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With Cutler in rearview mirror, pressure now on McDaniels

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Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler might have got what he wanted after being traded to Chicago on Thursday. The Bears and their fans, who've longed for a charismatic signal-caller ever since the days of Jim McMahon, clearly feel their appetite for a franchise quarterback was satiated.

Yet no one might feel better than new Denver coach Josh McDaniels, first-year general manager Brian Xanders and owner Pat Bowlen. For weeks, it appeared as if this three-headed leadership group had thoroughly mismanaged and misguided the transition from authoritative Mike Shanahan by alienating Cutler, the young face of the Broncos. To some degree, maybe they did.

Taking sides
NFL.com's Vic Carucci and Steve Wyche debate which team got the best of the trade that sends Jay Cutler to Chicago in exchange for draft picks and Kyle Orton. More ...

More:
» Carucci: Upgrade for Bears
» Dukes: Cutler trade a huge gamble
» Video: Bowlen's reaction
» Video: Shannon Sharpe on Cutler
» Discuss: Your thoughts on trade

The end result -- and maybe the desired result -- earned the Broncos' leadership group, at the least, a small grace period to rebuild a team for a fan base that was rapidly growing impatient with a coach who hasn't even had his first minicamp. Should McDaniels and the Broncos flop in Year 1, the heat on McDaniels will be radioactive. On the surface, though, the compensation Denver received for Cutler could at least allow it to be competitive while it re-tools with the high-end bargaining chips it gained, courtesy of Chicago.

Quarterback Kyle Orton is a viable starter and, although he will compete with Chris Simms for the No. 1 job, he has the reputation of a foxhole-type leader teammates rally around, a trait Cutler had to some degree but supposedly was losing over the past few weeks with his trade demand.

The Broncos acquiring a first-round pick (No. 18) and a third-round selection, to add to the 12th overall selection it already holds in the upcoming draft, gives them multiple options to shape the roster in McDaniels' image. The 2010 first-rounder the Bears also surrendered could allow the Broncos to make good on any pick that didn't work out this go-round or continue to add to a team that might be headed in the right direction.

Denver's thinking heading into the draft could be that although Orton and Simms are capable starters, the goal is to find someone for McDaniels to groom, like Matt Cassel, McDaniels' star pupil in New England -- the player who indirectly started this whole saga when McDaniels inquired about trading for him. Though Cassel was discovered in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, he sat on the bench for three years before an injury to Tom Brady afforded him the chance to play.

McDaniels likely won't be afforded such a gestation period to nurture a quarterback in Denver.

The Broncos could use one of their first-round picks -- they might have to package it with a later choice -- to move up to select highly regarded quarterbacks Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez. Whether or not Detroit uses the top overall draft pick on Stafford or Sanchez, Denver likely would have to trade into the top 10 to get one of the two prized quarterbacks.

Then again, Denver could hold firm and use one of those first-round picks on Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman if it believes a quarterback must be had.

More importantly for the Broncos, they have the resources to stockpile defensive talent, which is of the utmost priority if things are to change in the Rockies. If they add the right parts to that side of the ball, they can remain competitive regardless of how they handle the quarterback situation. They can double-dip with nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Rey Maualuga or even trade back for more picks to build a stout, rotational front.

Denver has options.

And as we've seen with the Cutler situation, the team's leadership is not afraid of taking risks.

Doug Pensinger / Getty Images
Jay Cutler is among the most productive passers in the league over the past two seasons.
Most passing yards last two seasons
Player
Team
Yards
Drew Brees Saints
9,492
Peyton Manning Colts
8,042
Jay Cutler Broncos
8,023
Kurt Warner Cardinals
8,000
Tony Romo Cowboys
7,659

The downside to all this is if Cutler goes to Chicago and leads the Bears to the playoffs while the Broncos tank. That could look like one of the more clumsy gambles in recent history.

On the flipside, while not quite the magnitude, the Broncos could parlay this move into a Herschel Walker-type swap, where they got rid of one dynamic player -- a disgruntled one at that -- and gained several more. Back in 1989 when Dallas dealt Walker, its star running back, to Minnesota for multiple draft picks and five players, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson looked every bit as shaky as Bowlen and McDaniels do now.

The Cowboys went on to build a dynasty by adding running back Emmitt Smith, cornerback Darren Woodson and defensive tackle Russell Maryland (via a trade with a pick it acquired from Minnesota) to add to quarterback Troy Aikman and wide receiver Michael Irvin. It might be a stretch to say that could happen in Denver, but there is precedent.

The repercussions of this trade are being felt through the league. The NFC North now has two good, young quarterbacks in Cutler and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and could have a third if Detroit uses the top pick in the draft on Stafford or Sanchez. The AFC West, which boasts three new coaches -- Kansas City's Todd Haley, Oakland's Tom Cable and McDaniels -- could be radically changed now that one of its four young quarterbacks -- along with Cassel, San Diego's Philip Rivers and Oakland's JaMarcus Russell -- is out of the mix.

The biggest ripple is being felt in Denver's locker room, where players who might not have known what to make of McDaniels now know what he's about.

No player is untouchable. Not even the franchise quarterback.

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