Jay Cutler and Kyle Orton are two of those players who will be forever compared and linked due to the fact that at one point in their career they were traded for each other. In a league like the NFL, where trade's are nowhere near as common as the oft pulled deadline deals of Major League Baseball, being traded from one team to another ordinarily requires some level of exasperation with on the part of your current team.
For Cutler, who began his promising young career as a member of the Denver Bronco's the trade was induced by a rift with new head coach Josh McDaniels. On the Bears part, they simply wanted an improvement over what has been an unreliable and not very prolific tenure for Orton. In Orton's defense Cutler has always had higher expectations surrounding him as is evidenced by the packaging of multiple first round picks with Orton in order to make the deal appealing to the Broncos.
Cutler entered the league in 2006 and started five games as a rookie. He would then start for the Broncos over the next two seasons and compile some impressive stats for such a young quarterback. In his three seasons with the Broncos he played in 37 games compiling a stat line of 54 Touchdowns, 9024 yards passing, and 37 interceptions. Although his interception totals are high, Cutler has always been viewed as a developing gunslinger with a strong throwing arm who was just in need of some fine tuning that would come with age.
Orton had a one year head start on Cutler but did not do much with it. Thrust into the starting role by a Rex Grossman injury, Orton played in 15 games his rookie season, compiling an abysmal 59.7 passer rating, although he did lead the Bears to the playoffs. For the rest of his Bear's career Orton would battle for the starting role, one which never seemed completely secure regardless of what the coaching staff had to say. He compiled a less impressive stat line of 30 touchdowns, 5319 yards, and 27 interceptions while playing in 33 games with the Chicago Bears.
Cutler gets the nod easily here. Not only was he less experienced, he was playing for a lesser team. Orton began his career on a Bear's team that had one of the league's stingiest defense and yet still constantly struggled to even be named the starter. Most would point out the obvious fact that there was a reason the Bear's had to package multiple first round picks with Orton to make a deal for Cutler viable.
Throughout his career Orton has been nothing if not consistent. He was consistently bad, then consistently mediocre, and now consistently solid. One of the reason's that Orton received as many starts as he did with the Bears was that the coaching staff always knew about what they were going to get, even if it was not going to be a performance for the ages. As a member of the Broncos, Orton has maintained his consistent level of play but also raised his game to a new level.
Last season, in 2009, Orton accumulated 3802 yards passing, 21 touchdowns, and limited his interception total to only 12. He set career highs in both yards per attempt and completion percentage while throwing more passes than any other season in his career.
Jay Cutler has been every bit as inconsistent as Orton has been consistent. The young gunslinger has a propensity for throwing interceptions and throughout his career has been know to drop a few three of four interception games into the 16 week schedule. Last year was Cutler's worst such year as he managed to throw only one more touchdown that interception.
Orton takes this one. Although the Broncos did fall off sharply after a hot start last season that was more the case of an overachieving young team that set unrealistic expectations than anything else.
Since leaving the Bears and becoming a member of the Broncos, Orton has worked hard to limit the number of turnovers he commits. His interception total was 12 in 2009. More important than the total is that this works out to about one interception every 45 passes thrown, the lowest such number for his career. This reflects Orton's improving game and also his ability to manage the game within his own abilities.
Cutler's turnover numbers were an absolute disgrace last season as he threw 26 interceptions. This breaks down to one interception every 21 passes and over one and half interceptions per start. Turnovers are one of the most crucial stats in the NFL and with Cutler's inability to protect possession last season, it was a wonder his Bear's even managed to win the seven games that they did.
Orton takes this category easily. Although Cutler has shown improvement in 2010, Cutler has proven to be reckless for much of his career when it comes to taking care of the ball.
As has already been mentioned, Orton led the Broncos to a red hot start in 2009 before the team fizzled and failed to reach the playoffs after finish .500 for the season. Although the start was deceiving, the 2009 Broncos were not a playoff team. They were a young team with a new quarterback and a new head coach. Even with the odds stacked against them, many people believe that had the disgruntled Brandon Marshall played in the season's final game they would have been victorious and made the playoffs.Orton threw 21 touchdown passes last season and looked excellent in Josh McDaniels' offense, so few in Denver could complain about his production to date.
Cutler struggled last season and this is putting it nicely. Cutler was supposed to come in and immediately elevate the Bears to Super Bowl contender status. This simply did not happen. His turnovers and inconsistent play killed the Bears and made many Bears fans question whether their team would never be able to possess any quality at the quarterback position. The did finish just below .500 but with a solid defense and Matt Forte in the backfield most Bears fans were very disappointed.
Although the results were largely similar in terms of statistics, team records, and both missing the playoffs, Orton managed to exceed expectations and offer hope for the future. Cutler, on the other hand, left many in Chicago wondering if there a redo's in the NFL trade market.
Luckily for Cutler, the merit of blockbuster trades takes years to work itself out so he still has plenty of time to adjust to Chicago's offense and improve his standing in the league. Widely considered to have exceptional talent, Cutler finally appears to be performing in 2010. With help from Mike Martz's explosive offense, Cutler has led the Bears to a three and one start while throwing six touchdown passes and only being intercepted three times.
Cutler was knocked out of the last game against the Giants after being sacked nine times, a testament to his need to develop his pocket presence further, but hopefully a speedy recover will prevent the injury from derailing his season entirely.
Much more quietly, Orton has put up shockingly similar numbers to those of the much hyped Cutler. Orton has also thrown for six touchdowns and three interceptions while putting up more passing yards than Cutler. Orton's Broncos sit at two and two through the first four games of the season, but have looked surprisingly solid and may be poised to exceed expectations yet again this year.
In an absolutely stacked AFC, in which the wildcard team could potentially be an eleven or twelve game winner from the AFC East, the playoffs may be a bit too much to ask of Orton this season, but he has been solid thus far.
While Cutler has been getting all the press, Orton has matched his numbers every step of the way while playing on a less talented team. Cutler has also shown that he still has yet to fully mature and understand when to throw the ball away. This one is a push for now, but if anything at all is clear from a review of these two young quarterbacks' careers it is that the gap between them has been almost nonexistent and does not look like it will widen in Cutler's favor anytime soon. Now I'm just wondering, is there any chance Chicago can get those picks back?