Former Broncos GM says Bears finally are doing right by Jay Cutler
BY ADAM L. JAHNS email@example.com July 22, 2013 8:07PM
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler smiles during warmups before the Chicago Bears fall 23-17 in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday December 2, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
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Updated: August 24, 2013 6:26AM
It was time for the Denver Broncos to find the next John Elway, their next franchise quarterback. Several seasons of varied success with Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and others left them yearning for more.
The year was 2006.
Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler were the top three college quarterbacks. And although the Broncos were coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance with Plummer, their brass thought it was time to secure the next face of the franchise.
A three-way trade had moved the Broncos from 29th in the draft to 15th, and they decided they wanted to move up even more to snare a quarterback. It was a foregone conclusion the Tennessee Titans would take Young with the third pick, but the Broncos were content with Leinart or Cutler. They just had to get one of them.
After Leinart went 10th to the Arizona Cardinals, the Broncos swung a trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up to 11th. They took Cutler.
‘‘I personally was a Jay Cutler guy,’’ former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist said. ‘‘I liked his mobility. I liked his strength. I liked his ability to make plays off-schedule. I liked his presence in the pocket. I liked the fact that he was at Vanderbilt, which is an academic school. He was a smart guy.
‘‘I saw a guy with the tools that in our system, surrounded by guys like [then-head coach] Mike Shanahan and [then-assistant head coach] Mike Heimerdinger, would develop and grow and be the type that we were looking for.’’
It didn’t pan out.
Cutler’s career has taken plenty of turns since he was drafted. He has become a lightning rod for critics and even has been labeled a ‘‘coach killer’’ by some. And now he’s entering the most important season of his career. He has to win over new Bears coach Marc Trestman in a contract year.
How did it come to this?
Sundquist said the Broncos first ‘‘went astray’’ after deviating from their initial plan of sitting Cutler for his rookie season and putting him in for Plummer. Sundquist said Heimerdinger, who had rejoined Shanahan’s staff that season, ‘‘had a different opinion of what he wanted at the position.’’
In March 2008, Sundquist was fired as the Broncos’ GM. Despite a Pro Bowl season by Cutler, Shanahan and Heimerdinger were fired after the 2008 season. Josh McDaniels was named the Broncos’ new coach, an irreparable rift was created with Cutler after some trade talks and the franchise quarterback-to-be was traded to the Bears on April 2, 2009.
Three offensive coordinators and a head coach later in Chicago, there is still discussion about whether Cutler, 30, finally can be that franchise quarterback.
‘‘I know what’s happened in Chicago,’’ said Sundquist, who now runs the website TheFootballEducator.com. ‘‘I know it’s frustrating because you’ve got a tremendous talent there that should be producing at the level of the upper-echelon guys. And for various reasons, he hasn’t been able to do that. Some of [the reasons are] his, and some of them, he hasn’t had the weapons at times, he hasn’t had the protection at times.’’
Sundquist said he still believes in Cutler. He said those who incessantly criticize him for his demeanor simply don’t know him. He sees a player with untapped potential who hasn’t been helped.
‘‘If you look around at the great teams, all those factors come together to create an Aaron Rodgers, a Tom Brady or a Drew Brees,’’ Sundquist said. ‘‘You’ve got to have somebody over on the left side. You’ve got to have targets for him to throw to. If you leave out an ingredient, it can ripple and affect your quarterback.’’
All Bears GM Phil Emery has done since taking over is equip Cutler. He added receiver Brandon Marshall, fired coach Lovie Smith, hired Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett.
‘‘It just didn’t seem like under Lovie that the emphasis was there to get [Cutler] the things that he needed to succeed,’’ Sundquist said. ‘‘And that’s just me and that may not be fair. Maybe they were trying to do everything they could. But at least this year, from the outside looking in, [Cutler] is the focal point.
‘‘From that perspective, I applaud the Bears because I think that’s what you have to do.’’
Sundquist said Cutler is the type of player ‘‘who needs a steady influence and a steady hand — a firm hand but also an understanding hand.’’ The hope is Trestman can be that.
Former MVP quarterback Rich Gannon described Trestman as part-disciplinarian, part-friend. He listens to his quarterbacks but demands a lot in return.
‘‘I always thought he saw the game through the eyes of the quarterback,’’ said Gannon, who worked with Trestman with the Raiders and Vikings. ‘‘He knows what buttons to push.’’
And they have to be pushed now.
‘‘Make-or-break year? Yeah, probably,’’ Sundquist said. ‘‘When [Emery] sits back at the end of the season and says, ‘Do I extend him? Is this the direction that we’re going to go for another couple of years?’ it will have a lot to do with how this particular formula of players and coaches ends up producing this year.’’