So many tributaries. Such an interesting deal.
First, it should have never, ever come to this. Cutler-McDaniels was a match made in heaven -- a smart, tough, accurate passer with a great arm, in the hands of a Belichick protégé with a good offensive mind. Unless Orton becomes what Brady became in 2001, or Matt Cassel became in 2008, McDaniels and Bronco Nation will always wonder what they could have done to save this relationship. And I believe it could have been saved.
McDaniels could have sweet-talked Cutler a little more than he did. As one of the GMs involved in talking to the Broncos told me Saturday: "This should never have happened. This is bad for football. A great player talked his way off a team. If this trade doesn't work out for Denver, and Cutler plays great, which he should, Denver's going to look idiotic.''
Having said that, Cutler owns a degree of culpability that I believe is greater than the team's. As I wrote Thursday night, he has himself to blame for this trade because he couldn't accept that the team fired the two coaches -- Mike Shanahan and Jeremy Bates -- most responsible for the very good offense the Broncos had in 2008 and then couldn't accept that McDaniels wouldn't assure him he'd never be traded.
Should McDaniels have lied about that? Maybe. But the Broncos once tried to trade John Elway to Washington, and Elway had to come back to the team knowing Dan Reeves wanted to deal him. They were never best friends, but Elway didn't go on strike like Cutler did. Cutler was poked and prodded, but spare me the violins about how the Broncos treated him terribly. I don't buy it. He got treated like an employee, which he is.
I don't write this morning to say Denver won the trade. Not at all. I'll never praise trading a 25-year-old quarterback coming off a 4,000-yard season and possessing the best arm in football. And I'll continue to say the Broncos acted precipitously. They should have let this thing simmer for the next two or three weeks, accepted no phone calls from any team, and then, the weekend before the draft -- if Cutler was still not to be mollified -- deal him. April 22, fine. April 2 ... what's the rush?
For now, I'll declare the two winners to be the Bears and Orton. The only way I'll call Denver a winner in this is if they use eight primo picks -- five picks in the top 2.5 rounds of this draft, and three more in the first two rounds next year -- to rebuild a patchwork defense. That's a tall order for any team because there's usually a 50-percent washout factor with the high picks in any draft. But McDaniels, to show Denver fans and his own locker room that he was the right man for the job, has to make chicken salad with these draft picks out of the chicken-feathers situation that resulted in Cutler getting dealt.
The Bears finally have the quarterback they've longed for. If anyone thinks the Bears paid too much, let me show you the 14 men who have been first-round picks for the Bears in the last 15 drafts: John Thierry, Rashaan Salaam, Walt Harris, Curtis Enis, Cade McNown, Brian Urlacher, David Terrell, Marc Colombo, Michael Haynes, Rex Grossman, Tommie Harris, Cedric Benson, Greg Olsen, Chris Williams. Let's eliminate judging the last two, from 2007 and 2008, because they don't have enough on their résumés yet. Let's look at the other 12.
Stars: 1 (Urlacher).
Very good NFL starters: 1 (Tommie Harris).
NFL starters: 2 (Walt Harris, Marc Colombo).
Had some moments, but ultimately failed: 3 (Grossman, Thierry, Haynes).
Busts: 5 (Salaam, Enis, McNown, Terrell, Benson).
Four of the 12 became consistent NFL starters, or better. An awful, awful track record. That is why Angelo, a career scout who has too often loved draft picks more than A-Rod loves himself, wasn't very emotional talking to me about what he gave up.
"I've kind of changed about draft choices, particularly first-rounders,'' Angelo told me. "I don't have the same conviction on ones that I used to. It's the money, the totally unrealistic expectations, players coming out younger and not as experienced, players with too much time on their hands and too much money and not being grounded enough. I've become a little pragmatic about the first-round picks. They've been looked at like the Holy Grail for so long. Here, we had a chance to get a quarterback who's already shown he can play really well in the league. He's a guy with resilience; you've got to be resilient playing at Vanderbilt and succeeding John Elway. So we felt like it was a good investment for us. Time will tell.''
That's the sign of a smart general manager. I didn't think Angelo had this kind of move in him, dealing a marginal starting quarterback and three high picks, leaving his team without a first-round pick for two-straight years. But it's a gamble any smart GM would make.
Now for Orton. His first words to McDaniels illustrate the kind of sponge and -- the Broncos hope -- player he'll be in Denver, I think. "I just want to have an opportunity to compete for the job and help the team win,'' Orton told McDaniels.
Orton flew to Denver early Friday to meet everyone in the building, and later in the day was waiting at the airport in Denver to fly home when I reached him. He returned to Denver on Sunday night, and he'll be a full-timer in the offseason program, competing with Chris Simms -- and maybe, though I doubt it, a first-round quarterback if McDaniels finds one he loves in the draft. I asked Orton why he said what he said to McDaniels.
"It's all I've ever wanted,'' he said. "It's all I ever asked for in college [at Purdue] or here. As long as I have a fair chance, I can deal with whatever the coach decides.''
I found it interesting that Orton was so happy Friday night. Here he was, going from a team with a pretty good defense and a needy offense, where he was the no-doubt starter, to a team where he's the favorite to win the starting job, but nothing will be handed to him.
"It's the offense,'' he said. "I've watched it. I love it. The spread -- or at least, the multifaceted part of it -- really appeals to me. You change from game to game, and you do whatever gives your team the best chance to win that Sunday. That's the way an offense should be. But it counts on the quarterback to be smart at the line of scrimmage, and to make good decisions, and to be accurate. I think those are traits I have.''
Maybe, but he hasn't shown the accuracy in Chicago that he'll have to show in Denver. In 33 career games, he's completed just 55.3 percent of his throws. If that continues, McDaniels will have a new quarterback playing by December. But Orton will have two things he never had in Chicago -- time to throw (young tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris are the best young pair of outside blockers in football), and talent to throw to; Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, arguably, are the best young bookend receivers in the game. "When I found out about the trade,'' Orton said, "I was extremely happy. Everyone knows about Denver's talent on offense.''
As a coach, McDaniels has had great success helping his quarterbacks (Brady, Cassel) move the chains in New England. If he can pass that along to Orton, the offense shouldn't be what loses games for Denver. Now, the new coach who's taken the great gamble better hope he can draft defensive players. It's only his job that hangs in the balance.
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