Don’t pay Orton for half-finished job

October 21st, 2008 - 3:53 pm

It’s the middle of the season and there are talks from both of Chicago’s major newspapers — the Tribune and the Sun-Times — about how it’s time to ante up and give quarterback Kyle Orton a hefty payday.

If you didn’t know it already, it must be the bye week.

I’ve got news for the Tribune’s David Haugh and the Sun-Times’ Brad Biggs: don’t jump the gun.

There’s no doubt that Orton has played well this season, far exceeding almost everyone’s expectations. In fact, Orton is playing better than any Bears quarterback since Rex Grossman in September and October of 2006.

Do you remember those “glory days”? If you don’t, let me take you for a trip down memory lane.

In the first five games of that Super Bowl season, Grossman completed 93 of 152 passes (61%) for 1,243 yards (248 yards per game), 10 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Do these numbers look similar: 143 of 230 (62%) for 1,669 yards (238 yards per game), 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

My God! Those are the eerily similar numbers of one Kyle Orton through 7 games this year.

My point? We’ve seen this plot before. Everyone was ready to pronounce Grossman a Pro Bowl quarterback that year. But we learned something that season that hopefully everyone learns this year, as well:

NFL seasons are 16 games long, not 5, not 7. Even longer if you count the playoffs, which is another prerequisite for Orton before he earns the big dollars.

It would be an utter mistake for Jerry Angelo to pony up to the table in the middle of Kyle Orton’s second season as a starter. And just as big a mistake if he were to extend Orton’s deal at the end of the season. Orton is signed through next year, and I say the Bears need to let him play it out.

NFL quarterbacks are difficult to come by. That’s the understatement of the century in Chicago. Very few NFL teams have dependable, reliable franchise players at that position. The reason? Quarterbacks are difficult to predict and are seldom consistent.

Before we jump onto the “Orton is the real deal” bandwagon — and believe me, I have one foot on already — we must first see if he can finish out this season the same way he’s started it. And then, we must see how he handles the job in back-to-back seasons next year.

All season long, I’ve cautioned against both excessively high or low emotions.

I warned those not to get a big head when the Bears beat Indianapolis:

“As a voice of reason, though, I must caution Bears fans from getting too optimistic about this victory.”

And I cautioned against writing this team off after the loss to Atlanta.

“Last I checked, they don’t begin the playoffs until 16 regular season games have been played, not 6. For all we know, the Bears could go 8-2 over the remaining 10 games and run away with the division. Or, they could go 2-8 and this one loss to the Falcons could mean bupkis.”

So, I must stay consistent when I say enjoy the way Orton is playing right now — I know I am — but don’t extend his contract beyond next season until he shows he can consistently play at this level for more than 7 games.

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