I should be doing anything but writing this column right now.
I have two finals tomorrow that will greatly determine my grades in those respective classes, not to mention a final paper due on Wednesday that I have barely even started. It doesn’t matter, because to this point, the only thing that I feel motivated about is the soap opera that dominated the Denver Broncos’ offseason and the repercussions that have followed.
If you follow this team like I do, you know what I’m talking about. I shouldn’t have to tell you. Hell, you can be a fly on the wall for all I care. You know about the epic tantrum that went down between Josh McDaniels and Jay Cutler, and you also know how much different the Broncos will be this season and every season that follows because of it.
To this day, I don’t understand why Mike Shanahan just had to have Jay Cutler in the draft back 2006. Jake Plummer was the perfect quarterback for Shanahan’s run based offense, and he was coming off the best season of his career. Yet, it was mostly his fault that Denver fell apart in that AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh? The same Pittsburgh team that stifled Peyton Manning in the previous round? Give me a break.
Following that game, everything changed for the Broncos. They traded up to nab Cutler and Jake Plummer officially had 7 starts left in his football career. Trevor Pryce walked away in free agency and Al Wilson played his final game for Denver the same day Cutler played his first. Anyway you look at it, the kid from Santa Clause changed this franchise, sometimes for better but mostly for worse. Maybe Mike Shanahan thought he saw the next John Elway when he watched film of Jay Cutler from Vanderbilt. Apparently Cutler felt the same way when he said that he thought his arm was even stronger than Elway’s. For all that is right in the world, why would a young quarterback who has never even been to the playoffs compare himself to the most iconic sports figure in Colorado history?
Of course, this is all old news. Which brings me back to McJaygate. I still have a hard time picking a side. McDaniels should never have tried to trade his best player for a one-hit wonder in Matt Cassel who no doubt benefited from all the talent around him in New England. I don’t care how familiar you are with a player, you never trade talent for good system players. At the same time, how does Jay figure that it’s ok or professional to throw the kind of fit that he did? Say all you want about Denver’s terrible defense (and it has been beyond terrible) but Cutler has never shown the fire that it takes to be a winning NFL quarterback. Elway had it. Craig Morton had it. Even Plummer showed flashes of it at times. Cutler has never been short on talent, but talent only takes a player so far. Fellow ’06 quarterback draftees Matt Leinart and Vince Young can attest to that.
Here’s the catch though; once Josh exiled Jay out of the AFC by sending him to Chicago, I had moved past this. After seeing the bevy of draft picks that the Bears surrendered for the spineless talent that is Jay Cutler, I was ecstatic. Here, finally, was my team’s chance to regain prominence after suffering through the final years that became the lost visions of Mike Shanahan. Kyle Orton might suck, I thought, but McDaniels’ talents at grooming quarterbacks are supposedly just as good as Shanahan’s talents at grooming running backs. It’s all about the system, so this didn’t bother me that much. Not nearly as much as Cutler’s errant passes at the goal line that turned into interceptions did.
Then came draft day. I wasn’t quite a kid on Christmas morning, but believe me my heart was pumping. School and girls be damned, the draft was the only thing I thought of all week. We had five picks in the first three rounds. We were going to rebuild our team. We were going to be relevant again for the first since Elway left the building and Terrell Davis’ legs went with him. Everything good in Broncos Country would be restored. Right?
Maybe that will still happen, but certainly not the way I or any other person with half a football brain hoped it would. The Broncos effectively passed on Brian Orakpo, Rey Maualuga, James Laurinaitis, Everette Brown, Brian Cushing, and others for Knowshon Moreno, Robert Ayers, and Alphonso Smith. Ayers being the only defensive lineman McDaniels drafted and Smith being one of three defensive backs that he took instead. Am I crazy here? Were the Broncos not one of the worst teams at defending the run last year? Not only did McDaniels pass on all those players, but he traded the team’s first round pick in next year’s draft for a cornerback who likely won’t even start for a year or two.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because I think Denver didn’t need Moreno and shouldn’t have traded up for Smith doesn’t mean I think they are scrubs. These are all good players coming out of college (Smith would’ve been a first rounder if he was taller than 5’9) and they should all contribute to the Broncos this year in some capacity.
Still, by erasing the face of the franchise, McDaniels rattled the Denver fan base and has created more controversy than any other coach in history before coaching in his first game. Don’t be surprised if he gets booed at the first home game at Invesco Field. Bottom line; Josh needs to win right now to regain the full support and trust of the fan base, and I don’t see how he can do that when he didn’t look to solve his team’s biggest weakness through the draft. It’s like getting a new paint job for a broken down Mustang instead of fixing the transmission. It looks better, but the performance won’t improve at all.
To be fair, it’s only May. McDaniels and the Denver “Patriots” have a few more mini-camps, training camp, and the preseason to work out all of the kinks. Regardless, mistakes will still be made, important assignments and plays will be blown, and somewhere between now and next offseason Brandon Marshall will find another girl to get arrested with. You come to expect these things as a Broncos’ fan nowadays.
Ultimately, when looking at the Broncos’ roster and comparing it to that of San Diego, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New England, and the other teams of the AFC elite, I can’t help but feel that it will be another long season. My only saving grace is the hope that somehow, someway, Chicago will have an equally miserable season to us. At least that way I won’t feel quite as bad about trading that damn first round draft pick.