Cutler's agent responds
The Broncos are actively shopping Jay Cutler, and his agent, Bus Cook, issued the following statement in an e-mail sent to NFL.com's Steve Wyche: "At this time, neither Jay nor I have any response." More ...
After that, it becomes interesting. Cases can be made for a few other teams, but it requires ignoring the assumption that these clubs are satisfied enough with their quarterback situations not to entertain pursuing a Pro Bowler who's on the trading block.
A few factors to keep in mind: 1. The Denver Broncos clearly don't have a ton of leverage in trying to deal Cutler; 2. They would somehow need to end up with another quarterback who is something Cutler isn't -- a good fit in new coach Josh McDaniels' offense; 3. They would prefer to ship Cutler out of the AFC, if at all possible, because they don't want him helping a team that could prevent them from making a run at the conference title.
Although the asking price for Cutler figures to be at least a first-round draft pick, the Broncos are the ones who have declared to the rest of the NFL that they're making the quarterback available because he wants nothing to do with them. Teams generally don't fall all over themselves to pay a steep price to relieve someone else's headache.
The Broncos getting a quarterback who could adapt fairly quickly to McDaniels' scheme makes sense, although this is the same coach who helped turn Matt Cassel -- a longtime NFL benchwarmer who hadn't started a game since high school -- into a top-notch passer last season. So, is it all that unreasonable to think McDaniels could work similar wonders with newly acquired Chris Simms?
From everything I've heard in NFL circles, the Broncos' preference is to place Cutler with a team in the NFC, which seemingly has as many viable options as the rest of the AFC.
Here's a closer look at the list of the places that Cutler likely could end up:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs don't have a starting-quality quarterback on their roster in Brian Griese (even though he has started in the past), Luke McCown or Josh Johnson. They need Cutler more than he needs them. The Bucs have the 19th overall pick in the draft but nothing else until the third round (81st overall), and it could be a long shot to convince the Broncos to take those two choices and no quarterback for Cutler. However, it also depends on what other offers Denver receives.
New York Jets
Maybe there is a starter in Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff. And Erik Ainge remains an intriguing prospect. Of course, the Jets have the reputation and the cash for splashy moves, such as the one they pulled off last year with Brett Favre, who like Cutler is represented by agent Bus Cook. The Jets have draft picks in each of the first three rounds but no obvious quarterback to ship to the Broncos in return for Cutler. Another point to consider is new coach Rex Ryan's approach, which emphasizes winning with defense and calls for a quarterback who takes care of the football rather than posts gaudy passing numbers. That certainly doesn't sound like Cutler.
San Francisco 49ers
Shaun Hill isn't a viable starter, even if the 49ers insist that's the case. Former No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith has had his chance. The Broncos would seemingly covet the 49ers' first-round pick, which is 10th overall and in the territory that would allow Denver to draft a solid rookie quarterback without paying the heaping guaranteed money that the top overall choice would demand.
This team seems to make the most sense as a trading partner with the Broncos, presuming new Browns coach Eric Mangini is as down on Brady Quinn as rampant speculation insists he is. Quinn knows McDaniels' Patriots-style scheme as well as anyone in the league after Tom Brady and Cassel because of the time he spent with former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. Disgruntled nose tackle Shaun Rogers also could be factored into a deal with a Denver team that's desperate to beef up its defensive line. In their effort to re-connect with an ever-souring fan base, the Browns could use a big-splash addition like Cutler.
No one brings more draft capital to the table than the Lions, who own the No. 1 overall pick and three of the first 33 choices. Cutler could be a foundation player for a franchise that needs a substantive cornerstone as it tries to emerge from the rubble of posting the NFL's first 0-16 season. But here's the thing: Do the Broncos really want that No. 1 overall pick and the burden of paying a rookie quarterback, such as Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez, $30 million-plus in guaranteed money? Considering the enormous pressure that they're already under in moving on without Cutler, why add the near-impossible task of getting one of two quarterbacks entering the draft as juniors (and who most talent evaluators think needed more college seasoning) to make a fairly quick splash -- which is the only way the money can be justified?
The first part of the conversation with the Titans involves the chance for Cutler to return to Nashville, where he starred at Vanderbilt and remains a hometown favorite. The Titans have told Kerry Collins that he's their starting quarterback entering training camp, but it's interesting that coach Jeff Fisher recently discussed a scenario whereby the aging Collins could hit a wall this summer and Vince Young could have a lights-out preseason to get the starting job back. It isn't so much that Fisher is expecting that, but it does reveal that the Titans could be open to an alternative.