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Broncos bumble Cutler deal

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Hello, and thanks for joining us here at Amateur Hour, coming to you live from the mountains of Colorado, where the NFL's newest young guns are off to a bit of a rocky start.

To conclude that Josh McDaniels, the Denver Broncos' 32-year-old rookie coach, and Brian Xanders, the team's newly hired general manager, are in over their heads might seem a bit unfair. But I think I just heard their respective mothers calling them out of the deep end of the pool because it had been less than 30 minutes since their last meal.

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McDaniels (pictured) and Xanders have not had a smooth transition.
(Ron Chenoy/US Presswire)

In case you've been preoccupied by the Kurt Warner saga, T.J. Houshmandzadeh's Pacific Northwest adventure or – gasp – news outside the realm of NFL offseason transactions, McDaniels and Xanders are the whiz kids who dangled their 25-year-old franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, in trade talks over the weekend.

That decision in and of itself was shocking – who considers parting with a sturdy, young Pro Bowl passer with a huge arm and obvious potential for greatness? For a moment, however, let's suspend disbelief and accept the notion that McDaniels, formerly Bill Belichick's offensive coordinator in New England, and Xanders, a longtime Falcons salary-cap specialist, are shrewd visionaries who could have improved the Broncos' short- and long-term prospects by getting rid of Cutler.

Even then, could they have handled the situation more clumsily?

By arriving late to the table in an effort to secure the services of former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel – and failing to pull off a proposed three-way trade with New England which would've sent Cutler to Tampa Bay or Detroit, the news of which was leaked to NFL.com after the Pats ended up dealing Cassel to the Chiefs – McDaniels and Xanders exposed themselves as novices and will now suffer the consequences:

Cutler, who does not at all believe McDaniels' public protestations that the Broncos were simply listening to offers for the quarterback initiated by others, mistrusts his new bosses and is angry about their apparent disrespect for his considerable abilities.

As Cutler has suggested, the news may also have a ripple effect in the locker room. If nothing else, other Broncos players will rightfully realize that if Cutler was deemed expendable, no one on the roster is sacred – and McDaniels is in an extreme-home-makeover state of mind.

If Xanders and McDaniels conclude that, even with Cassel gone, they still want to deal Cutler, their potential leverage with other teams has been reduced. In light of the news that they were talking to the Bucs and Lions about parting ways with the quarterback, any subsequent talks the Broncos initiate will be viewed as a sign that they are desperate to dump him.

On a slightly less crucial note, that constant noise filtering through the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters – former coach and personnel boss Mike Shanahan's cackling laughter reverberating off the Rockies – is kind of distracting.

None of this is necessarily calamitous. Some would argue that the drama between Cutler, who acknowledged that he was upset about Shanahan's firing, and his new bosses is nothing that a few early-season victories won't cure, or at least go a long way toward doing so.

In fairness, I don't know McDaniels or Xanders, and it's possible both the young coach and the neophyte GM are the next Belichick and Scott Pioli, with championships and secret handshakes in their future. Right now, however, they seem like the teenagers who took their parents' car for a spin and drove it into the neighbor's pool.

I'm wondering, is McDaniels really 32, or is he actually like Tom Hanks' character in "Big," a 13-year-old who magically morphs into an adult's body?

Certainly, Monday's report by SI.com's Peter King that Cutler had requested a trade in January – after the Broncos allowed Shanahan's former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, with whom the quarterback was close, to leave for USC – adds another layer of intrigue to the situation.

However, as McDaniels and Xanders should have realized, Cutler was undoubtedly reacting to a tumultuous stretch that began with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen's surprise firing of Shanahan, his 14-year coach, following the 2008 season. That rocked Cutler's world, and Bates' departure was a major aftershock.

Even if Cutler's reaction seemed a bit extreme, McDaniels should've addressed the player's insecurities and smoothed over the situation. That's part of the deal with star quarterbacks. For all their natural bravado, they can be sensitive, insecure dudes, whether they're relative youngsters like Ben Roethlisberger or grizzled veterans like Donovan McNabb or Brett Favre.

