Note to Self – Lessons learned

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy

The National Football League is probably the most cyclical of the professional sports leagues. For years everyone felt that teams needed a proven entity as their head coach. Even if the guy wasn’t any good, teams just felt comfortable going with retreads. If Wade Phillips was good enough to get fired from two other teams, then dammit, he’s good enough to fail me too!

More recently though, the tides have changed and teams have changed their philosophy. Owners got “smarter” and decided, “Why overpay for Marty Schottenheimer when I can pay a third of his salary to some no-name thirty-something who will be so happy to have a job he’ll do whatever I tell him?” Next thing you know, young guys are en vogue and players suddenly find themselves in the same age group as their new bosses.

While hands-on owners love having a young guy as their puppet … er … coach, there’s a definite drawback – in many cases, these first-time head coaches have no clue how to run a team and are instantly in over their head.

Take for example the current situation in Denver. Now that Mike Shanahan (also known as the dirty cheater who blatantly circumvented the salary cap with under-the-table deals that directly led to the Broncos’ two Super Bowls) is collecting unemployment, owner Pat Bowlen opted for a youth movement and brought in Brian Xanders as the new general manager and Josh McDaniels as his new head coach.

Xanders previously worked in Atlanta as the Falcons’ chief contract negotiator and salary-cap manager and McDaniels, at 32, was the offensive coordinator for New England. By all accounts, both were very good at their respective jobs, but the truth is, there’s a lot more to running a professional franchise than balancing the salary cap and drawing up plays for Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

And while both were very solid in their respective roles, apparently neither had any experience with tact. If so, there’s little reason to believe that the Broncos would be in their current predicament in which franchise quarterback Jay Cutler has all but demanded being traded out of Denver.

By now everyone knows that Denver screwed the pooch by making a run at former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel in the days leading up to free agency. While Cutler is an above average quarterback, McDaniels apparently felt more comfortable with the idea of Cassel, with whom he worked with in New England, running the show.

There’s nothing wrong with a first-year coach wanting to surround himself with some sort of familiarity, but here’s the key – look into bringing in whoever you feel is the best fit for your team, but ensure you don’t alienate what you’ve already got in the process. Cutler should have never found out that his name was mentioned and in this case, the minute he did, you needed to show up at his house and soothe things over face-to-face.

Now, because both the head coach and general manager are young and inexperienced, you’ve got a full-blown clusterfuck.

One of the top five or 10 quarterbacks in the league, a guy who made the Pro Bowl a year ago, has zero desire to spend another minute in town. Tempers could eventually cool down and McDaniels and friends could very well find a way to salvage the relationship, but folks close to the situation believe that’s highly unlikely. Now, the Broncos find themselves without Cassel and, in all probability, without Cutler. So where could Cutler end up?

I have no inside information whatsoever, but here are a few situations that makes sense to me. Under Jon Gruden, Tampa Bay happily collected mediocre quarterbacks. He couldn’t get enough of them. Why have one competent one when you could have six so-so signal callers? Well, with Gruden gone, so too should be that ridiculous thought process.

Buffalo would be wise to make a move for Cutler as well. They just signed Terrell Owens, so why not bring in a quarterback actually capable of getting the ball to him? The New York Jets were willing to overpay for over-the-hill Brett Favre a year ago, so wouldn’t it make sense to acquire another Bus Cook client – one who is actually in his prime and more likely to contribute to wins and not losses?

The Washington Redskins love to make trades and even have a history of doing so with Denver. If they thought Jason Campbell was the answer, they’d have signed him to a contract extension by now, so would it surprise anyone if their fantasy football-minded front office pulled the trigger on another headline acquisition?

Minnesota and Chicago have gone so long without any production at the game’s most important position that I’m beginning to believe they both take some perverse pleasure in going without a quarterback. Why wouldn’t it be wise for both teams to make a play for Cutler?

It’s the dawn of a new day in Detroit, so why not bring in a new face for the franchise that clearly needs all the help they can get. Wouldn’t Cutler be a safer pick than rolling the dice on a college kid who may some day be as good as Cutler already is now?

The bottom line is – there’s no shortage of potential destinations for Cutler. McDaniels and Xanders are very likely going to have to learn the hard way how to do business in the NFL, but if they do some homework and get their act together, there’s still a chance they can end up rebounding from this. Even if it means doing so without one of the better quarterbacks in football.

Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at

  1. ned March 19, 2009
  2. James March 19, 2009

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