is to be twice as good as I was last year. Last year was pretty all right, but this year I want to be double than what I was last year."

His chances of achieving that objective increase noticeably with Cutler delivering the ball.

And should the Bears add a proven veteran wideout before the season starts (Plaxico Burress and Torry Holt are the two names being most-bandied about), the Fantasy fortunes of all involved would rise, too.

Appearing at an awards ceremony on Tuesday night, head coach Lovie Smith was asked about Holt, a player he has a history with dating back to his days as St. Louis' defensive coordinator.

"Great player, great guy," Smith said. "Torry's in a pool like a lot of other receivers. We evaluate everybody that's available, and Torry's one of them."

Pace has already begun lobbying Holt.

"I spoke to Torry," Pace said. "It's funny he just probably at my house a few days before I even came here. I think he's just out searching. I'm probably recruiting him in Chicago here. And hopefully it works out."

Smith, meanwhile, was then asked about Burress, a player whose off-the-field issues might scare some teams away. According to WSCR-AM radio, Cutler already reached out to Burress.

"Every player that's available, we look into," Smith said. "No more than that. ..."

Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Ron Turner told the team's official web site on Monday that he's beginning the work of identifying the parts of his offense that best fit Cutler's skills.

"We're going to run our offense. We've got everything in our offense to take advantage of his capabilities. It's just a matter of the emphasis. We'll change some things there with him. That's one thing as a coach that you always try to do and I'm always trying to do is maximize the talents of our players, not just the quarterback but Greg Olsen, the wide receivers, the running backs with Forte and the things he can do, and we'll do the same thing with Jay.

"We'll run our offense, but we'll emphasize the things that he can do really well."

As's Kevin Seifert suggested, it will be interesting to see how that angle plays out.

The Bears' offense under Turner has traditionally been a run-first scheme that asks quarterbacks to manage the game with quick-read passing. Cutler's big arm is a rare commodity and how Turner and the Bears use it will be of great interest to Fantasy Nation. ...

For what it's worth, the front office was fairly geeked up about the deal. Especially Angelo, who -- considering the price paid -- debunked the "too-conservative" label he's worn throughout his tenure in Chicago.

And if anybody believes the Bears overpaid, King was kind enough to remind his readers on Monday of the 14 men who have been first-round picks for the Bears in the last 15 drafts: John Thierry, Rashaan Salaam, Walt Harris, Curtis Enis, Cade McNown, Brian Urlacher, David Terrell, Marc Colombo, Michael Haynes, Rex Grossman, Tommie Harris, Cedric Benson, Olsen and Williams.

Eliminating the last two -- because they don't have enough on their resumes yet -- King offered the following assessments of the other 12: One "star" (Urlacher); one very good NFL starter (Tommie Harris); two NFL starters (Walt Harris, Colombo); three who had some moments but ultimately failed (Grossman, Thierry, Haynes); and five busts (Salaam, Enis, McNown, Terrell, Benson).

Four of the 12 became consistent NFL starters, or better. That wasn't lost on Angelo.

"I've kind of changed about draft choices, particularly first-rounders," Angelo told King. "I don't have the same conviction on ones that I used to. It's the money, the totally unrealistic expectations, players coming out younger and not as experienced, players with too much time on their hands and too much money and not being grounded enough.

"Here, we had a chance to get a quarterback who's already shown he can play really well in the league. He's a guy with resilience; you've got to be resilient playing at Vanderbilt and succeeding John Elway. So we felt like it was a good investment for us. Time will tell."

Time will indeed tell, but from where I sit the Bears immediately become a better team.

As Tribune staffer David Haugh put it: "Adding Cutler certainly removed an obstacle in the Bears' road back to playoff prominence. When Smith said the night his 9-7 season ended last December that the Bears were 'close,' to being a playoff team it deserved snickers.

"But now the Bears are closer to being the favorites in the NFC North than they are to being a team that spends its third straight post- season at home. ..."

One last note from the Chicago side. ... According to Angelo, the perception of Cutler being petulant and immature based on his spat with McDaniels didn't mesh with the reality the Bears encountered when digging into their new quarterback's past.

"[Smith] and I talked about that and felt he's a very good person, a good leader," Angelo said. "He has had some things happen in Denver. And we recognized those but thought of those as speed bumps."