Instead, McDaniels and Xanders – seemingly with Bowlen's blessing, because I can't imagine they'd have been bold enough to move Cutler without it – decided that a career backup who did a nice job filling in for the injured Tom Brady in '08 would be a better man to build a team around than the 11th overall pick of the '06 NFL draft.

Then, instead of aggressively pursuing Cassel from the outset, McDaniels and Xanders (promoted to GM in February in another surprising move by Bowlen) misread the situation and got into the game after trade talks between Belichick and Pioli, the former Pats personnel chief who is now the Chiefs' GM, were too far along.

Much has been made about the fact that Belichick seemed to deal Cassel and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel for less than presumed market value, receiving only Kansas City's second-round pick (34th overall) in return. I can't tell you with certainty how the situation played out, but logic suggests that Belichick had his reasons.

First, Pioli was willing to make the trade without signing Cassel to a long-term contract, instead picking up the $14.65-million tab for 2009 that New England triggered when it placed the franchise tag upon the fifth-year quarterback. Seeking immediate salary-cap relief and worried that a team such as the Bucs or Lions would insist upon and have trouble negotiating a lucrative multiyear deal with Cassel before pulling the trigger on a trade, Belichick was motivated to act quickly.

Secondly, while Belichick may or may not have overtly extended a friends-and-family discount to Pioli, his longtime right-hand man in New England, it's reasonable to conclude this: At the very least, once the two men agreed in principle to make a deal, the Pats' coach was unlikely to renege. Had that been the case with another team, I suspect Belichick may have been willing to pull back once he heard that a much higher pick – reportedly the Broncos' first-round selection (12th overall) – was in play.

Finally, I have no idea who leaked the news that Cutler had come up in trade talks, but if you're McDaniels and Xanders, it's naïve to think that the New England and Kansas City camps lacked possible motivation to do so.

In Pioli's case, the Broncos are an AFC West rival. Enough said.

As for Belichick, though McDaniels seemingly departed New England on good terms, this may have been yet another opportunity to show an ex-assistant what happens when he leaves the family. After watching the way Belichick stonewalled Eric Mangini after the former Pats defensive coordinator took the Jets job, I can't imagine it's ever that cool when a staff member moves on, though Pioli is an obvious exception.

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It's been a very interesting offseason for Cutler.
(Dale Zanine/US Presswire)

Realistically, I think it's unlikely that Belichick went out of his way to make McDaniels' life harder by leaking the information about Cutler. On the other hand, I'm fairly certain that Coach Hoodie isn't sweating his ex-assistant's plight.

All of this makes me wonder what Bowlen thinks about all of this – and how culpable he is for the current state of affairs.

As someone who is close with John Elway, the Broncos' owner understands the power of a franchise quarterback. In fact, largely because of Bowlen, few NFL players have ever wielded so much power within an organization. For example, even under a strong-minded coach like Shanahan, it was common knowledge in the '90s during the team's training camps in Greeley, Colo., that it was OK to miss curfew as long as you were with John.

Right now, to continue with the movie theme, Bowlen reminds me of Kevin Spacey's character from "American Beauty." Having finally cut ties with Shanahan, he seems to be having the owner's equivalent of a midlife crisis, with McDaniels the equivalent of the 1970 Pontiac Firebird.

Bowlen's apparent willingness to give up on an ultratalented quarterback who seems headed for stardom makes him, too, seem like an Amateur Hour contestant, when a successful businessman with two Super Bowl rings should know better.

In the end, of course, it won't matter. It's Bowlen's team, and it won't be his job on the line if things don't go well in the post-Shanahan era. Instead, if Denver doesn't win, it'll be the whiz kids who take the fall.

My advice to McDaniels and Xanders is to reach out to Cutler, admit that they blew it and start kissing some serious butt. And to try not to let the sound of Shanahan's laughter get them off message.

TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)

"Mike, I commend you on your comments about the union and Michael Vick, particularly on one point: The union needs to fight for Vick. Many folks don't understand that the main purpose of a union is to fight for the rights of the dues-paying member – no matter what. No one likes what Vick has done, but the union has a legal obligation to represent him, no matter what disgusting things he has done. Giving Roger Goodell, or any business owner, manager, employer, etc., sole unchallenged authority is never a good idea. Personally, I think Vick ought to get the same treatment that he gave to his dogs. And any team that signs him ought to be picketed, but he's served his sentence. Unlimited additional punishment is heavy-handed. A union that's afraid of a little public rebuke ain't worth paying dues to."

Vince

Thanks for understanding my stance on a complex issue. To clarify, I completely understand why the commissioner would want to punish Vick severely and would be skeptical about reinstating him given the damage to the NFL's brand. And I can also see why the people in charge of any given NFL team would be reluctant to employ Vick. The NFLPA, however, should be fighting for his interests, regardless of how unpopular such a position might be. If it turns out that nobody offers him a job once he's eligible, I suppose he'll no longer enjoy the privilege of playing in the NFL.


"Good points and I agree that Vick should be reinstated, though I would prefer to see the individual teams stand up and say, 'no, thank you.' However, I am disturbed by your implication that somehow the life of an animal is less important than that of a human. Any organism with a nervous system experiences fear and pain. How would you react if Mr. Vick had done those acts to a human? Actually, you would not have the need to write this column because if he did those things to a human we would never see him on 'this' side of a prison wall."

Mike
Orwigsburg, Pa.

I did not mean to imply that somehow the life of an animal is less important than that of a human. I meant to say it outright: Humans (at least from my species-centric orientation) are more important than animals.


"Michael Silver, you seem like a nice guy: Defending certain idiots, after paying a bit for their all-too-contagious acts of idiocy. Defending the league, after it lightly slaps the fingers of abhorrent idiots destroying its brand instead of self-destructing as an entire league. Defending the idea of the union destroying its credibility, although you worded it all very smoothly. You're a smart man. You're probably also a lover of freedom, so this is no slur against you as a gentleman. In this particular case, however, it does remind me of another fine example of great writing; to wit, "The Communist Manifesto," by Karl Marx. In your case, and in his, it's great writing – the only trouble is, once you apply the idea, it's still flat-out wrong. Ask the [people of] China before 20 years ago. Ask Myanmar and North Korea today. Ask the people absolutely sick of some druggy creeps, dishonest and disgusting in most respects, destroying the NFL. You love the game? Defend it. Don't defend the indefensible. People are getting exhausted with the continual indecencies of these overgrown children. Why taint the whole league with their ilk?"

Ryan Kent
Washington state

I just communicated with the ghost of Karl Marx, and I told him all about the NFL as an entity. Here's what he had to say: "A massive television contract that is shared equally among 32 teams, ensuring profitability for all? Gate receipts and marketing and licensing revenues that are similarly apportioned? A salary cap which ensures that each team's payroll will be reasonably similar? A system in which a draft and scheduling formula are designed to uplift the poor-performing teams at the expense of the most successful ones? A strong, centralized office ruled by a powerful commissioner? What's NOT to love?"


"Do you really believe that this man even deserves a chance to play again? Aren't you fed up with all of these pro athletes lying constantly on camera only to make some half-hearted apology at how changed of a man they've become once they get caught? Quite frankly: Vick is a punk and a street thug and killing harmless/helpless animals should've landed him in jail a lot longer than it did. To sit here and say that the NFL owes him anything is ridiculous. Instead of suspending him, what commissioner Goodell should do is place Vick in a pit with the rabid dogs that he trained and let them have their way with him. He is a disgrace to the human race and once again people defend him because it just once again shows you that if you can play sports at a professional level all else is forgotten and nothing else matters. His punishment did not fit the crime and he deserves a lifetime ban."

Bobby Gotti
Newark, N.J.

Hmm, Mr. Gotti – how do you really feel?


"Congrats on your article about Vick. While yours will be an unpopular stance, it will also be a correct one. Vick has served his time, and he's served far more time than athletes who have been convicted of far worse. Personally, I loathe Vick and think he's a vastly overrated quarterback, but the fact remains that he deserves another chance. So congrats again on having the moral courage to take this stand. But I am curious about one thing? How does a Cal-Berkeley Marxist like yourself reconcile siding against the animal rights lunatics, who clearly would consider your politically-incorrect position to be some display of heresy against modern left wing dogma?"

