As you've all heard, read, and/or seen by now, the Chicago Bears traded for quarterback Jay Cutler yesterday, sending away their first-round pick in this year's NFL draft, their first-round pick next season, their third-round pick this season, and their starting quarterback from last year, Kyle Orton. The Bears also received Denver's fifth-round selection this season to go along with Cutler.
And, with that, the melodrama has started. Kevin Seifert has already declared that the NFC North was decided yesterday with the Bears' acquisition of Cutler, and there seem to be lots of folks out there that feel the same way.
Naturally, there are flaws in this line of thinking. Let's go through them, shall we?
The big problem with declaring that this trade is going to make the difference in this division is that it buys into the fallacy that the vaunted Chicago defense is still actually "vaunted." I hate to break the news to everybody, but it's not. And the Bears haven't done anything this off-season thus far to change that.
"But Gonzo," you might say, "if you look at the Bears' defense and the Vikings' defense, there's only about a one point per game difference. How can you say the Bears' defense isn't any good while Minnesota's is?" Quite easily, actually. If you look at last year's scoring stats from NFL.com:
|Rush TD Allowed||Pass TD Allowed||Punt Ret TDs Allowed||Kick Ret TDs Allowed||INT Returns for TD Allowed||Fumble Returns for TD Allowed||TD Allowed on Blocked FGs||TD Allowed on Blocked Punts|
Bringing Jay Cutler in doesn't make Brian Urlacher any younger. . .it doesn't make Tommie Harris any less injury-prone. . .it doesn't replace Mike Brown's veteran leadership. . .and it certainly doesn't make Charles "Toast" Tillman any smarter. Only two NFL teams were worse against the pass in 2008 than the Chicago Bears. They also put up 21 fewer sacks than the Vikings did.
The Minnesota defense allowed opponents to score 25 TDs in 2008. The "vaunted" Chicago defense allowed 37. And do you really, truly, honestly think that the Vikings are going to be allowing 11 non-defensive touchdowns next season? Hell, if you throw in those 11 non-defensive TDs, the Vikings still allowed fewer touchdowns than Chicago did last season. Also, keep in mind that the Vikings played 3/4 of the season without their starting middle linebacker, E.J. Henderson, played without Madieu Williams for the first six weeks, and had Jared Allen playing with a bad knee and a bum shoulder for the last month.
In his Denver career, Jay Cutler was 13-1 when his team's defense allowed less than 21 points. The Bears allowed more than 21 points 10 times last season and haven't done anything this off-season to help their defense.
(Oh, and for the record. . .Tarvaris Jackson's record as a starter when the Vikings give up 21 points or less? 9-2. It goes to 10-2 if you make it 22 points or less. Thanks to Andy Lowe at TalkVikes for pointing this out.)
The second problem with declaring the Bears as NFC North champions at this point. . .did the Bears acquire Brandon Marshall in this trade as well? How about Eddie Royal? The Bears are one of the few teams in the NFL that are worse off at receiver than Minnesota is. Their most effective pass play is "throw the ball deep to Devin Hester, have him purposely run into the defensive back, and accept the flag for pass interference." Cutler really doesn't do a heck of a lot to change this. Brandon Lloyd isn't Brandon Marshall, and Devin Hester isn't Eddie Royal.
But here's the biggest thing that I believe makes any declaration of Jay Cutler as a difference maker a foolish one. Before he won his first NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers, when asked about his post-season difficulties, Shaquille O'Neal declared to the press that had been a winner at every level. . ."except for college and the pros." The same thing can be said of Cutler.
The last time a team quarterbacked by Jay Cutler had a winning season was Cutler's senior year. No, not his senior year at Vanderbilt, where he played his college ball. . .but his senior year at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Indiana. He wasn't a winner in college. . .and I don't want to hear "it's Vanderbilt," because I'm sure that nobody chose what college to play at for him. . .and he hasn't been a winner in the pros. The Broncos needed one win in the last three weeks of last season to secure the AFC West title and a playoff spot, and the Cutler-led Broncos couldn't get it done. Not only did they not get it done, but they took the field in Week 17 against a hated division rival with that division title and playoff spot on the line, and got thoroughly embarassed by the San Diego Chargers.
If the past few weeks have been any indication, Cutler is a me-first kind of guy. He thinks he's a winner and he thinks he's a difference maker, but reality seems to say otherwise. Do you think a guy like him is going to be happy with his current contract? I don't. And based on the past few weeks, I'd be willing to bet that he's going to be a royal pain in the ass about it, too.
The Minnesota Vikings are still the best team in the NFC North until somebody actually proves otherwise on the field of play. Anybody that tells you otherwise is wrong. And, quite frankly, we're still the best bet to win this division. I'm happy that the Bear fans are excited that Cutler is in town. Bear fans were excited going into Week 17 of the 2008 season, too, when the Vikings had to play the Giants and the Bears "only" had to play the Houston Texans. We all saw how that turned out. . .and I fully expect the 2009 season to turn out the same way.