The Denver Broncos offseason has been painted in the press as everything from minor disaster to major apocalypse.
A lot of the analysis, though, has been based on abysmally poor reporting. Sadly, the local Denver media has exacerbated this by sensationalizing events in a very misleading way.
Here are a few of the myths and an account of how they’ve been misreported.
Josh McDaniels alienated Jay Cutler by seeking a trade for Matt Cassel
This is probably the most egregious example of poor reporting during this whole affair. The funny part about this is that just reading the Rocky Mountain News’ and Denver Post’s own articles from the time of Mike Shanahan’s firing is enough to debunk this myth.
When Shanahan was fired at the end of the 2008-09 season, Jay Cutler told the Rocky Mountain News, "I'm disappointed, I'm shocked, I'm not happy about it, I'm not pleased with it at all.” Cutler went on to state that he would leave if Denver’s offensive coaches were not retained, particularly Jeremy Bates.
The article also mentioned that after hearing about the firing Cutler consulted Shanahan about the offense.
Not long after that Josh McDaniels was named as head coach, McDaniels was brought in to pull Denver out of some of the ruts it had worked its way into.
The dilemma McDaniels faced is that in keeping Shanahan’s offensive staff, he would be keeping the same staff under which Denver’s offense had become stagnant. When the new head coach began replacing the offensive coaching staff, including Bates, Cutler stayed silent.
Cutler knew that if he tried to leave then he would rightly be perceived as unprofessional and his stock would go down.
Things stayed quiet for over a month until, on Feb. 26, a spokesman for the Patriots organization mentioned that the Broncos had considered a trade for Matt Cassel. The statement from the Patriots made no mention of who initiated the talks. Bill Belichick later issued a statement that the Patriots had shopped Cassel around prior to the trade with Denver, meaning that they probably initiated the call.
Cutler’s initial reaction was a little absurd, but got truly ridiculous when he claimed that he wanted a trade because McDaniels "wasn’t sorry" about considering a trade.
Clearly the real reason for Cutler’s wanting out of Denver was the Shanahan firing and his fear of having to work in a new offense. McDaniels acted professionally by not kowtowing to a pampered player who wanted to control the offense. It’s doubtful that McDaniels ever seriously considered a trade for Cassel.
The Broncos gave up a franchise quarterback for a mediocre quarterback
First of all Cutler, by his actions, had shown he was clearly not mature enough to entrust with leading a football team. His first reaction in learning of Mike Shanahan’s firing was to try a power play, and when that failed he pouted until he forced a trade.
While Cutler has a world class arm that could compare with Elway or Favre, he has an attitude toward the game that compares more with Jeff George. A big part of Denver’s decline was Cutler’s poor decision making and predictability.
Defenses could count on Cutler forcing the ball into Brandon Marshall in key situations. The result was a slew of interceptions at key moments in key games.
Kyle Orton started as a rookie in 2005 after the Bears starting QB and backup QB had both been injured. Despite playing behind a weak offensive line and having poor receivers, Orton performed in that emergency role for 15 games until the starter was able to return.
In 2008 Orton won the starting job and performed well again, despite being surrounded by a weak offensive team. In fact, Orton performed under such poor conditions and attained stats comparable to Cutler’s—even though Cutler was surrounded by much better talent.
At best, neither quarterback is a proven commodity. Orton is a better game manager and more disciplined player, while Cutler has a stronger arm but is prone to gambling.
The Broncos needed to replace their defensive line
The reason for this myth is the misconception that because Denver’s defense was poor in 2008-2009 and it's line performed so poorly that all of Denver’s defensive linemen had to be replaced. Denver’s defense was poor, and its line did play badly, but the reason for that is under-reported mainly because most sports-writers only look at stats.
Denver’s defensive guru throughout the glory years of the 70’s and 80’s was a coach named Joe Collier. Collier was the architect of the "Orange Crush Defense" and easily the greatest defensive coach in Denver history. Collier is also regarded as the first man to ever use the 3-4 defense in the pros while an assistant coach with the Bills in 1964.
From Collier, Shanahan learned the notion of using defensive linemen as blockers to keep offensive linemen off of your linebackers. In Shanahan’s system, the defensive lineman’s first job was to keep the offensive linemen on the line and only rush after they determined it was a pass play.
Where Collier still used penetration to get that control of the line Shanahan’s approach was more passive. Only the ends were expected to rush in Shanahan's defense, making them easy to block.
Because of the way Shanahan used his defensive linemen, there were rarely more than two pass rushers on any pass play unless they were blitzing. This resulted in poor stats for the defensive linemen. That was part of the system.
Added to all that was Shanahan’s poor management skill when it came to working with defensive coordinators—they had four defensive coordinators in eight years with two of them (Rhodes and Slowik) lasting less than a season each.
Denver’s defense was constantly changing schemes and players often were simply confused by it all.
McDaniels screwed up the draft
A lot of this myth comes from the perception that the defensive line had to be replaced. McDaniels smartly realized that focusing on the line would prevent him from making more urgent upgrades to the team.
McDaniels used the draft to give the Broncos more athleticism in the defensive backfield and to get a player that could be an offensive focus along with acquiring a potential outside linebacker to rush the passer in the 3-4.
McDaniels alienated Brandon Marshall
Frankly this one puzzles me. Marshall claims that his beef is because the Bronco medical staff gave him poor advice last season. This doesn’t even have anything to do with McDaniels if we are to believe Marshall.
The reason blame is attributed to McDaniels is that no one actually believes Marshall’s stated complaint.
The obvious situation here is that Brandon Marshall is in a contract year, coming off of hip surgery and might possibly be suspended for his plethora of legal problems. McDaniels’ detractors are so desperate that they somehow gloss over all of this to sympathize with Marshall
McDaniels has very smartly kept the best parts of the Shanahan era Broncos while letting a lot of questionable pieces go. The likelihood is that the 2009-2010 Broncos will be at least as good as last year’s version.
The trade of Cutler will prove to be a good one as Orton will be a better fit in McDaniels system and will be fairly efficient. The Broncos' offense will be more diverse than in 2008-2009 and, while no one player will have a dominant year, they will post similar numbers in passing yardage and better numbers rushing.
The defense will be solid with strong secondary play and good, though unspectacular line play. They’ll finish with a defensive rating in the middle of the NFL pack.
Realistically they will win between 7-to-10 games and finish second in the division.