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Did the Bears overpay for Jay Cutler? Plus, 10 other thoughts

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

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Updated: February 28, 2013 11:44AM



Such a deal!

It will be months, maybe years, before the dust settles on the Alex Smith trade. But compared to the price the Bears paid for Jay Cutler, it looks like the Kansas City Chiefs got a bargain.

The Chiefs will give up a second-round draft pick in 2013 and a mid-round pick in 2014 to the San Francisco 49ers for the 28-year-old Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick who is 19-5-1 in the last two seasons with a 95.1 passer rating.

Four years ago, the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks, starting quarterback Kyle Orton and a third-round pick to Denver for the 25-year-old Cutler — a No. 11 overall pick who was 15-17 in his previous two seasons with an 86.9 passer rating — and a fifth-round pick.

The Bears paid a dear price for a commodity — Cutler made the Pro Bowl with Denver in 2008 after throwing for 4,526 yards and 26 touchdowns. That Cutler came up short in the final three games as the Broncos fell from 8-5 to 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs (two TDs, four interceptions and ratings of 74.3, 72.4 and 74.9 in consecutive losses) — or that his 86.0 passer rating was 16th in the NFL when he had a Pro Bowl receiver in Brandon Marshall and was sacked just 11 times — apparently didn’t figure in the purchase price.

But that’s the Cutler the Bears got — a talented, strong-armed, gritty competitor who can make all the throws, but can’t put a team on his back when it needs him the most and is easily perturbed. Whether or not Cutler is a ‘‘franchise quarterback,’’ he’s supposed to be. The Bears set the bar that high when they traded two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Kyle Orton to get him.

The Chiefs are expecting no less from Alex Smith — at a much cheaper price.

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And now, 10 observations on the Bears and the NFL after the scouting combine in Indianapolis:

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(1) The risk for the 49ers in the Smith deal shouldn’t be overlooked. Though Colin Kaepernick seems to be in good hands with Jim Harbaugh, shouldn’t the 49ers have waited to see how Kaepernick performs after opposing teams have had an offseason to combat the pistol/read-option?

Kaepernick has yet to start against the same team twice in his brief NFL career. The one time he started against a team that had seem him previously, the 49ers’ offense was shut down in a 16-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams (Kaepernick 21-of-32, 208 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, an 83.9 passer rating and 84 yards on nine rushes).

And division rival Pete Carroll already seems to have him pegged. Kaepernick had the worst start of the 2012 season against Carroll’s Seahawks — he was 19-of-36 for 244 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 72.0 passer rating in a 42-13 loss. (Smith wasn’t much better against the Seahawks, but won 13-6 at home). So twice against division opponents with Kaepernick starting, the 49ers scored 13 points.

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(2) Former Colts president Bill Polian, who chose Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 overall pick in 1998, said in an interview on WMVP-AM’s ‘‘Silvy & Waddle Show’’ he thinks Cutler has the ‘‘intangibles’’ to lead a team.

That’s high praise from a respected NFL executive. But he seems to fall into the same trap every other evaluator has made regarding Cutler — not looking deep enough.

‘‘Just stop and think about this: What was he surrounded with at Vanderbilt?,’’ Polian said. ‘‘I saw him as a sophomore — in the Swamp take Florida to the wire and come back about three or four times int hat game. It took a miraculous play by the Gators, who were then in the top 10 in the country, to win the game.’’

In fact, that game was a good harbinger of Cutler’s NFL career. He was 28-of-42 for 361 yards and four touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble that led to a Florida tie-breaking touchdown.

And he did most of his best work that day when the game was all but lost and he could let it all hang out. Three of his four touchdown passes came after Vanderbilt had fallen behind by two touchdowns.

Down 35-21 with 4:11 to play, Cutler drove the Commodores 61 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown. After Vandy recovered an onside kick with 2:16 left, Cutler picked on Florida reserve cornerback Reggie Lewis to drive Vanderbilt 57 yards for a tying touchdown — a 6-yard pass to freshman Earl Bennett.

But in overtime, Cutler came up short. Vanderbilt scored on an eight-yard rush after a Florida penalty in the first overtime. In the second overtime, Cutler’s first pass was picked off — by Lewis — to end the game.

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(3) What was the actual cost of the Cutler trade with Denver? The Broncos drafted defensive end Robert Ayers with the Bears’ first-round pick in 2009 (18th overall). The 49ers acquired the 2010 first-round pick from the Broncos and drafted offensive tackle Anthony Davis with 11th overall pick. And the swap of third/fifth round picks turned into a trade of wide receivers — Mike Wallace (by the Steelers in the third round) for Johnny Knox (by the Bears in the fifth round).

