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Posted: Monday April 6, 2009 1:24AM; Updated: Monday April 6, 2009 11:43AM
Peter King Peter King >

How Cutler-Orton trade went down

Story Highlights

Josh McDaniels liked Kyle Orton's tape more than Jason Campbell's

Having bad history of first-round choices, the Bears could afford to lose two No. 1s

One player sounds off on longer season, a Dr. Z update and more Things I Think

The face of a franchise? Kyle Orton will be the frontrunner to earn the Broncos' starting quarterback job for the 2009 season.
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At about 2:30 p.m. Denver time Thursday, the Broncos gave the Chicago Bears the final terms of what they'd accept in trade for disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler: first- and second-round picks this year, a first-round pick in 2010 and quarterback Kyle Orton.

Whoa! Too steep, thought Chicago GM Jerry Angelo, and he asked for a little time to mull it over and talk about it with his people. The Broncos told Angelo: "You've got a half-hour.''

A few things went though Angelo's mind, including the last time he was part of a staff that traded two No. 1s for a player. "We did Keyshawn Johnson for two ones in Tampa Bay, and we really got burned by it,'' he told me Friday night. "But this is a quarterback. Maybe a really good quarterback.''

We really want this guy, Angelo told those on his staff, but the compensation is too much. So he called the Broncos back and offered two ones, Orton and this year's fourth-round pick. Denver GM Brian Xanders and coach Josh McDaniels mulled it over and came back with this compromise: two first-round picks, Orton, and this year's third-round pick for Cutler and Denver's fifth-round pick this year.

Done, Angelo said. Fair deal.

"It was high-stakes poker,'' Angelo said when it was over. "And I couldn't see anyone else's hand.''

In the end, Angelo rebuilt his battered, way-too-conservative GM image and Chicago got a potentially great long-term quarterback. (No other 4,000-yard passer has ever been traded at 25, or even the season after accumulating such a lofty number.) Denver got a better deal than the Broncos had a right to expect after their dissed owner ordered Cutler dealt, losing whatever leverage the team might have had. And Cutler proved he should write the foreword to Drew Rosenhaus' next book -- the one about how a superstar can shoot himself out of town. Cutler got exactly what he wanted, though talking oneself off the best young offense in football is not my idea of a good career decision by a franchise quarterback.

Aside from the late haggling between the Bears and Broncos over the price, I do know some facts that haven't been out there -- I don't think -- yet. The five things I know for sure, from talking to those in the middle of the Cutler trade discussions in the three days since the deal went down:

1. The key to the trade was Kyle Orton. Laugh if you want, but it's the absolute truth. McDaniels looked hard at tape of the available quarterbacks from teams that made serious offers, players like Orton, Washington's Jason Campbell and Tampa Bay's Luke McCown. Every one of those teams was in the ballpark with an offer of at least two first-round draft picks and a quarterback.

But as the deal went down, McDaniels, who watched every offensive snap of more than 10 Bears games with Orton playing, got more and more impressed with Orton's arm, his decision-making and his ability to extend plays when the pocket broke down. You can think and I can think it's crazy he didn't like Campbell -- who got Washington off to a 6-2 start last year -- more than he liked Orton, but it's the unvarnished truth. McDaniels thinks he can win with Orton.

2. The Bears were sure the deal was collapsing Thursday afternoon, because the Broncos weren't answering phone calls, e-mails or texts. GM Jerry Angelo thought he'd gotten the rug pulled out from underneath him. Angelo hadn't heard from the Broncos for about three hours, and got so nervous by mid-afternoon Chicago time that he sent McDaniels a text message that said, in effect, "We gotta get this done. What's it gonna take for the Bears to win this?''

But the Broncos weren't ignoring Angelo, and they weren't working another team for a better deal. McDaniels told Xanders and the rest of the football people in the building that they weren't stopping business following owner Pat Bowlen's declaration that there was an open market for Cutler. Workouts would continue with McDaniels around; coaches meetings would go on as normal.

And the Broncos had eight players in the building between Tuesday and Friday -- including first-round prospects Brian Orakpo (defensive end, Texas), Knowshon Moreno (running back, Georgia) and Tyson Jackson (defensive end, LSU). McDaniels met with two of the prospects during the middle of the talks for Cutler on Thursday, and he ignored the bleating on his cell phone while those meetings were going on.

Now Angelo can know for sure -- the Broncos were going to make the deal with him unless his final offer was a fraction of those from Washington and Tampa Bay.

3. The Jets were never in it seriously -- true story. New York is either convinced that Brett Ratliff or Kellen Clemens is its guy, or the Jets think the New York spotlight would have been too white-hot for a rabbit-ears guy like Cutler to handle, or they didn't want to pay two first-round picks for Cutler after giving a third for one season of Brett Favre. I just know that the Jets never made a remotely serious offer for Cutler, much to my surprise.

4. All you Redskins fans who are so sure youwerethisclose to getting Cutler? Total BS. Yes, Washington was competitive, and the 'Skins would have done whatever it took to get Cutler. But once McDaniels decided Orton was his man -- even though Washington's first-round pick would have been the 13th overall, five slots ahead of Chicago's -- the contest was over. The 'Skins were out of it, even though Cutler and greater Washington were sure it almost happened.

5. In the end, this trade happened so quickly because, first and foremost, the owner of the Broncos felt dissed. And you do not diss Pat Bowlen. Bowlen is 65. He has owned the team for 25 years. In Bowlen's world, there is a protocol to doing business, and part of that protocol is the players and coaches having respect for the owner, regardless of their personal feelings about anyone else in the organization. Imagine Tom Brady ignoring calls from Bob Kraft. It'd never happen. Imagine Dan Rooney getting snubbed by Ben Roethlisberger, or Peyton Manning ditching Jim Irsay. Never in a million years, regardless of how they felt about what was happening with the team, would it happen.

In all the years Bowlen has owned the team, he has never felt quite the disrespect from a player or coach that he felt from Cutler ignoring his attempts to speak to him to attempt to bridge the problems between player and team. And you should not underestimate how significant this was in Bowlen's Tuesday-night pronouncement that Cutler was being put up on the trading block.

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