Mark D.
Tampa, Fla.

Here we go again with the Marxism. To answer your question, I suppose the answer is that I think for myself.


"… at last a sane person. Wow. I am impressed with your fairness in Vick's situation. Thanks."

Jerome
Cleveland

I love it when people call me sane. It's so … unnerving.


"If, in your mind, Vick has served his debt to society for the senseless, barbaric and cruel physical and psychological torture of these poor animals, then you just don't get it. Not that I'm surprised. You've always come across as mentally lethargic."

Mark
Denver

Huh? Um …


"Why would you ever stand up for a total POS like Vick. Shredded muscles and death certainly trumps the right of a dues paying POS to earn anything ever. Can't wait till that garbage comes in to play the Giants or Jets. I and my Jets or Giants group, with seats on the visitors side, will bring rocks and see how he and his teammates like it. Maybe u need to get one of your limbs shredded to understand what this garbage did."

Charles Mycroft
Ennis, Mont.

And after your rock-throwing barrage is complete, perhaps Mr. Vick can give you and your buddies some pointers for dealing with prison life.


"I usually agree with your articles and opinions but you are way off on the Vick angle. I live in ATL and saw firsthand the carnage he brought to this franchise. The reason Vick won't be back for awhile is simple: He lied to Goodell's face! If he had the nads to do that then sorry, no sympathy is deserved."

Jack Emerson
Atlanta

I just love that you used the word "nads." Impressive!


"I can't believe you would write an article in defense of Vick. That is insane. Vick is a lying, self-centered jerk [maybe that's why you defend him, you can relate]. I found this article stunning and ridiculous in its own right. Also, for you Falcons fans that have his back, remember you are the ones he flipped off. To hell with the defense of Vick and to hell with you crying he needs defense."

Brad Coverstone

That is totally unfair: I am a truthful, self-centered jerk.


"Your an idiot"

Ko
St. Louis

I need one of these every so often, just to keep me smiling.


"Michael, Your latest column, 'The Gameface: Time to embrace free agency' was a lucid, well thought out article that I thought hit the nail on the head. This is the first article I have ever responded to the author. I feel I get into this player salary debate yearly with my buddies who are pro ownership and low player salary. This article completely bolsters my POV. As, an ex-DIV I football player I feel the football players are used and abused financially throughout their careers until they reach free agency in the NFL. Shoot, I see Florida Pop Warner teams on television every year and high school games every weekend. These NFL players, best in the world, don't deserve the money? Ha that is a joke. As far as I am concerned they deserve everything they get; if ownership can afford it they will pay it. I don't remember any NFL team going bankrupt lately. I like to see NFL players collect large sums to collect for all the players the NFL owners cut and release at a moment's notice. Or especially the players teams cut after three years to avoid paying veterans minimum or retirement monies. Also, all the people similar to me who played all the way through the college level, just a step away from making any money … but like your article, I can't complain too much, at least my scholarship was paid for in exchange for all those nationally televised games and commercials and the NCAA bowl games monopoly. Thanks for the article sincerely."

Paul Tripp
Covington, Ky.

Thanks for your first-ever response. You are now 1-for-1 when it comes to getting published, which you can feel free to rub in the faces of your pro-ownership buddies.


"What a hilarious column! Getting schooled on how to think about players salaries was interesting, and well written I might add. But, I would also add that we stupid, slow-minded, ungrateful, jealous fans wouldn't know what the players are making if it wasn't reported to us. And, usually reported in such a way as to incite sentiment. Get over yourself."

Dennis
Morro Bay, Calif.

I'm trying, man. I really am. But these emails keep pulling me back …


"OK. You did it. I'm converted. I will henceforth cease to moan over players haggling for more money. While it still grates a little, it's not worth getting worked up over or mad at them. Why is no one screaming over Jim Carrey demanding $25 million a movie? I see your point, and it has been taken. I love football and I don't really watch any other sports. So, I will instead moan and groan over Tony Romo's interceptions or Flozell Adams getting beat by speed rushers every third down, not how much they make or who they are dating. Thank you for your well thought out article on this and pointing out facts, (like their contracts are not guaranteed on the ownership side, they can be tossed at any time, like right before your roster bonus.) Keep them coming! You're the best! (Don't you groan when people say, 'Your the best!'?)"

