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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fantasy focus: Bear market for Cutler

We interrupt the non-stop baseball portion of this blog to address the non-stop soap opera of the NFL offseason.

Jay Cutler finally has a new home, and it's one almost none of saw coming.

The Broncos traded the 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback to the Bears on Thursday, getting two first-round picks, a third-round pick and Kyle Orton for Cutler and a fifth-round selection in this month's NFL draft.

Instead of Cutler in Cleveland, Tampa, New York or any other rumored destination, the strong-armed, seemingly thin-skinned QB is in the Windy City, forced to contemplate life with Devin Hester and Rashied Davis and his top wide receivers.

Rookie Broncos coach Josh McDaniels' reputation has taken a hit during this juvenile, back-and-forth, text-message-filled drama, but maybe not as big of a blow as the one Cutler's fantasy value just endured.

In January, I ranked Cutler third in a list of the top keeper-league candidates at quarterback, trailing only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Four months from now, fantasy owners will be considering whether to spend an early draft pick on a QB whose top receivers -- at the moment -- are a running back (Matt Forte), tight end (Greg Olsen) and Pro Bowl kick returner (Devin Hester, who led all Bears with 665 receiving yards last season).

Heading into next season, Cutler has to drop behind Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, a seemingly healthy Tom Brady and a re-signed Kurt Warner, and don't be surprised if many owners prefer Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel (the guy who inadvertently started this whole mess because of McDaniels' preference of coaching him in New England), Donovan McNabb and even Ben Roethlisberger over Cutler.

Instead of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, Cutler is faced with a depth chart of Hester, Davis (35 catches for 445 yards and two TDs last season) and Vanderbilt product Earl Bennett (zero catches as a rookie in 2008) as his top three wide receivers. He does have a solid tight end in Olsen (54 receptions for 574 yards and five TDs last season) and a stud running back (Forte) who is a very good receiver (a team-high 63 grabs in 2008).

Conservatively, Cutler's new home plummets him from No. 3 at QB to No. 9 entering next season. The list starts with Manning, Brees, Rivers, Warner and Rodgers, and Brady, Romo and Ryan should also surpass Cutler. If you prefer McNabb or Cassel, the case could be made that Cutler has dropped from an upper-echelon fantasy QB to a low-end No. 1, and possibly a No. 2 in 10-team leagues.

The biggest beneficiaries of this deal figure to be Hester (who could score double-digit touchdowns next season with the strong-armed Cutler throwing to him), Forte (who might find more running room) and, yes, Orton.

The latter has been a punching bag for many during his career in Chicago, but he was pretty effective for much of last season, when he threw for 2,979 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions and three TDs on the ground. The bearded one now goes to a franchise with a young, gifted offensive mind calling the shots, and two young, productive receivers in Marshall and Royal.

Could Orton be a better fantasy option than Cutler next season? Will that be one of the crazier, ironic subplots of 2009?

I wouldn't rule it out. But I would rule out taking Cutler in the first few rounds next August.

He got his wish. And it's one he might be second-guessing sometime this fall.

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