Denver Broncos: Team trying to reincarnate what Josh McDaniels killed?
The Denver Broncos seemingly had a good thing going in 2008, but Josh McDaniels came in and blew it up. Is the team trying to reincarnate what they once had?
When the Denver Broncos traded up to draft Jay Cutler in 2006, the writing was on the wall for Jake Plummer, who had taken the Broncos deeper into the postseason than they had gone in any other year since John Elway was the team’s quarterback and led them to back-to-back Super Bowls.
At the time, much of the fan base was still all-in on Plummer as the team’s franchise quarterback but the decision by GM Ted Sundquist, head coach Mike Shanahan, and assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Mike Heimerdinger to move up to get Cutler was one that would completely alter the course of the franchise for the next decade-plus.
Cutler, a hotshot gunslinger from Vanderbilt was considered by many to be the third-best quarterback in the 2006 class behind much more decorated prospects Matt Leinart and Vince Young, a Heisman winner and National Champion respectively who had just competed against each other in one of the greatest college games of all-time at the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Cutler didn’t play in many high-profile games at Vanderbilt but showed the traits of a star NFL quarterback despite a poor supporting cast and a completion percentage of 58.9 percent over his final three years on campus.
The Vanderbilt product was considered an ideal fit for Mike Shanahan’s offense, and the Broncos moved up quite a ways to take him despite the fact that Plummer was only 31 and had just led the team to the AFC Championship game.
The Broncos bet on their system being the right fit for Cutler’s immense upside, even though to that point in his football playing career, he hadn’t come close to reaching it.
Cutler ended up replacing Plummer in the 2006 season with five games left, kicking off a new era of Broncos football. Shanahan finally had a long-term solution at quarterback and Cutler was exciting from the first time he stepped onto the field. It was a perfect match.
He brought every bit of his pre-draft scouting report to the field in Denver. He showed off his strong arm and made brilliant throws, executing the Shanahan offense to near perfection and provided the team with toughness and athleticism at the position. At the same time, Cutler had mechanical flaws that led to inaccuracy with the football, throwing the ball off his back foot and trusting in his arm strength a little too much at times.
Despite his flaws, Cutler was on a very positive trajectory, and in 2007 became the full-time starter for the team. Though the Broncos were just 7-9, Cutler completed almost 64 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The future was getting brighter.
In 2008, the Broncos went 8-8 but Cutler had a breakout year. He completed 62.3 percent of his passes for over 4,500 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. Cutler made the Pro Bowl along with breakout wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The team also had a stud rookie in Eddie Royal making plays, and a great core of talent in place.
The Broncos again took the good with the bad from Cutler, but three years into their investment, Cutler lost his entire support system in Denver when the team gutted the front office and coaching staff. Pat Bowlen made the difficult decision to move on from Mike Shanahan after all he’d done for the team and hired a young star in the coaching ranks in Josh McDaniels.
He also gave McDaniels final say over the roster, and while trying to force the Patriot DNA on the Broncos, McDaniels completely alienated Cutler, trading him before the fans really even had time to dream about what the two were capable of doing together.
Cutler was an ascending star at the game’s most important position, and McDaniels was an ascending star in the coaching world. Their two worlds could have perfectly meshed together but they did not.
McDaniels killed what may have been the most exciting group of young talent the Denver Broncos had together on the same roster all at once.
He traded Cutler, and a year later traded star receiver Brandon Marshall, who was part of Cutler’s 2006 draft class. He also traded stud tight end Tony Scheffler, another player from the Broncos’ stellar 2006 class.
It’s hard to look back at the Broncos’ 2008 team and not wonder what could have been if they had all stuck together. Yes, that team collapsed down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs for a third straight season, something Pat Bowlen simply couldn’t tolerate, but they were still so young and had so many years ahead of them.
What if Cutler, Marshall, Scheffler, and that crew had been able to build on 2008?
We’ll never know, unfortunately, but John Elway might also be trying to re-create that magic in 2019…
10 years after that 2008 season came to a conclusion and the Broncos moved on from Shanahan, Cutler, and created a completely new future for the team, they have the chance to reincarnate that 2008 squad with a quarterback prospect in Drew Lock who has a shockingly similar scouting report and college résumé to that of Jay Cutler’s coming out of Vanderbilt in 2006.
Listen to the reports from the ESPN experts when the Broncos selected Cutler. Almost down to the very minute details, those traits describe Lock as a prospect.
“Great size, huge arm, tough, high-quality football IQ and intangibles, team leader, elevated a bad team, great production in the SEC, sneaky athletes, struggle with mechanics, consistently throwing off their back foot, able to improvise (maybe too well)…”
That scouting report could be copied and pasted between these two guys and when they were drafted 13 years apart.
Even down to the facemask and visor, Drew Lock looks — and plays — like a modern-day version of Jay Cutler. They even have the same type of baby face and messy hair, and almost sound similar…
The biggest advantage, given hindsight? Lock seems to care a lot more about the game of football and his teammates than Cutler did. Cutler didn’t care who he was letting down in Denver by demanding a trade, regardless if he was in the right. He had a reputation for apathy getting in the way of elite talent. He was constantly hanging his head and I have far too many memories of a dejected Cutler walking slowly back to the sideline than I do of him willing his team to victory.
He certainly had to work hard to be an NFL quarterback for 12 years, but there’s a reason Cutler isn’t an all-time great today when he very well could have been with his talent. Perhaps my expectations for him are/were too high, but I believed strongly in Cutler’s abilities. I have always wondered how much he did…
Imagine having a guy like Cutler who cares as much as Drew Lock seems to. In the broadcast of his final college game, the announcers made a comment about how much playing in a (meaningless) bowl game meant so much to Lock, and how he took his offensive line to lunch every Thursday night. Those are traits of an incredible leader.
Lock also took on the Senior Bowl, an opportunity some top QB prospects will shy away from.
He’s been operating as a professional for a while now, but people outside of the Missouri program didn’t really know about it until now.
The comparisons to the 2008 group don’t end with Lock and Cutler, either. The Broncos seem to be trying to get a modern-day version of Mike Shanahan’s offense in place.
John Elway would have hired Mike himself if he would have been allowed to do so, but team president Joe Ellis reportedly intervened and prevented that move from happening in early 2018.
Instead of getting Mike (or even Kyle back in 2017) the Broncos hired Rich Scangarello to be their new offensive coordinator. Scangarello has long admired Kyle Shanahan and worked with him in 2015 (Atlanta) as well as 2017-18 (San Francisco). Scangarello brought in T.C. McCartney, who worked with Shanahan in 2014 (Cleveland) and 2017-18 (San Francisco).
Those two guys are going to bring the Shanahan concepts back to Denver offensively, but obviously with the twists Kyle has been adding since adopting his own version of his father’s system.
With the Broncos’ apparent love for Lock and the Shanahan coaching tree bearing fruit in Denver once again, the team might finally have the chance to reincarnate what Josh McDaniels selfishly took away from the fans in 2009.
Would I trade the Tebow and Manning years to have the 2008 crew back? Probably not, so for that, we owe McDaniels a twisted sense of gratitude. But the thought of the 2008 crew reaching their full potential in Denver is one I have never been able to ignore.
If the team has the chance to bring some of that back with a player like Lock, who is strikingly similar to Cutler, and a modern version of the Shanahan offense, I am all for it.