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April 2, 2009

The Bears have given lip service to the quarterback position for decades, but in one of the boldest moves in franchise history on Thursday they may finally have solved the position.

Jay Cutler is a Chicago Bear.

Finally, miraculously, a surprise game of musical chairs has ended with the Bears sitting in the catbird seat. The quarterback-starved franchise surrendered its first-round pick this year, another first-rounder next year and a third-round pick in April along with starting quarterback Kyle Orton for Cutler and the Broncos' fifth-round selection this year.

The Bears likely will have to redo Cutler's contract, which has three years remaining on it, but the payoff is beyond belief for a team that has been searching for a franchise player at the position since the great Sid Luckman, a World War II era player who still holds career passing records.

Cutler, who turns 26 this month, made the Pro Bowl last year and possesses a dizzying array of talents, including one of the strongest arms in the league, a quick release, excellent feet and the ability to run out of trouble.

The way he orchestrated his run out of Denver has created doubt in the mind of some observers about his leadership ability, one of the most important intangibles at the quarterback position. Cutler hastened his departure by demanding a trade following a month-long melodrama relating to the Broncos' failed efforts to trade for New England's Matt Cassel. New Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, a 32-year-old wunderkind from New England wanted to bring in a guy who knew his system.

Cutler felt betrayed by the move and a meeting between the coach and player only served to further sour the relationship. The team announced its intention to trade Cutler when it claimed no one in the franchise could get in contact with him for 10 days, including owner Pat Bowlen. Cutler denied that charge and said on Wednesday he was surprised things had reached the point they did in Denver.

Sources around the NFL say the Bears were among the most aggressive teams in pursuit of Cutler, but they were hardly alone. Washington, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cleveland and the New York Jets all were trying to seal a deal. Cleveland might have been the winner of the Cutler sweepstakes had the player's agent, Bus Cook, not represented Brett Favre and saw the struggles the long-time Green Bay star had with coach Eric Mangini.

Mangini was fired by the Jets and landed in Cleveland. He reportedly was willing to give up Brady Quinn in a deal. Quinn, who played for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, presumably would have been a good fit in McDaniels' system. But Cook had made it clear when talks began that Cutler wanted no part of Mangini and fears he wouldn't report to the Browns effectively shut down that deal.

Cutler grew up a Bears fan in Santa Claus, Ind. and will join a couple of his Vanderbilt teammates on the Bears, including tackle Chris Williams and wide receiver Earl Bennett.

Without first-round picks the next two seasons the Bears followed the Cutler trade by signing veteran tackle Orlando Pace to a three-year contract. Pace is expected to start at left tackle with Williams moving to right tackle. The team still has its second-round pick (No. 49 overall), along with seven other selections. The Bears gave up their own third-round selection to get Cutler (No. 84 overall), but they retain a third-round compensatory selection (No. 99) awarded for losing Bernard Berrian in free agency. Teams are not allowed to trade compensatory picks.

The Bears have a fourth-rounder, two No. 5s, a sixth-rounder and two No. 7s.