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(4) J’Marcus Webb is a free spirit who has a Twitter persona (‘‘JWebb Nation’’) befitting a much more established NFL player. His arrest for marijuana possession on Sunday night in Downstate Pulaski County indicates a lack of judgment — court records show that Webb already had been ticketed twice for speeding in Pulaski County last year, according to KFVS television of Cape Girardeau, Mo. How many times do you have to get caught holding by the same crew before you realize you better knock it off? Can’t he afford to fly to Texas to train?

The pot charge has been dropped. But regardless, the incident is unlikely to change Webb’s status with the Bears: He’ll likely have to win his left tackle job in training camp — and play well enough to keep it — on the field.

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(5) Alabama offensive tackle DJ Fluker still figures to be available at No. 20 for the Bears. But the 6-5, 339-pound Fluker might not be a left tackle prospect after he did not display the athleticism and footwork necessary to excel at left tackle in the NFL. Fluker ran a 5.31 40 and did 21 reps at 225 pounds limited workouts. Jay Cutler did 23 reps at 225 when he was the only quarterback to lift at the combine in 2006.

According to some scouts, Fluker’s best position in the NFL is right tackle or guard. That he doesn’t have one defined position entering the draft is a minor red flag for an offensive lineman.

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(6) Manti Te’o might not be the NFL prospect some thought he was during the regular season (ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. had him in the top five overall prospects at Notre Dame’s peak). But his performance in Notre Dame’s loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game is an overrated indicator.

On paper, it looks like a perfect measuring stick — the best linebacker in college football against a team with the most NFL-quality offensive players and on the big stage of a championship game.

Te’o, safety Zeke Motta and to a lesser degree tight end Tyler Eifert saw their NFL stock diminish after that game. And Chance Warmack, Eddie Lacy and other Alabama players saw their NFL stock soar.

And while the best team won, the disparity between the teams in terms of personnel was misleading, because the six-week layoff prior to the championship game exaggerates Alabama’s superiority in athleticism and tenacity. For a non-SEC team like Notre Dame, playing Alabama is a shock to its system.

Alabama’s most impressive victories come against teams ill-prepared for what they bring — Michigan (41-14) was down 31-0 in the season opener; Arkansas (52-0) was down 24-0 at halftime in the SEC opener.

Alabama was not quite so dominant when it faced teams conditioned to handle the Crimson Tide’s attack. Texas A&M beat Alabama 29-24 — and helped make offensive tackle Luke Joeckel a possible No. 1 overall draft pick. It’s no coincidence the Aggies pulled off the upset after playing SEC opponents LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State in the previous three weeks.

LSU had Alabama on the ropes before losing 21-17 — after having played Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M the previous three weeks. It makes a difference when you’ve been conditioned to handle that kind of speed. And if you’re not conditioned to handle it, look out.

‘‘I don’t want to make execuses,’’ Motta said at the combine. ‘‘Certainly you would play better against Alabama if you had played them every day leading up to that game. I think even then we still would have had a hard time winning.

But he acknowledged that Alabama’s speed was something the Irish had not seen in 2012.

‘‘Collectively, yes,’’ he said.

Te’o still will struggle against linemen and backs quick enough to engage him — even Brian Urlacher has struggled with that in his NFL career. But he won’t be as overmatched as he looked against Alabama in the National Championship Game.

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(7) Does it matter how fast a lineman is in the 40-yard dash or how high he can jump? That eternal question at the scouting combine became a particular issue when NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock raved about Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson’s impressive numbers at the combine.

‘‘Lane Johnson just kind of jumps off,’’ Mayock said when asked which players improved their stock. ‘‘ Are you kiddin’ me? His 40-yard dash time (4.72) was faster than Anquan Boldin. His vertical of 34 inches was the same as A.J. Green. Think about this: This is an offensive tackle at 300-plus pounds. Ran faster than Anquan Boldin and jumped the same as A.J. Green and his broad jump at 9-10 was the same as [Patriots running back] Steven Ridley.

‘‘Think about those three things for a 300-pound offensive tackle and put that in perspective with what he can be. And he had a good solid week at the Senior Bowl. I think he sky’s the limit.’’

But how do those numbers make him a better offensive line prospect? Johnson never is going to have to run 40 yards or jump at all in the NFL.

‘‘I think [it matters] because he’s played so little tackle in his life,’’ Mayock said. ‘‘Four years ago he was a quarterback at Kilgore (Okla.) Junior College, then he becomes a tight end and then a defensive end. Now he finally becomes an offensive tackle.

