It’s a nice, feel-good Thanksgiving week story. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler breaks a thumb. The Broncos have cut a former Bears quarterback who’d like to play in Chicago again. And there’s nothing more natural than a homecoming on the fourth Thursday in November.
After the trading deadline, all players who are released must pass through waivers. Priority is determined by record. And so every team higher than the Bears in the pecking order will have dibs on Orton, if they choose to exercise it.
The Bears reportedly are No. 30 on the list. Which means that every team except the 49ers and Packers will be able to grab him.
It doesn’t matter whether Orton “wants” to play for the Bears. If another team claims him, he has 2.5 million reasons to show up.
At the top of the stack, what better way to test whether the Colts are in full-blown “Suck for Luck” mode than to see whether they’d bring in a quarterback who is significantly better than Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky? They’d be crazy not to make a claim. Unless they’re truly crazy for Andrew Luck.
The 4-6 Chiefs also need help, given the performance of Tyler Palko on Monday night. (And with the Chiefs playing the Broncos again on January 1, there could be some strategic benefit to having him around.) Ditto for the Redskins, whose head coach could be coaching for his job, with Rex Grossman and John Beck as the blanks in the bazooka.
And how about NFC teams that hope to pick off a wild-card berth if/when the Bears slide with Caleb Hanie or Nathan Enderle? The 7-3 Lions, 6-4 Falcons, the 6-4 Cowboys (whose primary backup, Jon Kitna, is banged up), the 6-4 Giants, the 4-6 Bucs, and even the 4-6 Dream Team would have an incentive to block the Bears from getting their way.
Let’s also not forget about the Texans, who may not be completely sold on Matt Leinart, despite the decision to put all their eggs in a beer bong.
Finally, it would be foolish to overlook good, old-fashioned spite. In 2002, Deion Sanders wanted to emerge from retirement and hop onto the silver-and-black bandwagon. So the Redskins released his rights. And former Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer, the man whose presence in 2001 prompted Sanders to pick retirement over playing, put in a waivers claim on Sanders, short-circuiting his plan. With three NFC North teams on track to make it to the playoffs, maybe the 2-8 Vikings would be tempted to keep the Bears from getting Orton, in the hopes that they’ll have company in the non-playoff party.
That’s highly unlikely. But the point is that there are many possible motivations, and just because the Bears want Orton and Orton wants the Bears, it doesn’t mean he’ll end up there. Indeed, the fact that the Bears and Orton are trying to rendezvous could be the tiebreaker for a team that is thinking about disrupting that plan.
UPDATE 10:35 p.m. ET: As a reader pointed out on Twitter, claiming Orton has another benefit. When he leaves as a free agent in March 2012, the team that employs him for six weeks would be in line for a compensatory draft pick. So there’s one more good reason to consider doing it.