First off, the folks who are stating "this will wreck the franchise!" need to get a grip on reality. Yes, Cutler was a franchise QB, but the truth is that franchise QBs are rare, which means that most teams don't have them. Yet many of them manage to do fine, including win Super Bowls (as did teams with Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler, Jim McMahon, Joe Theismann, etc.)
Meanwhile, having a franchise QB is no guarantee of winning a Super Bowl, as Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, and some other guys on this "best QBs never to win a Super Bowl" list have proven.
So if Denver is terrible for the next 10 years, it isn't because they alienated Jay Cutler, especially when it is obvious that Cutler—who wanted to play for Chicago or Nashville to begin with and only liked being in Denver as long as he was playing for Mike Shanahan—was so easy to alienate. Instead, it will be because Denver failed to replace Cutler with a capable, effective QB.
And while franchise QBs are rare, capable effective QBs are not. It really is not that difficult to acquire in the draft, with a trade, or through free agency a guy that can win a lot of games if he is properly coached and surrounded with good talent.
Josh McDaniels, who had a lot of success with guys drafted in the sixth (Tom Brady) and seventh (Matt Cassel) rounds, knows this.
The reason why McDaniels was willing to trade Cutler for Cassel was because Cassel is a better fit for his offense than Cutler is, and McDaniels would play a lesser QB that fits his system than change his system to accommodate a better QB. Look, McDaniels won 11 games with Cassel last year. So McDaniels knows that he doesn't need another Cutler to win games. All he needs is another Cassel, and Matt Cassel's aren't that hard to find.
They may be hard to coach and surround with talent, mind you, but they aren't hard to find, and if you can't coach up your QBs and build great teams around them, you aren't going to win anything anyway. Take, well, Denver for instance. Shanahan was unable to get Cutler to reduce his turnovers and never gave Cutler a defense or a running game. Result: 17-20 record.
If Denver's next QB has a defense, a running game, and doesn't turn the ball over 20 times like Cutler did last season, he won't need to throw for 4,500 yards to get Denver into the playoffs. See Joe Flacco: only 2,950 yards, yet his team won two road playoff games and went to the AFC title game.
So that's why Denver should resist the knuckleheads that are now claiming that they should use their two No. 1 picks to trade up to get Mark Sanchez. (Similar to his SEC brethren Jay Cutler and Jason Campbell, Matt Stafford is a vertical game QB who doesn't fit McDaniel's offense.) That would be, in a word, idiotic, amounting to little more than trading a 25-year-old Pro Bowl QB for a guy who had one above average season in college.
Sure, Denver would still have next year's No. 1 pick, but come on: they have no idea where Chicago is going to draft next season, and they also have no clue what next year's draft is going to look like. All they know is that this year's draft is very strong in players that Denver badly needs (DT, LB and RB) and they have No. 12 and No. 18 in it.
They have to use those two picks to get better, and getting Sanchez doesn't make them better. Even if Sanchez is as good as Cutler is, the bottom line is that Denver is no better off.
So, the way that Denver gets better is to use their No. 1 picks in this year's draft to find starters at positions other than QB. That is the first step to making sure that they are a franchise capable of winning games when they do get a good QB: a franchise like the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
(Notice that I left out the Indianapolis Colts, who would be absolutely awful with anything less than a future Hall of Famer at QB. The Colts are precisely what Denver does not want to be, and are no better than what Mike Shanahan would have built around Cutler.)
Now, the No. 12 pick in the draft has to go to a DL, preferably a DT but a DE is acceptable, that can be an impact player in their 3-4 defense. So then, what of the No. 18 pick? The safe, logical thing would be to draft a LB, a DB or another DL. Fine, but playing it safe would have also been kissing Cutler's feet (only to have Cutler reject the entreaties and ultimately be traded anyway).
No, Denver needs to go ahead and pull the trigger on what it hasn't had since Terrell Davis: a franchise tailback. Get a tailback that can rush for 1,500 yards to go with those great WRs and that very good offensive line, and Denver will have the best offense in the NFL waiting on whatever capable QB they acquire.
With that talent around him and with McDaniels calling the plays, this QB won't even need to be a franchise QB to put up franchise QB numbers. He would only have to be another Matt Cassel. And as stated earlier, it is not hard to find or mold a Matt Cassel.
The RB best suited for Denver is Knowshon Moreno. Other backs are bigger and faster, but Moreno is the only one that has played against top competition in a pro style offense, and would be able to do the blocking and receiving that the NFL game requires as a rookie.
Of course, if Moreno is gone by No. 18, Denver could go in another direction, including but not limited to trading down for still more picks, but they need to use one of them on a superior tailback prospect like Donald Brown, LeSean McCoy, or Div. I FCS sleeper Rashad Jennings.
As a matter of fact, if they improve the defense and get a top flight rusher, perhaps Kyle Orton will be good enough to get this team to the playoffs. And wouldn't that be the greatest of ironies!
So, Denver, get Knowshon Moreno or the next best RB option available, and let him run you away from the Cutler era. Best of all, the tailback that you draft will actually want to be in Denver whereas Cutler clearly never did.