Angles From Engel: Cutler and Pass-Catchers

Scott EngelCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2009

HONOLULU, HI - FEBRUARY 08: Quarterback Jay Cutler #6 of the AFC All-Stars Denver Broncos throws a pass against the NFC All-Stars in the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on February 8, 2009 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The NFC defeated the AFC 30-21. (Photo by Paul Spinelli/Getty Images)

The Jay Cutler soap opera has enveloped the NFL community during the recent weeks of the offseason, overshadowing the upcoming draft, and actually grabbing more headlines than Mr. Controversy himself, Terrell Owens.

Yet, we at RotoExperts.com, choose to tackle the issue from the fantasy perspective, instead of repeating what has been said many times already.

While the Broncos' saga makes for compelling news in regular NFL circles, fantasy players shouldn’t speculate much on how a move to another team might affect his value. It likely won’t. Cutler is at a point in his career where he’s destined to put up above-average fantasy numbers for years to come, no matter what uniform he wears.

Cutler is a gunner who is about to enter his prime, and while there is a realistic chance the Broncos may miss out on the best years of his pro run, fantasy leaguers can look forward to using him for improving and outstanding production in upcoming seasons.

Cutler threw 25 touchdown passes in 2008, and he should be even better in 2009. His skills, plus a desire to make the Broncos regret ever considering dealing him, can motivate him to enter elite status, or close to it in 2009.

Hell hath no fury like a promising quarterback scorned. If he stays in Denver, Cutler will be highly motivated to show up Josh McDaniels, if they can somehow co-exist.

Even if he ends up elsewhere, there will be no worries. Cutler is the type of passer who doesn’t need a terrific supporting cast to make him better. Instead, he can make his teammates better, and raise the levels of production of those around him.

If Cutler is indeed dealt, his new top wide receiver will get a healthy boost. I’m thinking about guys like Bernard Berrian, Jerricho Cotchery and—oh my—Calvin Johnson. It’s all pure speculation, but it’s fun to consider where he may end up. No new landing spot would surprise me, no matter what rumors are spread or what is said publicly.

Of course, Denver is unlikely to make a move that wouldn’t bring a quality quarterback, or the opportunity to draft one, in return.

This means that destinations in Detroit, Minnesota or even Chicago seem somewhat unlikely, unless a creative deal can be engineered. It may just be a matter of time now, as Pat Bowlen has openly admitted there is a chance the team may lose Cutler.

It’s a shame the Broncos groomed him to be their next standout passer, only to lose him when he truly blossoms. Denver will need someone reliable to throw to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Marshall could already be facing another suspension in 2009, but he’s still a top-level fantasy WR as long as he plays with a quality QB.

While Marshall and Royal await the possibility of losing their QB, Trent Edwards can look forward to the “gift” of Owens—who signed a one-year deal with Buffalo.

It’s actually a good move for all involved in the passing game, since Owens will have to prove himself in one season, and should be highly motivated to earn more money next year if he put up quality stats.

Owens moves into a situation where he can demand the ball and have a young QB eagerly deliver it. Lee Evans has no reason to gripe; he now has the outstanding receiving partner he’s longed for.

Hopefully, none of Owens’ personality will rub off on Evans, and the embattled veteran’s experience and skills make him a good teacher for Buffalo’s still-developing big-play guy—even if Owens only leads by example.

Owens can still command much defensive respect, and he retains a great knack for making important plays. You can look to him as an outstanding WR2 in ’09, capable of catching eight-plus TD passes.

Evans, too, should be more reliable next year, and could soar past the 70-catch mark while realistically shooting for seven or more TD receptions, with many of significant length.

Edwards is a solid game manager, a smart young man, and will value the football and let his WRs make plays for him. Edwards now gets a boost to being a top fantasy backup, and when Marshawn Lynch (another suspension candidate) is available, he’ll naturally receive less defensive attention and can finish off scoring drives more often.

Lynch could have a very impressive year in ‘09 if he avoids further trouble and reaps the benefits of a new, more balanced offense.

Tony Romo won’t miss Owens, as Roy Williams now has an opportunity to play with a standout passer and re-emerge as a prominent fantasy player. Problems at QB during his Detroit tenure affected Williams’ production in terms of consistency, and injuries were also an issue.

But a new life now begins in Glamour Central, and Williams should be drafted as a top 15 WR in ‘09, with the potential to post top 10 numbers.

Patrick Crayton will be a good later-round pick if he can nail down the other starting job, but Miles Austin has real upside, and is going to be a popular sleeper pick during the upcoming season.

Torry Holt’s departure from St. Louis was not unexpected, yet it must still be sinking in for Rams fans that their signature player is gone. The rumor mill has linked Holt to both the Titans and Jaguars.

Leaving St. Louis was a good move for Holt, as he could no longer sufficiently operate against top cover corners without a solid QB and offense issues around him. Holt is better off going to a team that won’t depend on him as a primary option—from the fantasy perspective—but he seems destined to land a premier slot somewhere, which may not help improve his value at all for ‘09.

Holt still has something left, maybe more than Marvin Harrison, and both players are going to be targets of inexperienced fantasy drafters who know mostly big names and don’t do their homework.

Seattle’s signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh made Bobby Engram expendable, but the possession veteran should prove to be a needed safety valve for Matt Cassel in Kansas City.

Engram is a chain-mover who only really has appeal in point-per-reception formats. His presence, however, will be good for Dwayne Bowe, who will quickly discover he can absorb a lot from the affable elder.

Adding Engram ensures Bowe of having another impressive year, and strengthens Matt Cassel’s supporting cast. Cassel won’t be posting the type of numbers he did in New England, but he’ll be very sound for fantasy purposes as he looks for Bowe, Engram, and of course Tony Gonzalez.

It’s now an appealing passing mix in Kansas City. Two very experienced guys who can still make tough catches, and a rising playmaker who has a nose for the end zone.

Joey Galloway landed a spot with the Patriots, and while he’s in his twilight years and is an injury concern, he’ll be a fine plug-in player for the Pats. When available, Galloway still shows the separation speed and downfield gears of a 25-year-old.

Once Tom Brady approaches his past form, he’ll connect with Galloway for some big plays when the matchup is favorable. Peg Galloway in the late rounds for occasional use. He’s going to be much more explosive than the departed Jabar Gaffney.

In a minor move that may be overrated by some looking for scraps of hope at tight end, L.J. Smith joined the Ravens. The addition of Smith gives Todd Heap more opportunities to block, and further denotes you shouldn’t waste a pick on him come draft day.

Smith can be an occasional red zone target for Joe Flacco, as the ex-Eagle has never been much more than a short scoring threat—and a risky one at that. I’ll likely avoid drafting either Baltimore tight end in my ‘09 drafts.

We’ll have to simply wait and see if Matt Jones gets another opportunity to play elsewhere, but does it really matter? No way.

The Jags continue to be cursed since Jimmy Smith moved on, and I’ll be looking for them to make highly notable improvements at the position, even if it’s through focusing on rookies.

Hopefully, the Cutler nonsense will soon be resolved so I can focus more on the draft. Yet something tells me the situation could actually be rectified in New York in April.

Scott Engel is readying his order for a T.J. Houshmandzadeh jersey. He wants to make light of the fact that “Hasselbeck to Houshmandzadeh” will be the longest TD pass thrown in 2009 in terms of pure copy. E-mail Scott at scotte@rotoexperts.com.


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