Donovan Scott
Austin, Texas

If by "groan" you mean "do a little dance in front of the computer, misspelling be damned," then yes, absolutely.


"I get your points about the owners cutting contracts of players, and most players having very short careers with which to make their money – but I would counter it with two things. A) There needs to be a rookie salary schedule or cap. I can't believe the veteran players oppose this. Teams at the top of the draft are forced to pay huge amounts of money – especially in signing bonuses – to unproven players. Is Reggie Bush really worth that much more than Adrian Peterson? (and they were only a few picks apart)? Can we truly say that Vince Young has panned out? JaMarcus Russell could turn out to be great, but so far, he looks like the next coming of Tarvaris Jacksonnot good. Maybe we could soften the blow with a nice windfall for players who sustain career-ending injuries in their first few years in the league, but there is no doubt that the current rookie salaries, especially for those at the top of the draft, are ridiculous. B) At the end of the day, these guys are getting paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to play a game."

Brent Boettcher
Newman Grove, Neb.

I definitely understand your frustration about rookie salaries, but here is the counter-argument: From the perspective of players entering the NFL, the draft should be abolished altogether. Everyone would then be allowed to negotiate a deal on the free market and, in theory, play in the city of his choosing. I know that sounds radically capitalistic, but it's an idea.


"Fantastic article. It drives me literally insane to listen to people bitch and moan about these 'ungrateful' players. This is a business first and foremost, and their bodies are the ones suffering all the damaging consequences of games which they may only play for a short duration of time. I personally don't feel the figures of any contract should be released and rather each team (during free agency and the draft) should just give a thermometer-type gauge on what percentage of the cap they have contracted out (keep it simple for the simpleminded). The money is disclosed, but the terms are not discussed, and the terms are what defines the money. These contracts are complex legal documents which are the by-product of hard work in both negotiations and overall presence of a player. They cannot be explained away by '7 years, $100 million.' Moreover, I would be willing to bet [as you mentioned] that a number far greater than just a simple majority do not even comprehend how the contract fits into the salary cap, so why is it relevant? I do understand that people can't stand to listen to millionaires gripe, but that is the nature of this business. The very fact that so many people from all different places in life are privy to the griping shows how powerful and popular the NFL really has become. This should be a good indicator that we are dealing with a money-making giant. If you are in some way incensed at this griping, take action and become a non-fan. What's that? Willing to complain about it but not do anything? That's what I thought … must not bother you that much. Kudos on the article."

Sarah
San Diego

Thanks. Judging from this email, you could've written a pretty good article yourself. Just one quibble: Please do not let the bitching and moaning drive you LITERALLY insane. That would present a problem.


"Michael, Allow me to preface this by saying that I love your column and you were making me LMAO again but I could not disagree with you more on the issue with players salaries. I understand that the big money comes from the TV deals with the networks but as long as I (along with 64,999 other fans) am footing the bill to watch these players play live then it is my concern. When players get $100M over seven years, we are the ones that get slapped with 15-30% annual ticket increases to help pay for those salaries. Also, when an owner holds my city hostage by demanding that that we build him another stadium with tax dollars or else he will move my team to another city so that he can in turn make more profits, that is also my concern. He can finance his new stadium with his own flipping money. So if I ignore those two scenarios, then yes you are correct that it is none of my business what the players are making."

Frank Ender
Tampa, Fla.

I understand your points, and I guess this is my knee-jerk response: If player salaries are bothering you that much, you can always a) stop going to games and b) vote against any publicly-financed stadium initiatives. I realize it's not so conveniently cut-and-dried from a true fan's perspective. If nothing else, I believe the whole help-build-a-rich-dude-a-stadium fad is going to take a serious hit under current economic conditions.


