Jay Cutler: Fact or Fiction
For the final edition of Fact or Fiction this off-season, I wanted to address one of the touchiest subjects involving Jay Cutler, and that is the trade itself. One comment that is brought up on these boards a lot is the idea that the ransom given up for Cutler (two firsts, a third, and Kyle Orton) is deceptive, because the first-rounders that were sent away were, in fact, only going to be disasters anyway. After all, Jerry Angelo was the one who was going to do the picking.
How valid is this?
From 2001 to 2011, Angelo made a total of nine first-round picks. While assessing the actual value of any given pick is difficult, and even being able to sort out the relative merits of a given pick is challenging. The folks at Pro Football Reference have attempted to do so with their Approximate Value system, and this in turn has been applied to draft history in order to tell us about what Approximate Value could be expected from a given draft pick. It’s a little complicated and it’s easy to take it too far, but as a rough sketch it can tell us if there’s anything behind our intuition.
For example, Gabe Carimi was drafted 29th overall, where PFR would expect him to earn a Career AV of 31. Instead, AV awards him with a 12 (with roughly half of that value being enjoyed by Chicago). This represents a pretty dramatic underachievement. By contrast, Greg Olsen was drafted 31st overall, and PFR therefore predicts that he should have a Career AV of 30. Instead, he has a 48. He was a real success.
If Angelo were just in line with the average trends, with his nine first-round picks slotted at where he picked them, Angelo should have been able to draft players with a total value of 315. Instead, his first-round picks only came in with a total value of 257. In other words, in the first round Angelo’s picks only realized 82% of the value that the average NFL front office would have found. By the standards of this metric, that’s as if Angelo went from picking either 18th or 19th on average in the first round to picking about 35th.
Wow. That is sad, but it also feels right.
In other words, there is some truth behind the idea that the draft picks traded away for Cutler were less valuable simply because they were Jerry Angelo draft picks. The Bears did not give up Robert Ayers (2009’s #18), Mike Wallace (2009’s #84), and Anthony Davis (2010’s #11) along with Kyle Orton for the rights to Cutler. Angelo doesn’t make those picks.
There is another way to look at those lost first-round picks, however.
It seems obvious that regardless of Orton’s merits as a role-player on a solid team, the Bears were not content with him. If we assume that Angelo was going to address the quarterback situation in 2009 or 2010 if Cutler had not come on the market, who would have been available with one of those first-round picks? By the time the Bears would have drafted in 2009, Stafford, Sanchez, and Freeman all would have been taken. The next quarterback off the board was Pat White at #44 followed by Stephen McGee at #101.
Could Orton have held down the fort until 2010? Assume he did as well as Cutler and so the Bears still picked #11. Bradford would have been taken, leaving Tebow (#25), Clausen (#48), and Colt McCoy (#85) as possible “solutions” at quarterback. Does anyone have the confidence to say that Angelo would have avoided that mine field?
What if the Bears make it to 2011 without needing to replace Orton? They get to choose among Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder. This assumes that they don’t go first overall, but it seems impossible to imagine that they are in a position to draft Newton when Urlacher, Tillman, and Briggs are on the field. Does alternate-universe Angelo have the patience to wait for Andy Dalton (or to reach for him)? If so, does Dalton enjoy any sort of stability from his coaching staff? Does alternate-universe Ron Turner or alt-Mike Martz provide the platform needed for Colin Kaepernick’s skill set?
While opinions will continue to vary on the trade, and while some will never be convinced of the value of #6, it seems pretty fair to conclude that while the cost was high, fans really should apply a discount in our heads when we recount the actual price that was paid. If anything, Kyle Orton was devalued in the trade, given that he had another 49 starts in the NFL afterward.
Still, the verdict has to be that this is a fact. Angelo’s first-round selections (and first-round choices) were weak enough to take some of the sting out of the Cutler trade. For some of us, this isn’t a necessary discount, because we appreciate what the Bears have gained from the franchise’s all-time passing leader. For others, though, perhaps it is possible to take some comfort in knowing that the Cutler experiment at least spared the franchise from witnessing Jerry Angelo trying to pick between Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen.