The Chicago Bears won the Jay Cutler sweepstakes during the offseason, acquiring the quarterback from the Denver Broncos in a monumental deal that included Kyle Orton and four draft picks (one of which turned into Robert Ayers). But while the move improves the Bears' offense, it hurts the value of Cutler in fantasy football drafts.
Cutler put up 4,526 yards and 27 total touchdowns under former coach Mike Shanahan, who built his entire offense around the gunslinging quarterback. In Chicago, a team that has leaned on the run ever since the days of Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski, Cutler has no chance to throw the ball 616 times, like he did in 2008.
Furthermore, the Bears don't have the same sort of talent at wide receiver as the Broncos. Their top wideout, Devin Hester, is a converted defensive back. He had just 51 receptions for 665 yards and three touchdowns last season, and the fact that he'll continue to be a return man on special teams means he won't be completely focused on being a wideout.
Behind Hester on the depth chart is a list of unproven and inexperienced wideouts that includes Earl Bennett, Rashied Davis, rookie Juaquin Iglesias and Brandon Rideau. While Bennett has some sleeper value due to his collegiate connection with Cutler (the two played one season together at Vanderbilt), he won't become the next Brandon Marshall.
The two players that figure to benefit the most from Cutler's presence are running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen. Forte, who developed into a tremendous fantasy starter in his rookie season, will no longer face eight-man fronts and should see even more opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield. He'll be a bigger star in drafts and is now the second-best runner behind Adrian Peterson. In fact, the Tulane product could even be taken first overall and ahead of Peterson in leagues that reward points for receptions.
During the course of this examination of Cutler and the Bears' new-look offense, fantasy leaguers might be wondering how the value of the players around Cutler will increase while his own value will fall. Simply put, it's all in the numbers.
Bears quarterbacks (mostly Orton) threw for just over 3,200 yards last season. Cutler should improve on that total in 2009 -- we have him projected to throw for between 3,800-4,000 yards. Those are good totals, but far fewer than the 4,526 yards he finished with last season. If we add about 700-800 yards to the team's passing attack and spread them out to Hester, Bennett and Olsen, there's plenty of room for those receivers to improve.
Just keep in mind that while the Bears will throw the ball more with Cutler under center, this offense isn't about to become the next version of the "Greatest Show on Turf."
In fact, just four Chicago quarterbacks (Jim Harbaugh, Erik Kramer, Rex Grossman and Orton) have thrown the ball 400-plus times in the last 29 seasons, and Kramer is the lone signal-caller to attempt more than 500 passes in that time. He finished the 1995 season with 3,838 yards and 30 total touchdowns, but Kramer also had veteran wide receivers like Curtis Conway and Jeff Graham in the passing attack.
Cutler, who is the first franchise quarterback in the Windy City since the days of Sid Luckman, will remain a No. 1 fantasy option at the position. And while he'll have his share of solid stat lines, he's also destined to see decreases in almost every statistical category and should no longer be seen as an elite fantasy quarterback.