Possible speed bumps on the horizon in Chicago?

Cutler is known for holding a grudge, and he still seems to be holding one against Turner stemming from an old recruiting dispute, according to Chicago Sun-Times staffer Brad Biggs.

Citing people close to Cutler and a Post column, Biggs noted that some fences may need to be mended between Cutler and Turner now that they're going to work together.

As a high school senior, Cutler accepted a scholarship to Illinois where Turner was the head coach at the time. Cutler committed without visiting campus, though, and when he arrived for an official visit Turner reportedly pulled the offer.

Cutler had turned down offers from Purdue, Duke and Maryland to go to Illinois before winding up at Vanderbilt. ...

Moving on to Denver's side of this deal. ... King reports the key to the trade was Orton. McDaniels looked hard at tape of the available quarterbacks from teams that made serious offers, players like Orton, Washington's Jason Campbell and Tampa Bay's Luke McCown.

Every one of those teams was in the ballpark with an offer of at least two first-round draft picks and a quarterback.

But as the deal went down, McDaniels, who watched every offensive snap of more than 10 Bears games with Orton playing, got more and more impressed with Orton's arm, his decision-making and his ability to extend plays when the pocket broke down.

According to King, McDaniels thinks he can win with Orton. ... But that doesn't mean the former Bear will be handed the starting job from the jump.

That's because Orton and Chris Simms have been told they will compete for Cutler's job.

On Monday, Orton and Simms met with the Denver media for the first time. As AP sports writer Arnie Stapleton suggested, they each said all the right things after a winter in which Cutler said all the wrong things.

Orton and Simms said it was a thrill to work for the man who helped Brady and Cassel thrive in New England. They professed indifference to the fact McDaniels might draft a quarterback later this month.

And they welcomed the competition for the starting job.

"That's the only thing I've ever asked for in my career," said Orton, a veteran of so many dueling quarterback dramas with Grossman. "If you get that, that's all you can really hope for. Chris is a good quarterback, smart player; he's won a lot of football games himself.

"So, we'll have a good quarterback on the field."

That said, all signs would seem to point toward Orton having the edge on Simms. He's 21-12 as a starter, including 15-2 at home, the best mark in the NFL since he joined the league in 2005.

Simms has started 16 games in six seasons, and he's thrown just two passes since undergoing emergency surgery to remove his spleen after a game in 2006.

He signed a two-year, $6 million deal originally to back up Cutler, but now finds himself in an open competition with Orton, who will make about $1 million this season in the final year of his contract.

"When I signed, I kind of knew what my role was going to be," Simms said. "But things change over the course of two or three weeks."

Neither quarterback, however, would say he felt the starting job was his to lose or keep.

"I'm another quarterback on the team and the best players are going to play," Orton said. "I think coach has made that clear for all positions, and quarterback is no different. So, really I'm just focusing on coming in, learning the system, getting to know the guys and playing the best football that I can."

He said he was eager to learn from McDaniels.

"I can't tell you how excited I am to come to Denver, to play with great coaches, to play with a lot of talent around me on offense and hopefully really just embrace this community," Orton said.

Simms also said the chance to work with McDaniels is what lured him to Denver.

"It's no secret that the offense in New England the last few years has been pretty explosive, done a lot of good things, won a lot of football games," Simms said. "And as a quarterback, and really as a fan of the game and as a student of the game, I found it very exciting to be a part of that, learn what he's been coaching the last few years."

Both men will benefit from a strong receiving corps featuring Marshall, Royal, Brandon Stokley and tight end Tony Scheffler. Orton called it "a quarterback's dream" to play in an offense that features this group of receivers and to play behind a line that allowed just a dozen sacks last season.

"This is an offense that a quarterback can thrive in," Orton said. "And hopefully I can take the next step in my career and really become a top-level quarterback in this league."

According to Klis, Orton only need a couple of hours with McDaniels to realize things were going to be different than what he experienced in four years with the Bears playing for Smith, a defensive guru who made sure his teams were defense-first.

"It's different. And that's not taking anything away from a defensive head coach," Orton said. "There were a lot of game situations where we played it pretty safe and let your special teams and defense win it. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't."

The Broncos -- and Cutler -- were rarely able to play it safe, not with a defense that gave up more than 400 points each of the last two seasons. Without making a judgment on Denver's defense under McDaniels, Orton said he expects Denver's offense to attack.