"Mr. Silva, At first, your column apologizing for athletes who fail to live up to their end of a contract really hit a nerve in me. After cooling down, I realized something. Most fans, myself included, really don't care how much money any given athlete makes. For all practical purposes, in our lives the money they make might as well be Monopoly money. That's about how real it all is to the average fan. I think the average fan simply asks players and teams to simply not rub our faces in it! Make your money, but shut up about it. When a team or a player whines publicly, they are making their finances public, forfeiting any expectation of privacy. Make your money and shut up! A further thought I had also cooled me down a bit. There is no intrinsic value in what these athletes do beyond diverting and entertaining their fans, sort of glorified court jesters. Nothing they do materially advances civilization or aids humanity. They have less concrete impact on the world than anyone in an episode of 'Dirty Jobs.' Their salaries are hugely over-inflated beyond their true worth. Just as it so recently seemed the stock market would never stop climbing, or the housing market would ever stop growing and growing … Well, the stock market and the housing markets, hugely inflated over their intrinsic worth, came crashing down in a huge, inevitable 'correction,' a return to earth, so to speak. For athletes, right now the financial Golden Era may seem like it stretches on into forever, but it doesn't. It may take a few more years, but when the entertainment field 'corrects,' the crash will be loud and exceedingly painful. Many athletes, once rich or expecting to be rich, may find they themselves broke and having to do something truly meaningful just to eke out a living. When that inevitability occurs, most fans will look at them, shrug, and say, 'Bummer, dude, sucks to be you … welcome to my world.' PS: Hope I fixed my misspellings."

Andrew Hall
Lewiston, Maine

Dude, you spelled my name wrong. Welcome to MY world. That said, I appreciate your sentiments and would certainly agree that pro athletes provide less value to society than, say, doctors and teachers. On the other hand, they entertain numerous people, myself included, and there's something to be said for that.


"Can't act?!?! 'Whoa.' I rest my case."

Logan
Minneapolis

Thank you, Mr. Reeves. Your work speaks for itself.


"I have always enjoyed your insightful and occasionally acerbic writing. The sheer genius of your send-up of Brad Childress and the Vikings, however, merits many kudos. Like many here in, to borrow a phrase from the otherwise execrable Sid Hartman, Cold Omaha, I have been waiting for the unveiling of this 'kick ass' offense for awhile now. Many thanks for the laughs! There is only one thing that bothered me, however. The mental image of Chilly dancing around the house in his underwear remains etched on my frontal lobe. I curse you, though mildly, for that."

Matty Spillum
Minneapolis

Just be glad the send-up doesn't come with a video …


"That song you wrote send, it to me on tape. With Bob Seger, it will go to No. 1."

Greg

I seriously doubt that. However, it would add new meaning to the term Silver Bullet Band.


"I don't have a question Michael, just want to say how much I enjoy your column. I joined the 21st century last June and went online, which answered my question of where you went after you left SI. Your riff on Childress to Bob Seger was [expletive] brilliant. I always look forward to your column because it has a great mix of passion mixed with humor and irreverence. Great work."

Chris Schuette
Los Angeles

I love it when someone arrives in the 21st century later than I did. (And no, I'm not on Facebook and don't plan to be.)


"Michael, I want to know what you are basing your opinion about the UFL never playing a game on. Have you done any research on the league and its progress, or are you making a blanket statement that no other football league than the NFL can be successful?"

Dusty Sloan
Columbus, Ohio

I base the opinion on the current state of the economy and the prospect of launching a national football league to go head-to-head against the NFL in the fall under such conditions.


"Tell yahoo that you need a raise. I watched less than eight quarters of NFL football last year, but I regularly read every word of your columns. Don't ask me why, but it works."

Bryce Denny
Louisiana

Now we're talking about a salary issue that's truly compelling …


"Keep giving football [English variety] blurbs. In addition to being a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan and stockholder, I also support Glasgow Celtic and Manchester United and get up early on the weekend to watch those matches. Congrats to your daughter on her header. If she is good on corners and crosses, Celtic could use her."

Tom McLaughlin
Chicago

Fantastic. She's looking for $100 million over seven years, with lots of Junior Mints thrown into the deal.