Thursday, April 23, 2009

NFL ’09 Off-Season/Pre-Draft: The Denver Broncos

It was the biggest story involving the Broncos since Elway retired and I was remiss in not blogging about it. Now, with new coach Josh McDaniels set with two first-rounders for the next two years as a result and, with a little time to mull over the situation at a mile high, the day has come…to be followed by a more general, division-based off-season/draft talk in the days leading up to the finest day of the non-regular season.

After Shanahan was fired and McDaniels was brought in, I felt like the new coach would be perfect for Jay Cutler, which would be perfect to retake the AFC West. I had no way to realize that, however, that trouble sat some five thousand feet above me. The firing of QB coach Jeremy Bates (now at USC) angered the petulant quarterback and, within days and while down, McDaniels slapped his franchise player across the face.

I’m inevitably a fan of the team over the player, but McDaniels was stupid to think that a Bruce Campbell lookalike in Matt Cassel was worth trading Cutler away. Who to believe in the scenario is impossible to know; the only certainty was the ridiculously immature stance Cutler took in the wake of these trade talks. He’d already made motions toward a traded after Bates left, but now that all he could talk about. The whole thing seemed so ridiculous that I thought it would blow over, especially after the lack of word in the two weeks after the talks began. My ambivalence about Cutler remaining in Denver, however, was waning with each passing day. All of a sudden, with no word for days, Cutler was a Bear and Kyle Orton was a Bronco. Much to my surprise, my most powerful reaction was a shrug of the shoulders. Football is a team-oriented game more than most; if one player, no matter where they line up, doesn’t to the job, the whole team crumbles. Cutler is aloof and, if he doesn’t want to play for the Broncos, where is the guarantee he’ll give everything each game? Good riddance, Jeff George, Jr.

The reality, whomever was to blame, is that the trade was a boon for the Broncos and probably not so great for the Bears. Granted, the team takes a big loss in the switch to Orton. Orton is going from a smashmouth team with no receivers to a spread offense. Cutler, on the other hand, has Devin Hester to throw to. Wow, hot stuff. It’s hard to compare their relative performances with their former teams; Orton should perform a little better and Cutler a little worse. The real story comes in the draft picks. Denver’s holes are almost exclusively defensive so, this year at picks twelve and eighteen, they have a golden opportunity to add two defensive starters in the first round. My guess is two of the following three: Boston College DT BJ Raji, LSU DE Tyson Jackson, and USC LB Brian Cushing.

Next year is when it gets good. Let’s give a best-case scenario of 11-5 for Chicago in 2010 and a worst-case of 5-11 for Denver. Cutler plays phenomenally and Orton sucks it up. Denver has something in the neighborhood of the fifth and twenty-fifth picks in the ’10 draft along with a dire need at QB. In that draft, two quarterbacks are leaps and bounds better than the top two this year in Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy. Denver will easily be able to snag one of these two. Neither one may be Jay Cutler; both may be better. Either one, certainly, will outshine Matt Stafford or…snort…Mark Sanchez.

In spite of the turmoil in Denver, I still find this off-season the most productive in recent years. The 2009 Broncos are a team I barely recognize but, for now, a team I find beautiful. If, in the draft, they can pick up a DT and a middle linebacker, the words of Michael Stipe will finally come true: “I’ve got my spine; I’ve got my orange crush.” More will come clear after the weekend and, until then, go Neckbeard Orton, go Josh McDaniels, and go Broncos!