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SportsMonday: The Case For Cutler

By Jim Coffman

Jay Cutler would have been worth five first-round draft picks. Of course he would have. We're talking about a shiny, new all-Pro Bowl quarterback, one who still has three years left on his rookie contract. Signal-callers this good and this young and this cheap (yes the Bears will have to re-do his contract before it ends - but I'll bet they get at least one great year out of him before they do) do not get traded. Ever. So talking about the Bears giving up too much just doesn't compute. How can you trade too much for the far and away most valuable commodity in the sport? Short answer - you can't.

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  • And, of course Cutler, won't win games by himself. He'll need help. But the Bears didn't lose anything from their defense last week (maybe it would have been good if they actually had lost a few of last year's most egregious under-achievers but still . . . ). And while I'm hoping the Monsters will sign free-agent wide receiver Torry Holt (who would be able to help next season while rookies almost certainly wouldn't), there are significant offensive pieces here already. Start with deep passes to Devin Hester and then mix in short and medium-ranged ones to Matt Forte (whose ability to run the football is actually surpassed by his knack for catching it) and stud tight end Gregg Olsen. Not bad. And the absolute happiest guy on this team has to be wide receiver Earl Bennett, who did not catch a pass as a rookie last year but now is reunited with his former college quarterback. The Bears draft a big wide receiver in the second or third round and grab a Jerry Angelo special or two, i.e. significant defensive contributors in the fifth round (when they have two picks) or later, and I'll take that going forward.

    Physically, Cutler has it all (although he is a pudgy, pasty-faced character, isn't he? With that little boy bowl haircut?). It starts with just enough size - 6-feet, 3-inches tall and 200-and-whatever pounds. His sightlines are good enough and he's substantial enough to take a hit. But he doesn't have to take too many hits because he is so good at moving around and buying himself extra time to make a play.

    And there is his cannon of a right arm.

    Cutler's biggest advantage is mental. This is a seriously smart athlete playing a position where that makes a big difference. He apparently would have taken a scholarship at Illinois way back when he was a senior in high school, but that didn't happen so he turned to Vanderbilt. And it turned out Cutler and that academically rigorous school were a perfect match. Many have derided Cutler for not handling the goings-on in Denver leading up to the trade with enough maturity. But others have argued the opposite. The bottom line - thank goodness things played out the way they did. Otherwise he'd obviously still be a Bronco.

    The best part of all? The simple fact that the miraculous happened. Angelo actually pulled off the big one! That old son-of-a-gun made the NFL trade of the last quarter-century at least, the most significant Bears transaction since the signing of Red Grange (that one remains No. 1 because there's a decent chance the Bears and the NFL wouldn't have survived if George Halas hadn't sold Grange on pro football way back when all anyone cared about was the college game).

    The Bears had gone so long without a player of this caliber even being a possibility on offense. We have dreamed of a guy with the potential Cutler had three years ago. I guarantee no one, not one Bears fan, had faith Angelo would find a way to bring this guy to town, and he did so three years later, after Cutler had proven he should be rated among the top half-dozen quarterbacks (only four of them go to the Pro Bowl after all) in the league. Jerry Angelo goes down in history as a successful Bears general manager. He took them to the Super Bowl after all. He does so even if Cutler is a bust. But he won't be a bust.

    Hawk Highlights
    There went the Hawks, the migh-ty Blaaaack-hawks. In-to the playoffs, yeaaaaah, they're in the play-offs. And there are signs of late that the Hawks might just do some damage in the second season.

    In the Hawks' last two games, both very much playoff-type triumphs, Nikolai Khabibulin has found ways to make the critical save or two that so often makes the difference in the post-season. Khabibulin hasn't had to make too many saves - 20 at the Blue Jackets Sunday and 16 in the Hawks' previous encounter, a 3-1 victory over the Predators at home, but he has come with big ones at big times, like after long stretches of the Hawks controlling the play, when a counter-attack goal can be a killer.

    There is every indication he is heating up at exactly the right time.

    And Khabibulin, who carried the Tampa Bay Lightning all the way to the Stanley Cup four years ago, knows how to handle the heat.


    Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday. He awaits your comments.

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