“McDaniels, for all his glaring faults, realized that Cutler would never amount to the quarterback we all expected him to be when Denver moved up to draft him in the first round all those years ago. He foresaw a long, fruitless career for Cutler and he made sure that it didn’t play out in Denver.“
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The purpose of this column, as the title suggests, is for the present authors to pick a premise that sane people would not argue, then attempt to talk himself into said premise in ways that at least border on logical. Let’s see how I do, shall we?
Since you already know the topic, let’s dive right into it.
Let’s start with the unfair advantage/disadvantage McDaniels has here: McHoodie acted as de facto general manager during his time in Denver, whereas Fox, for better or worse (and fair or unfair) is not really credited for personnel decisions.
As far as that’s concerned, we can start with draft picks. Contrarians love revisionism when it comes to McDaniels’ draft picks. You can always spot a contrarian because they love to smirk and bring up that Demaryius Thomas was a McDaniels pick every time the standout wide receiver makes a big play. If you’re reading this and realizing for the first time that you’re the guy who does this, stop it. For starters, no one likes you. But more importantly, DT’s all you’ve got. Tim Tebow is out of the league, Zane Beadles is being paid a ton of money by an awful Jaguars team, JD Walton never really worked out, Eric Decker is busy underachieving on a team that barely rosters a quarterback, and Perrish Cox is an awful human being playing for the 49ers. And that’s just 2010. The 2009 draft featured Knowshon Moreno (injured in Miami), Robert Ayers (continuing to be a marginal rotational player for the Giants), and special teams standout David Bruton. No one else is making much in the way of meaningful contributions anywhere.
Yeesh, not making this any easier on ourselves, are we?
But that was to illustrate a point: at the end of the day, a team is as good as the players they are able to muster, and there is more than one way to impact a team through roster decisions. In the Broncos’ case, we’re all operating under the premise that everything good happening started with Peyton Manning. Without Manning, you don’t have the most prolific offense in NFL history. Without Manning, you aren’t the premier destination for free agents. Without Manning, the sense of urgency associated with achieving perfection takes a serious hit across the roster. Even though the defense this season is as impressive as I can recall in recent memory, very few people would argue that Manning’s influence hasn’t contributed to the building of that defense, or the attitude that they’ve played with in 2014.
In other words, the coach that has had the most impact in landing Peyton Manning has been the most influential on the current roster’s success.
On the surface, that would appear to be John Fox. Hired essentially because the team needed ‘an adult in the room,’ Fox, along with John Elway and others, was a key part of the greeting party that lured Manning to Denver. His laid back demeanor and football acumen jelled well with Manning (who is kind of an ‘older soul’ himself), and by many accounts the two remain drinking buddies to this day.
However, there’s one mistake we’re dangerously close to making with this line of reasoning: Very little of it has to do with football. And there’s absolutely zero chance that Manning picked his post-Indianapolis destination on anything other than football. Sure, I’m sure Elway, Fox, Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis all swore up and down in their pitch to Manning that they would do everything in their power to put the best team around him, but do you really believe that every other team serenading the future Hall of Famer didn’t do the exact same thing?
Of course they did, meaning that Manning had other football-related factors influencing his decision.
At that point, the Broncos’ top offensive weapons were Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Knowshon Moreno (Willis McGahee was already on his way out). The offensive line included two draft picks by McDaniels and only one by Elway.
In other words, Manning signed on to play with an offense that was built primarily by Josh McDaniels.
But more importantly, Peyton Manning never comes to Denver without exactly the right series of moves at the quarterback position.
Look at it this way: No Cutler trade, no Orton. No Orton, no Tebow. No Tebow, no Peyton Manning.
Josh McDaniels came to Denver shrouded in mystery. Fans knew precious little about him, aside from being totally different than Mike Shanahan as any prospect for the job could possibly have been. Where Shanahan was stodgy and traditional to the point that some felt the game had ‘passed him by,’ McDaniels was reputed to be young and innovative – unafraid to shake the Broncos up and drag them kicking and screaming into the modern NFL era.
Had Josh McDaniels gone down the path of least resistance and kept Jay Cutler under center the Broncos would doubtlessly have given the franchise quarterback another contract – as the Bears did – and would – as the Bears are – be stuck with him for the very long term.
In the NFL, you don’t have much of a choice with a quarterback like Cutler. Teams are so reliant on the quarterback position and there are so few decent ones in the NFL that if you truly believe that your quarterback is in the top- say, half in the league, you have no choice but to pay him the money. The alternative is to go back to the drawing board and hope you land can land something better with a middling draft position.
The problem there should be fairly obvious, but just in case; remember how many Blaine Gabberts and Christian Ponders’s there are out there for every Aaron Rodgers.
McDaniels, for all his glaring faults, realized that Cutler would never amount to the quarterback we all expected him to be when Denver moved up to draft him in the first round all those years ago. He foresaw a long, fruitless career for Cutler and he made sure that it didn’t play out in Denver.
What McDaniels couldn’t possibly foresee was the chain of events he would ultimately set in motion, ending with Manning in Denver and the current iteration of the Denver Broncos that appears formidably in front of us today.
Most Broncos fans will tell you that Josh McDaniels remains one of the most reviled names in the history of the franchise, if not in all of Denver sports, and rightfully so. The brash, arrogant young coach never fit the ideal that Broncos fans had grown accustomed to from a coach. His behavior on the sidelines, carrying on and getting in verbal altercations with opposing players, getting caught cursing on network microphones, and even getting involved in a video-taping scandal ala Bill Belichick, made the Broncos look so bad than fans practically danced on McDaniels’ grave when he got fired. It was a joyous day in Broncos Country.
But, with the Broncos set to face the Patriots in New England this coming Sunday in the continuation of what has become the AFC’s greatest rivalry, it’s fair for Broncos fans to look back on Josh McDaniels with at least a hint of warmth. While there’s no question that he had to go away, it can also be argued that the moves he made, unbeknownst to him, would eventually bring the team the unimaginable prosperity they have today.
Will we ever forgive Josh McDaniels? No. Nor should we. The very fact that he once again stands at the right hand of the Dark Lord Belichick is all the reason Broncos fans need to forever revile him. But we can at least appreciate the fact that the most hated man in Denver Broncos history helped get the Broncos where they are today.