I've spent the past few days talking with people around the NFL and in Denver, and they describe an atmosphere of growing tension and anxiety among most members of the roster left over from the Shanahan regime.
Consider this take from tight end Tony Scheffler, a guest on a Sirius NFL Radio show that I co-hosted last night with Gil Brandt: "It's been pretty cutthroat so far."
That's hardly uncommon after a coaching change, but compared to countless transitions I've observed in 30 years of covering the NFL, this seems a bit rougher than others.
From everything I gather, McDaniels is wasting no time placing an emphatic stamp on the organization that things will be done far differently than in the past. The fact that the stamp bears a striking resemblance to the logo of the Patriots, McDaniels' previous employer, shouldn't come as a shock, yet it has been a shock to the systems of Broncos who generally operated in a setting that wasn't as tightly controlled or as -- how should we put this? -- frosty as the one guided by McDaniels' former boss, Bill Belichick.
I think some people allowed themselves to be fooled by the fact that McDaniels is only 32 and looks about 17 years younger than that. He obliterated the widely held notion that he was stepping into a virtual turn-key situation on offense by entertaining trade offers for Cutler, the Pro Bowl quarterback who guided an offense that ranked second overall and third in passing last season. Now Cutler is livid. Scheffler, who's as close with Cutler as any player on the team, characterized the quarterback as "hurt and upset."
Whether Cutler and McDaniels can establish even a minimal working relationship remains to be seen, but that could be a moot point if the quarterback is traded, which is a distinct possibility. Based on McDaniels' pursuit of Matt Cassel, whom he coached in New England, it's abundantly clear that he wants his own quarterback who will operate his low-risk, high-efficiency approach (which one doesn't readily associate with Cutler) his way.
Other Broncos also are casting a wary eye toward McDaniels and the program he's putting in place. Scheffler, who caught 89 passes the past two seasons, expressed concern about how little the tight end is used as a receiver in the Patriots' offense. And there's a general thought among several of Denver's offensive players that the new sheriff in town will try to fix what isn't broken.
"We were second in the NFL in yards, and you think you did a pretty good job and had a pretty good season on offense," Scheffler said. "To look forward to kind of coming in (for offseason workouts) and getting dissected is hard, but it's just part of the business. It's tough. It's a man's game."