"I think we're going to score as many points as possible," Orton said. "That tends to suit my nature a little bit better."

And his appreciation of the scheme apparently trumps concerns about the lack of defense.

"It's the offense," Orton told King. "I've watched it. I love it. The spread -- or at least, the multifaceted part of it -- really appeals to me. You change from game to game, and you do whatever gives your team the best chance to win that Sunday. That's the way an offense should be.

"But it counts on the quarterback to be smart at the line of scrimmage, and to make good decisions, and to be accurate. I think those are traits I have."

Well. ... He has some of those traits. But King reminded readers last week that Orton hasn't shown the accuracy in Chicago that he'll have to show in Denver.

In 33 career games, he's completed just 55.3 percent of his throws.

That's the reason at least one observer stressed this week that Orton is a "decent quarterback but he is not a special quarterback."

As's Bill Williamson suggested, it wouldn't be a surprise if Orton was more efficient under McDaniels but it would be a huge surprise if he became a dominant, game-changing player.

It's hard to argue that point. ... And most NFL scouts would say Cutler has vastly superior talent to Orton. He certainly has a much stronger arm. But Orton has an uncanny knack for getting his team to rally around him. It's a characteristic McDaniels seems to place considerable stock in.

"I think you might be underrating Kyle's ability," McDaniels said in announcing the trade. "I think Kyle has good ability. He's 21-12 as a starter. To me that's the most important statistic in football. It represents how he affects his team. This guy has been productive. He does a lot of things well. He's smart, he's accurate.

"He's a very competitive player, he's tough and he's a great teammate, and we're looking forward to adding him to our roster."

And attitude is unlikely to be an issue.

"Leadership doesn't come overnight," Orton said. "I plan to put my head down and go to work and show the guys what my work ethic is."

That's certainly more than the post-Shanahan Cutler was willing to do. ...

In a few related notes. ...

Multiple reports suggest that when the process of trading away Cutler began, McDaniels had as much interest in Cleveland quarterback Brady Quinn as Orton. But Klis reports that Quinn never came into play because from the start, Cook made it clear his client would not play for new Cleveland coach Eric Mangini.

Another one of Cook's clients, Brett Favre, played for Mangini last season with the New York Jets. The Broncos didn't want to trade Cutler to an AFC team, anyway.

Cook subsequently denied that report -- but I continue to have serious problems with the agent's role in this case and in his overall credibility on such matters.

Meanwhile, the Redskins also aggressively pursued Cutler, but they were unable to deal their current quarterback, Campbell, for the second-round pick they were seeking.

Like the Bears, Washington was willing to part with two first-round picks.

Campbell said he plans to move forward and "to do everything I can do to help us get to where we want to be as a team" after the team's failed effort to move him and land Cutler.

Though he's said all the right things publicly,'s Mike Florio reports that Campbell isn't happy. One source close to Campbell told Florio the 2005 first-round pick was "pissed" about the situation.

But instead of taking Cutler's path, Campbell is using the situation as motivation to make himself into a better quarterback. ...

The New York Jets, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Minnesota were the other teams involved, to various degrees, in the Cutler trade discussions but none made the kind of vigorous pursuit needed to be real players in this one. ...

And finally this week, from the "Six Degrees of Brian Griese" file. ... Post staffer Lindsay H. Jones points out the Broncos can't manage to shake their connections to Griese. Indeed, Denver's new quarterbacks have close ties to the Broncos' former starter, who played in Denver from 1998-2002.

Orton and Griese were on the Chicago Bears' roster in 2006 and 2007. Griese was the team's No. 2 quarterback behind Grossman in 2006 (Orton was No. 3) and part of 2007. Orton started the final three games of 2007 and won the starting job in 2008 over Grossman. Griese returned to Tampa Bay, where he was in training camp with ... Simms.

Simms and Griese -- sons of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks -- overlapped in Tampa Bay in 2004 and 2005, and again during training camp last season. In 2005, Simms replaced Griese as the starter after Griese tore his ACL in Week 6, then helped the Bucs earn a playoff spot.

Griese left after that season. ... To join Chicago and Orton.

It's downright creepy, eh?

That's it for this week's Notebook. I'll check in again next Sunday. ... In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other tidbits of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the Fantasy Notebook.