While he couldn't speak specifically about Cutler, Ryan went to great lengths to downplay media reports that the Jets were in the running for the disgruntled Pro Bowler. And while much of his time was spent talking up his current quarterbacks, he failed to close the door when asked directly if he would consider adding a veteran to that mix. Instead, Ryan opted for the tried and true fallback of saying he'd consider "all options."
He's not alone. Several teams have failed to squash the Cutler speculation, hiding behind league tampering rules when all it truly would have taken is six definitive words: "We won't trade for a quarterback." And now that Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has officially put Cutler back on the market, most of the league's quarterback-needy teams will be thrust back into the mix. According to multiple league sources, six teams have shown previous interest and are expected to take part in talks again: the Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.
Because of the number of teams that will be involved, and because Tampa already set the bar by offering its first-round pick in a failed three-way deal for Cutler, any package will have to include a high draft choice. And depending on where that choice is and what the market for Cutler ends up being, it could involve multiple picks, or players as well. With that in mind, here is a look at the six teams that have shown a sustained interest, as well as some others who could get involved in the Cutler sweepstakes:
New York Jets
There has been talk about salary cap concerns, but that isn't legitimate, particularly when Cutler is relatively affordable in 2009. And while coach Rex Ryan is tuning up the defense to fit his scheme, here is what he knows right now: He's got a lot of talented offensive pieces (some of which are aging) but no proven quarterback to immediately turn the key. Cutler solves that, and would put the Jets in a position to maximize all of those offensive pieces from Day 1, rather than waiting and hoping for Kellen Clemens to develop into a bona fide starter. What could hurt the Jets in the long run is that some of the other teams involved in the Cutler sweepstakes either have higher draft picks to offer, or could include a talented quarterback in the deal. In short, it will take a healthy package of picks for the Jets to get it done, and they may not be willing to start mortgaging their drafts in Ryan's first season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They already agreed to include the No. 19 overall pick in the scuttled three-way deal involving Matt Cassel and Cutler. And a league source told Yahoo! Sports that Tampa's pursuit is fueled by ownership, specifically Malcolm Glazer's sons, Joel and Bryan. The source said ownership is fixated on the fact that quarterback has developed into a long-term problem for the franchise, particularly after the juggling of former coach Jon Gruden. Knowing that the pursuit is backed by ownership should make the Buccaneers a formidable team to bid against. However, Tampa is hurt by the fact that other teams can trump their first-rounder, as well as offer other young quarterbacks.
Detroit reached out to inquire about Cutler early in the process, perhaps as early as both Minnesota – which killed a potential deal in February – and Tampa Bay. However, it was believed at that time that Detroit wouldn't part with the No. 1 pick for Cutler. Since then, the Lions have gotten a good look at the draftable players at that spot, and general manager Martin Mayhew has said he would move the No. 1 pick for a difference-maker. That could signify Detroit softening its stance after not being blown away by some of the other options on the draft table. Whatever the reasoning, Detroit is expected to talk to Denver again, and that No. 1 pick gives them a significant trump card over every other team. The one negative: if Denver is looking for a young quarterback to be part of a deal, the Lions don't have anything of value to offer in that regard. And Detroit isn't likely to give up much beyond the No. 1 pick – if they are even willing to do that.
Cleveland has the quarterback need, and more than enough pieces to surround Cutler and maximize his value immediately. The Browns also have a few young players who could be dangled in a deal, namely quarterback Brady Quinn, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and wideout Braylon Edwards. They also have a well-positioned first-round pick at No. 5 overall, which wouldn't have nearly the same salary constraints as Detroit's No. 1 pick, and would also allow Denver a shot at USC's Mark Sanchez, who is believed to be a good fit for McDaniels' offensive scheme. Of all the teams out there with something to offer, Cleveland may be the most dangerous, because it has the ability to put together the best package, while at the same time offering less risk in draft position.
San Francisco 49ers
Unless Denver is interested in Shaun Hill or Alex Smith, the 49ers don't have a wealth of options on the roster to tempt Denver. Their No. 10 overall pick is in a good spot, but it might take some additional picks to get a deal done. One league source also made an interesting point to Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday night: the Vikings pulled out of talks after exploring more about Cutler and talking to other league sources about him. 49ers coach Mike Singletary, who values keeping team issues "in house" might be inclined to shy away after seeing how Cutler's problems with Denver became public. At the very least, the 49ers will want to explore closely whether Cutler could be a chemistry problem, and why a team like Minnesota – which took a massive risk on defensive end Jared Allen – would shy away from Cutler.
Like Washington, the Bears became transparent when they didn't move on an extension for current starter Kyle Orton. Orton is heading into the last year of his deal, and general manager Jerry Angelo has actually put more pressure on him by suggesting that he'd like to improve the position. A league source said Chicago reached out to Denver about Cutler once, but were not nearly as aggressive as Minnesota and Tampa had been. And that might be because the Bears don't have a great deal of ammunition to work with. Sending Orton to Denver isn't realistic, and the Bears' pick – 18th overall – doesn't compare to some of the other teams that will be involved in talks. Unless Chicago is willing to package multiple picks, or part with some good young talent, they are going to have a hard time keeping up.
Here's another team expected to have some cursory interest, but doesn't appear to have the ammunition to mount a serious push. Carolina has no first-round pick, and while Jake Delhomme is nearing the end of his career, it's unlikely the Panthers would be willing to mortgage future drafts and go consecutive years without a first-rounder. The one intriguing thought: Julius Peppers. He wants to play in a 3-4 defense, and Denver is in the process of moving into that scheme. Peppers is surely a player Denver would be interested in, and trading a quarterback for another cornerstone at defensive end makes sense. However, coach John Fox seemed adamant at the owner's meetings that Carolina wasn't looking to move Peppers. If he changes his mind, the Panthers could quickly become a frontrunner, even if they can't get a quarterback in return as part of a deal.
This would be Dan Snyder all the way, and he's sending some signals that would make Washington obvious contenders. First, he has declined to extend current starter Jason Campbell, who is entering the last year of his deal, showing the team still isn't sold that he's a long-term answer. Second, Snyder was on hand when the Redskins worked out USC's Mark Sanchez, a clear indicator that Washington has more than a faint interest in exploring other options. In Washington's favor, it has a solid No. 1 pick to offer, and Campbell could be part of a deal as well. Working against the Redskins are other teams with better draft picks to offer, and Campbell's skills don't fit in the system the Broncos will run under McDaniels.
Jacksonville is in the right draft spot at No. 8 overall, but after last season's internal meltdown, and the delicate state of the locker room in regard to coach Jack Del Rio, it's hard to believe the Jaguars' interest will be serious. Perhaps the franchise would broach it if Cutler came with an extremely reasonable price tag, but that's not likely. Players in that locker room love current quarterback David Garrard, who just signed a fat contract extension one year ago and has been solid, despite a bad offensive line and forgettable receivers. Any involvement by Jacksonville with Cutler would represent a monumental chemistry risk.
Personnel sources told Yahoo! Sports the Vikings were the first team involved with Cutler, but nixed a deal after some coaches expressed reservations. After further inspection, those reservations apparently didn't stop with the coaching staff. Indeed, there are indications that multiple people in the organization weren't comfortable with Cutler, from all corners of the franchise. It's almost unthinkable Minnesota would try to rekindle talks, particularly now that so many other teams are in play.