There is not one Broncos fan who is going to like reading this, but Josh McDaniels was right.
Eight years after the infamous McJaygate saga, it can be conclusively stated McDaniels was right about Jay Cutler.
Although Cutler finished as a champion for those afflicted with Type 1 diabetes by playing nine additional NFL seasons after his diagnoses, he announced Friday he would no longer continue as a quarterback. He leaves without ever leading his team to a Super Bowl. He will replace John Lynch as the No. 2 NFL color commentator on Fox.
Since his departure from Denver, the Broncos have played in two Super Bowls, winning one.
It worked out better for the Broncos after Cutler left than it did for him.
Had Cutler stayed, Bronco fans would not have been treated to the exhilarating, “Will to Win” season of Tim Tebow in 2011. Had Cutler stayed, the Broncos never would have signed Peyton Manning. Between Tebow’s magical run of fourth quarter miracles and Manning’s precise execution that broke passing records and generated seasons of 13-3, 13-3, 12-4 and 12-4, the Broncos won the AFC West Division title five years in a row.
Would the Broncos have enjoyed that kind of success had Cutler stayed? I talked to Brandon Marshall -- another highly talented, but sometimes emotionally disruptive player McDaniels ran off -- on the Levi’s Stadium field prior to kickoff of Super Bowl 50 on February 7, 2016.
“I was immature then, but I have wondered if I was able to work through that, what would have happened if our young group stayed together,’’ Marshall said.
The Broncos’ 2006 draft: Cutler in the first round; tight end Tony Scheffler in the second; the receiver Marshall, pass rusher Elvis Dumervil and returner-receiver Domenik Hixon in the fourth round; guard Chris Kuper in the fifth.
It was the greatest draft class that never was.
Cutler, Scheffler and Marshall all got sideways with McDaniels – himself a volatile, stubborn, nowhere-near-ready leader of men -- and were traded away while they were still young. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan quickly gave up on the oft-injured Dixon, who helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls. Dumervil got caught up in a Fax Fiasco with John Elway’s current regime and took his sack skills to Baltimore. Kuper’s career came to a premature end because of an ankle injury.
Cutler was never better than the first three games in his third season of 2008. With new passing game coordinator Jeremy Bates creatively designing the patterns, the Broncos opened with a 41-14 rout of the Raiders in Oakland on Monday night, rallied late to edge nemesis Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, 39-38, and held on to beat the Drew Brees-led New Orleans Saints, 34-32.
Cutler had combined for 914 passing yards and eight touchdowns against two interceptions and 114 points in those three wins.
But he and the Broncos’ slipped from there. Cutler threw 17 touchdowns against 16 interceptions in the final 13 games and the Broncos finished 5-8. When he overthrew a wide-open Brandon Stokley in the end zone in what should have been a gimme, game 15 against Buffalo, the Broncos would choke away a three-game lead with three to play to miss the playoffs.
Cutler still finished with what turned out to be a career-best 4,526 passing yards and he made his first and only Pro Bowl. The late-season collapse was disappointing, but Cutler was only 25. There would be better days ahead.
Shanahan, though, would not survive. With just one playoff win in the 10 seasons since Elway retired as a player, the collapse cost Shanahan his job.
Cutler was livid and impetuously requested to be traded. He settled down, but when the Broncos hired McDaniels, Cutler again asked to be traded because he deduced, correctly, it would be the end of Bates. Both McDaniels and Bates were 32-year-old, offensive-minded wunderkinds. There is only room for one on an NFL coaching staff.
Knowing Cutler wanted out before he gave him a chance, McDaniels quietly got involved in trade discussions regarding his former New England quarterback Matt Cassel. When Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the first game in 2008, the Patriots went 11-5, anyway, with Cassel at quarterback.
Cassel’s success made McDaniels, the Pats’ offensive coordinator, the NFL’s hottest head coaching candidate in 2009.
The Broncos got him but when McDaniels’ dalliance with Cassel became public, Cutler – who again had calmed and was willing to give the new coach a chance – was understandably agitated. In fairness to McDaniels, he never got deep into Cassel trade talks. He checked into it, but it never got to the point of telling owner Pat Bowlen about the potential deal.
Still, the damage was done. A clear-the-air meeting was arranged between McDaniels and Cutler. At Cutler’s insistence, his agent Bus Cook sat in. According to multiple sources, it was going well until Cutler justifiably asked McDaniels if he could simply promise he wouldn’t trade him.
All McDaniels had to do was assure Cutler he was a Bronco and the next step would have been a peace-offering handshake.
McDaniels said he would trade anybody if he thought it helped the Broncos. He got worked up as he talked.
When McDaniels was finished, Cutler and Cook got up, left the room, never to be seen at Broncos headquarters again. McDaniels had a choice of trading Cutler to Washington in a deal that would have made Jason Campbell the Broncos’ new quarterback, or the Bears in exchange for Kyle Orton.
McDaniels went with Orton, who played well for a year but then was crushed beneath the onslaught that was Tebowmania. Included in the Orton trade was the Bears’ first-round draft pick in 2010. That pick was repackaged in other trades as McDaniels and general manager Brian Xanders moved up and down the first round, but it can be traced to the Broncos taking receivers Demaryius Thomas in the first round and Eric Decker in the third.
The McDaniels-Cutler squabble – dubbed ‘McJaygate’ by former Denver Post sports writer John Henderson – turned out to be lose-lose for the parties directly involved. McDaniels was fired after the 2010 season, although he has since returned to New England where he is once again among the league's best offensive coordinators. Even Bates, the third party in the fractured relationship, went on to a rocky coaching career, although he just got back in the league as the New York Jets’ quarterback coach.
Cutler considered reuniting with Bates before deciding instead to join his favorite fraternity, the media.
Cutler did lead the Bears to the NFC Championship Game in 2010. But against the Packers at Soldier Field, Cutler completed 6 of 14 with an interception before leaving with a knee injury. On one of his passes, he had Devin Hester wide open in the end zone. Cutler nearly threw the ball in the stands. After leaving the game, Cutler was often caught by TV cameras appearing disinterested as he sat on the bench.
Put all of Cutler’s quarterback characteristics in a list and arm strength would be at the top with body language at the bottom.
The home conference championship loss to Green Bay was the last time Cutler and the Bears were in the postseason.
The McDaniels-Cutler fallout led the Broncos to hire Elway as general manager. It led to having the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, where Elway took a pass-rusher named Von Miller. It led to Manning.
Manning led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. Miller won the Super Bowl for the Broncos in 2015.
None of this would have happened if not for McJaygate.
One more McDaniels' remnant -- his offensive system. It stayed with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase. Gary Kubiak dismantled it with his West Coast offense, but now McCoy is back as offensive coordinator, employing many of McDaniels' offensive principles. We'll see how the 2017 season goes for the Broncos' offense.