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December 06, 2006

Jeff Legwold's Rocky Mountain News Blog Answers My Question

Jeff Legwold at Rocky Mountain News has a Broncos Blog and answers reader's e-mails. Well, he answered mine this week. Here is my question:

Q: In terms of quarterbacks in Denver, the bar that Cutler has to (meet) should not be Hall of Famer John Elway, but rather the two guys who started in Denver since Elway or the two quarterbacks drafted this year before him. Brian Griese’s second season as a starter, he led the league in passing efficiency with a rating of 102, won 11 games, and led the team to the playoffs. In three seasons in Denver, Jake Plummer has led the team to three playoff appearances and an AFC Championship Game and had seasons of 10-6, 10-6, and 13-3. Griese won a national title, and Plummer led Arizona State to within two minutes of a national title. Vince Young and Matt Leinart contended for or won the Heisman, won national championships, and are both struggling this year. Consider that in four years in college, Cutler never led his team to a single winning season and he played at a very mediocre program where there were no expectations. Vandy does not prepare a quarterback for expectations in the NFL, especially Denver.

What is it that makes Jay Cutler a better quarterback than either of the last two in Denver (Griese, Plummer) or the two drafted in front of him this year (Young, Leinart) -- all four of whom have played in Rose Bowls, finished top three in the Heisman voting, and either won or came within a play of winning a national title? Is Cutler’s talent so great that he overcomes the lack of expectations and big-game experience in college and outperforms these players who came from winning programs where they stood out?

He had a great response:

Interesting thought on it all. In terms of Cutler as a prospect, having lived in Nashville for two of his seasons as a Vanderbilt starter and having seen most of his games either in person or on video, I think what he did at Vandy was something that weighed in his favor when compared to the others on the board. He consistently performed, with few, if any some years, pro prospects around him in the Commodores offense, and he did it in what most scouts believe is the elite conference in the nation, especially when you're talking about pass rushers across the board year after year.

One general manager told me before the draft, "The question is not how Cutler would do at USC, the question is how Matt Leinart would do at Vandy?'' Cutler was the Southeastern Conference's consensus Offensive Player of the Year at Vanderbilt, it simply is one of the most difficult things anyone has done in college football in recent years. Leinart was surrounded by NFL draft picks, including another Heisman winner and a second-round pick in the backfield alone. The tight end was a draft pick, several linemen were draft picks over his career.

Scouts weigh all of those things, too. Cutler also never missed a game despite the punishment he took throwing the ball. He even ran the option the first two years and in his final two years was blitzed plenty because the Commodores didn't often slow down opposing pass rushers with a consistent running game. So certainly he got credit for all of that. That said, plenty of scouts also questioned the fact he didn't have a winning record, though I don't know how he could have.

Two words--Tim Couch. Same SEC. Same top notch arm. Same type of underachieving program, Kentucky. But Couch was a much better prospect, so good in fact that he went number one overall.

Every single thing that Jeff Legwold said about Cutler is what was said about Couch. And the same question marks were there. But Cleveland ignored the question marks. The difference between Cleveland and the Broncos is that Cleveland was horrible and an expansion team. The Broncos were 13-3 last year and 7-4 when they handed the franchise to Cutler.

They still are struggling to overcome that move. It would be a shame to have the Broncos and this single move set the franchise back that far. That is the problem with Shanahan in Denver. He gets credit for being this great offensive genius and no one questions his moves. This is one that should be questioned. Here is the main reason why which I responded to the blog forum:

Cutler is the QB of the future, but why not wait another 5 games to decide if Jake is the QB of the Past or not and let the season play out? Ideally, Jake’s performance over the next 5 games would determine whether he remains in Denver or gets cut and help make the decision of who starts or if there is even a competition next year. It seems to me that Plummer is already out the door and while that is not the worst thing for him, Cutler, or the Broncos, it leaves the team with Cutler and Brad Van Pelt and no proven backup to turn to next season should Cutler struggle. Find me another proven veteran backup that has won 33 games the last three years and been to the playoffs all three. At very least it makes sense to find out what you are going to do with the backup position next year.

This decision to start Cutler now means that there is no training camp competition next year. That decision has been made for next year too and that will make it difficult to attract a proven veteran backup. Does it make sense to make this kind of a commitment to a rookie and to put so much risk on the franchise? If Denver fans want to run Jake out of town after going 10-6, 10-6, and 13-3, how will they handle a sub-.500 season?

Posted by Justin at December 6, 2006 02:12 PM