They are at a fork in the road. One path ends with him agreeing to stay, to work with new coach Josh McDaniels, to forget past bruises, to enter his fourth season with the team with a fresh perspective and to accept that at any point he could still be traded like any player on the team's roster. That other path is trading Cutler, sooner rather than later, if Cutler chooses to remain estranged.
Just go ahead and trade me already.
If you look strictly at the quarterback (Cutler) and the head coach (McDaniels), minds appear to be made up. Heels are dug in.
Their recent face-to-face meeting was a disaster. McDaniels basically told Cutler that he was the coach and that he was going to lead this team and make decisions that he thought gave the franchise the best chance to win. And that meant no player was untouchable. McDaniels primarily did the talking. And even though Cutler might have already realized those things, hearing the challenge, the bluntness of it all at a time when he came to make peace convinced him this thing was over.
It might have been from the start.
Consider that McDaniels came from a system in New England where he worked primarily with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. Two humble, late-round draft picks. Two mature, even-keeled listeners and followers. Two players crafted into the Patriots mode. Two system-first quarterbacks. Two tireless, gritty workers.
Any new coach wants his own guy, his own team.
Every football coach knows that most often a quarterback is the player who colors the personality of a team.
McDaniels was hired to blaze into town and continue Denver's offensive wizardry. He is considered one of the NFL's brightest, most innovative offensive minds and the idea was that with Cutler already aboard, McDaniels could take both the quarterback and the franchise to cutting-edge offensive places. And the Broncos loved the idea of former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan directing the defense. In a sense, they gained two cerebral, successful coaches in their fortes, commanding each side of the ball.
It appears that the more McDaniels and Cutler connected, the more they clashed.
If Cutler has a change of heart, if he "wakes up'' as those in the Broncos organization call it, a future for him in orange could be there. It certainly would appear to be one with limitations.
Before free agency, before NFL quarterbacks' glare and celebrity increased to global recognition, these players were pure property of NFL teams. You unhappy? So what? What are you going to do, since we own you and you cannot ever play anywhere else in this league unless you play for us? It was a more iron-handed system in the NFL's earlier days. But now, these quarterbacks know the ruckus they can cause on a team and in its fan base. It is powerful and can be explosive.
So, in the next few days, Cutler can acquiesce or create an entirely new storm. He can accept his new coach and his new terms or expedite his departure from Denver.
And the "worst" in the eyes of both the quarterback and the new coach might be the "best."