Bears in good position for Cutler -- if they want him

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
There seems to be an assumption that any trade for Denver quarterback Jay Cutler will require a three-way arrangement that allows the Broncos to get a legitimate starter in return. The idea: Any team trading for Cutler isn't going to have a starting-caliber quarterback on its roster, and thus will need to pull a third team into the mix -- say, Cleveland -- that has a relative surplus at the position.

Yet from this vantage point, there are at least two flaws in that theory.

First, there's no certainty the Broncos will demand a quarterback in return. They recently signed former Tampa Bay starter Chris Simms, who could serve as a short-term bridge if Denver drafts a future starter later this month.

Second, there is a Black and Blue team that seems to have the necessary ammunition for a traditional two-way trade if the Broncos do want a starter in return. Chicago not only has the No. 18 overall pick in the draft, but it also has Kyle Orton -- whose future with the Bears would end anyway if they acquire Cutler. You'll never mistake Orton for Cutler, but he would give the Broncos a solid option during this shaky transition period. Orton's favorable contract status -- his deal expires after 2009 -- gives the Broncos some flexibility as well.

So how about it? Orton, the No. 18 overall pick and perhaps one more draft choice for Cutler? All things being equal, a two-way deal is always easier to pull off.

We're not yet clear where the market is going to land. The Broncos have cut some of their leverage by announcing their plans for a trade and there is also the challenge of signing Cutler to a long-term contract extension. But the Bears have the NFC North's best chance of pulling off a clean and much easier two-way deal -- especially if the Broncos want a replacement as part of the package.

(Their two league-wide competitors in this regard are Cleveland -- which could offer Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn -- and Washington, which could ship out Jason Campbell. There have been no indications of interest from either team, however.)

The biggest question is how serious the Bears are. To this point, multiple reports have characterized their interest as exploratory. And at the NFL owners meeting last week, coach Lovie Smith provided his standard unflinching endorsement of Orton's progress:

"We like Kyle. He's done everything we've asked him to do. We've seen him in every imaginable situation you can. Rookie being thrown into the fire, leading us to a great year. Having a chance to sit back and go through a little adversity, watch, learn and get ready for his next opportunity. Last year, this time last year, hadn't been named the starter, but he was going to compete for the job. Stepped up to the plate. It was obvious who our leader should be. Made him team captain. First real year as a starter. Played well. Thought he played well early in the year. Didn't play as well after he injured his ankle. I'm excited about seeing him go through the offseason as the starter, working with his receivers throughout. He's our quarterback. We're going to go from there."

Of course, we know Smith doesn't change his mind gradually. (I seem to recall something about Rex Grossman being "our quarterback" as well.) Orton will be "our quarterback" until the minute Cutler, or someone else, is.

On the other hand, Detroit and Minnesota would face more obstacles if they want to get involved in the bidding.

The Lions have five of the first 82 choices in the draft but only eight picks overall. The Vikings have only six picks a year after gutting their draft for Jared Allen.

For the Lions, giving up at least two more picks to get Cutler would further limit their ability to restock the roster. And if they keep their No. 1 overall pick, they're looking at a pair of simultaneous monster contracts that will include at least $55 million in guaranteed money. It might well be worth the sacrifice on both counts to get a franchise quarterback, but still a consideration nonetheless.

Neither the Lions nor Vikings have a starter to offer Denver in return. Despite offseason raves about Daunte Culpepper's conditioning, I doubt the Broncos would accept him as a reliable replacement for Cutler. And let's just say the Vikings are one of the few NFL teams who consider Tarvaris Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels as a potential 16-game starter.

Again, most of this depends on Chicago. I don't know what the final price tag is going to be, but the Bears are in solid position -- if they're interested.