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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Something is Rotten in Denver

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things have changed in Denver? Seems like just yesterday that the Denver Broncos were considered one of the more stable franchises in the NFL with a veteran head coach and an owner who generally knew well enough to leave the football decisions to his front office staff.

I don’t know if Pat Bowlen suddenly decided to take a page out of Al Davis’s book or if he just got bored, but things have spiraled downward amazingly fast for this proud franchise.

First Bowlen decided to jettison his two-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan in favor of a 32-year old “flavor of the month.” Then, after new head coach Josh McDaniels tried to secretly orchestrate a trade of the Broncos’ franchise quarterback in exchange for one of his former pupils, the young quarterback with the a big arm and a big ego got mad and threw a tantrum.

According to many NFL experts, what should have happened next was that McDaniels and Jay Cutler should have realized that sometimes the best moves are the ones that don’t happen and decided to play nice together in the sand box. After all, the NFL is a business and you can’t take things too personally.

No one outside of the organization seems to know exactly what has transpired over the last ten days, but for sure no one is kissing and making up. Instead, the ordeal has evolved into a “he said, he said” that now seems destined for a messy divorce.

Bowlen claims that he and McDaniels have made numerous attempts to contact Cutler without any success and therefore now believe the only recourse for the team is to trade the young quarterback. Cutler and his agent, Bus Cook, have asked for a trade, but also claim that no one from the Broncos tried to reach Cutler until this week.

Since very little about the NFL surprises me anymore, the two sides could eventually realize that they need each other and this could all blow over, but that seems very doubtful at this point. What is more likely is that Cutler will be wearing a different uniform next season and McDaniels will have the added pressure of being a 32-year old rookie head coach who ran the franchise quarterback out of town.

NFL history isn’t plush with examples of three-year veteran quarterbacks with a proven pedigree (Cutler has passed for 9,024 yards and 54 touchdowns in three seasons) and secure position in the lineup demanding a trade. Generally starting quarterbacks only get traded after they have lost their job or if the team believes they have a better option.

Considering that Denver moved up in the draft to select Cutler with the 11th pick in the 2006 draft and the only other quarterbacks on the roster are a former free agent from Alabama-Birmingham (Darrell Hackney) and a recently added veteran who hasn’t started an NFL game in more than two years (Chris Simms), it is pretty obvious that trading Cutler was not part of the team’s plan for the upcoming season.

One example that has some similarities is the case of Jeff George, the first pick in the 1990 draft. After four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, George became disgruntled and was traded to Atlanta. At the time it was believed that George could be a franchise quarterback, but that theory was eventually disproved. His career statistics were relatively impressive (27,602 yards, 154 touchdowns, 113 interceptions), but his record as a starting quarterback was an abysmal 46-78. George was eventually labeled as a malcontent and cancer and though he still is trying to find a job hasn't been on an NFL roster since 2001.

The Broncos have a losing record (17-20) with Cutler has their starter, but part of the blame should certainly go to a defense that has annually ranked among the worst in the league. There seems to be little doubt that Cutler has the physical tools to be a standout NFL quarterback, but George proved that it takes a lot more than just a strong arm to become a winning NFL quarterback.

It will be up to potential suitors to determine if the ego, pride and stubbornness that Cutler has displayed in this disagreement with the Broncos is something that can be controlled or if it is the flaw that will keep him from achieving NFL glory. Considering that the Broncos are reportedly asking for at least two high draft picks and a starting player in return, the price to find out is awfully steep.

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