When the Bears acquired Jay Cutler from the Broncos in 2009, Cutler’s availability was the first red flag.
The Bears were able to trade for a 25-year-old quarterback coming off a Pro Bowl season because Cutler was miffed that new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sought to acquire Patriots backup Matt Cassel — whom McDaniels had tutored in New England — and Cutler wanted out. Even after the Cassel deal fell through, Cutler demanded a trade because he felt he couldn’t trust McDaniels.
It was a stroke of good fortune for the Bears and general manager Jerry Angelo, but the red flag still was there. If Cutler was that persnickety — that he couldn’t get over McDaniels initially wanting his own guy — how would he survive the annual tumult in Chicago, where nothing goes right without a lot of things going wrong?
Sure enough, those concerns were warranted. Cutler undercut his own immense talent with fits of petulance, defiance, distraction and annoyance in his eight seasons with the Bears. He clashed with his offensive coordinators — one reason why he had six of them in his nine years — and struggled to get acclimated to things that weren’t just right, like a developing Devin Hester as a wide receiver or left tackle J’Marcus Webb learning on the job.
Cutler matured out of a lot of that as he got older — and probably not-coincidentally became a father. But there is little doubt that Cutler’s makeup prevented him from being more successful than he was.
Twelve years later, a similar scenario could present another opportunity for the Bears to find a quarterback, with one difference — Deshaun Watson is by all accounts everything that Jay Cutler wasn’t as a leader of a football team. He has the “it” factor that Cutler never had.
The Texans’ 4-12 record in 2020 has not diminished Watson’s reputation as a leader and winner who overcomes adversity. He beat the Bills in a playoff game last season despite being sacked seven times. It’s true that he also was caught in the undertow of the Texans’ inglorious collapse in a 51-31 loss to the Chiefs the following week, but Watson still threw for 388 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in that game.
By all accounts, Watson is the same guy who willed Clemson to a national championship game victory over Alabama, putting up 35 points against a defense that not only was the best in college football, but included 10 starters who were drafted (seven of whom started on NFL playoff teams in 2020). Whatever “it” is, he still has it.
So reports that Watson is unhappy about the regime-change process with the Texans and “wants out” of Houston of course have Bears fans dreaming. And coincidentally, the Patriots again figure in the quarterback’s discontent. That Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was hired as the Texans’ general manager was at the root of Watson’s recent unhappiness — miffed that he wasn’t a part of the selection process.
Texans owner Cal McNair’s decision to retain vice-president of football operations Jack Easterby only angered Watson more. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that “sources close to Watson say … that unless Cal McNair can fire himself, Deshaun Watson is not about to change his mind that he does not want anything to do with the Texans going forward.”
The Texans are a long way from trading Watson. But that won’t stop Bears fans from dreaming of a scenario that finally brings Watson to Chicago, where he should have been all along.
It’s a long shot, even if Watson is done with the Texans. And my guess is that McNair will find a way to smooth things over. But if Watson becomes available, Bears general manager Ryan Pace has to give it a shot.
Pace’s refusal to admit his mistake in drafting Mitch Trubisky over Watson and Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft was one of several accountability flash points of the Bears’ season-ending press conference that enraged Bears fans. Acquiring Watson would go a long way to rectifying that.
There are other factors involved. Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract. If he’s miffed at the Texans for ignoring him in the GM search, why would he waive his no-trade clause to go to the team that ignored him in the draft process in 2017? It’s a fair point, but he could also see it as the ultimate compliment — a team willing to admit its mistake and embrace him as its savior.
And here’s the kicker, if Watson forces the Texans’ hand: Pace has an outstanding working relationship with Caserio from Caserio’s days with the Patriots. They collaborated on several key transactions: trades that sent Bears tight end Martellus Bennett (2016) and linebacker Jon Bostic (2015) to the Patriots; and trades for draft picks the Bears used to acquire wide receiver Anthony Miller (2018) and running back David Montgomery (2019).
Though Bill Belichick is ultimately in charge of personnel with the Patriots, Caserio was the point man. “I would say mainly it’s 99% Nick Caserio on these deals,” Pace told the Sun-Times in 2019. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s phenomenal. He’s really, really good.
“Any time you do trades with these clubs, I think you get more comfortable working with people on both ends. Nick Caserio and I have a good working relationship, so I think it’s easier to be open and honest and get to the point.”
Of course, Caserio probably has an even better working relationship with Belichick, who needs a quarterback. And the Dolphins have better draft capital to bargain with if they’re not sold on Tua Tagovailoa.
But if the Texans wouldn’t want to trade Watson to an AFC team, the Bears would be a contender. In fact, the Bears are the top NFC betting choice (11-2 odds, per Bet-Online.ag) as a landing spot for Watson if he is traded — behind the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
Those odds notwithstanding, acquiring Deshaun Watson is an even bigger long shot for the Bears than trading for Khalil Mack. But Ryan Pace is bold if nothing else.
This time, though, the interest in Watson would come with a twist: instead of trying to see if Watson is good enough for the Bears, the Bears would have to prove that they are good enough for him.