Denver trades Cutler to Chicago
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
DAVID EULITTJay Cutler will play for Chicago this fall — and Jared Allen will stalk him in a Vikings jersey.
All that turmoil in Denver, and now the Chiefs can sit back and laugh.
One of the AFC West’s best quarterbacks is out of the division, and Kansas City has its man, quarterback Matt Cassel, who unwittingly was a prominent player in the NFL’s thorniest off-season drama.
Now that it’s over, the Broncos are relieved and draft-ready, Chicago no longer has to choose between Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman, and the Chiefs might have improved their chances to contend for next season’s division title — without doing a thing.
After a month of arguments, public complaints and ultimatums, Denver traded quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears on Thursday. In return for one of the NFL’s most promising but temperamental quarterbacks, the Broncos received Orton, Chicago’s first- and third-round picks this year, and an additional first-rounder in 2010. Denver also sent a fifth-round pick in this month’s draft to complete the deal.
It was a hefty price and a climactic end to a messy split between Cutler and the Broncos. And to think, it all started because of Cassel.
Who could blame the Chiefs if they’re celebrating? Not only did they beat their division rivals in the Cassel sweepstakes, but they’ve watched as a Pro Bowl quarterback left the division. The Broncos currently are seen as a team in disarray, and the Chiefs, even after last year’s 2-14 record and nearly four months of changes, are viewed as a team on the rebound.
Cassel, who Kansas City hopes will become its first franchise passer in decades, was a wanted man early this offseason. The Chiefs wanted him and so did Denver. But Kansas City had the timing and the advantage of familiarity. General manager Scott Pioli worked a deal with New England, his old employer, where Cassel had emerged last season after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Chiefs acquired Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel for Kansas City’s second-round pick.
Pioli’s top competition was a surprise, because Denver had a star quarterback. But first-year coach Josh McDaniels, who had been the Patriots’ offensive coordinator last year, inquired about making Cassel a Bronco.
Cutler heard the rumors. McDaniels backtracked on his pursuit of Cassel. The Chiefs completed their deal. Cutler’s anger intensified. Peace offerings backfired. Then Cutler reportedly wouldn’t respond to messages from McDaniels or owner Pat Bowlen.
Cutler, 25, spent last season at the center of the Broncos’ league-leading offense, and was entering the 2009 season in his fourth year and the foothills of his prime. He passed for more than 4,500 yards last season but struggled down the stretch, leading to three consecutive losses to end the season that kept Denver out of the playoffs. Coach Mike Shanahan was fired, and Cutler was angry then, too. It was all part of a chain reaction that apparently ended Thursday.
The Broncos now must begin a rebuilding process — even if that process centers on repairing internal trust — and possessing five of the draft’s top 84 picks might not solve all the residual problems.
The Chiefs know all about rebuilding. They know all about messy splits and turmoil. They’ve made their changes and gone through a series of philosophies. And for all the changes that have gone down at Arrowhead Stadium since December, the Chiefs might have made one of their biggest strides toward the division title by standing and watching the fireworks out west.