‘‘The important thing to recognize — and I’m not a big measurables guy. The tape is important to me — the tape from the beginning of his year at Oklahoma to the end which got so much better. What augments the argument that he’s going to continue to get better is his athletic ability. You take a guy that [made huge strides] in one year and then you look at what he did out there and go, ‘Oh my goodness. How much upsides there?’

‘‘There might some teams that quietly think he could be better than [Eric] Fisher [of Central Michigan] and Joeckel with time, because of that athletic ability. I think he’s going to end up in the 10-15 range in this draft. And I think he’s got the ability to be an All-Pro left tackle.’’

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(8) After acquiring Alex Smith from the 49ers, the Chiefs are almost certain to draft an offensive tackle with the No. 1 pick — probably Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, but possibly Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher.

With a deep class of offensive linemen in this draft, the Chiefs could trade down and still get the player they want. But without a clear-cut No. 1 overall pick, they’ll have trouble trading out of it. A year after the first two picks were golden [quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III], the No. 1 overall pick is not the prize it often is in a draft that has unusual balance through the first round. At least the No. 1 pick doesn’t carry $50 million in guaranteed money like it did in 2010 when the Rams picked Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. (The Colts signed Luck to a four-year, $22 million guaranteed contract last year).

‘‘If you’re a playoff team this year, you’re laughing,’’ Mayock said last week at the combine. ‘‘There’s so much depth in this thing, If you’re drafting 20-30, it’s not a whole lot different than the fifth or sixth pick.

‘‘It’s so stark, the difference between Ryan Grigson [Colts’ general manager] a year ago and he’s got RG III and Luck to choose from. Now, in Kansas City, Andy Reid and John Dorsey, there’s not a quarterback in sight — probably — at that point. So it’s a whole different level at the top and the bottom.’’

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(9) Jim Harbaugh said trust is one of the biggest factors in the evaluation process. But only to a point, apparently.

‘‘Somebody that’s not truthful — that’s big, to me. I’m a big fan of the Judge Judy show. And when you lie in Judge Judy’s courtroom, it’s over. Your credibility is completely lost. You have no chance of winning that case. So I learned that from her.

It’s very powerful, and true. Because if somebody does lie to you, how can you ever trust anything they ever say after that?’’

So is Manti Te’o undraftable to you because of the trust factor?

‘‘No. I wouldn’t say that,’’ Harbaugh said.

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(10) On paper, this might be the worst year for quarterbacks in the draft since 2000, when only one quarterback was chosen in the first two rounds (Marshall’s Chad Pennington by the Jets at No. 18 overall). But that draft also produced one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history — Michigan’s Tom Brady, who was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round, 199th overall.

There probably isn’t a Brady in this draft, but Florida State’s EJ Manuel is one of those guys who, like Brady, had success at a high-profile program and has quality measurables but still isn’t considered a sure-fire pro prospect. He’s not Tom Brady. But like Brady, there might be more to Manuel than meets the eye.

‘‘Athletically he’s very gifted,’’ said Jim Miller, the former Bears quarterback who is an analyst for Sirius NFL Radio and Comcast Sports Network. ‘‘The style of offense they ran at Florida State doesn’t really lead you to believe [he’s an NFL quarterback]. But it’s what he was asked to do. There were times it was man coverage with a blitz and they were running all go-routes. There were no dump-offs or outlets. They should have been running crossing routes.

‘‘I think you’ve got to [look] into the style of offense that he ran and what he can do. All I know is the kid learned the playbook down at the Senior Bowl and was fantastic all week. He was awesome.’’

Manuel is downgraded for his mechanics, but he has intangibles that often get overlooked or under-evaluated. He was 26-4 at Florida State in games he started and finished (for a high-profile program that was 27-21 in the previous four seasons). And he has a knack for being at his best when it counted. He was 4-0 in bowl games. When Christian Ponder was injured late in the 2009 season, Manuel picked up a 4-5 team in midstream and went 3-1 and was the MVP of the Gator Bowl as a redshirt freshman.

With his skills athletically, Manuel’s natural leadership ability can’t be overlooked. In 2009, he was the only freshman named by coach Jimbo Fisher to Florida State’s Unity Council, a players-only disciplinary group. It’s no coincidence that Manuel has been a quarterback since he started playing football when he was seven or eight years old.

‘‘It started in Little League,’’ he said. ‘‘Everybody had an opportunity to play quarterback. Some guys weren’t getting it done. And I happened to get it done. So I think it just stuck.

‘‘I also think my personality fits the quarterback mold as far as leadership. Just having the persona to get your teammates to come up and play at a high level. I think that’s something coach Fisher always complimented me about — getting my teammates to play at a high level.’’



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