Rich's Rant: Proceed With Caution

The Broncos have a quarterback for sale. But the showroom floor is a minefield.

One can only imagine Eric Mangini's reaction when Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen dropped the bomb the other day that he will attempt to trade quarterback Jay Cutler.

Bowlen verbally paved a road down which the Browns coach can now journey as he continues to remold the Browns in his image. But it's a road fraught with little speed bumps.

The idea of bringing Cutler to Cleveland titillates the imagination, of course. But too many moves have to be made in order for that to eventuate. As the scenario unfolds, it'll be interesting to see how the main characters handle it.

On the one hand, Mangini and his buddy George Kokinis can't appear to be too anxious to help the thin-skinned, strong-armed Cutler's exit from Denver. They've got to approach this one cautiously, yet firmly. They must avoid overplaying their hand.

Even though he announced that Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson would battle it out for the starting spot in training camp, it has become relatively clear Mangini isn't thrilled with the quarterback situation he inherited.

Now it's time to find out just how serious Bowlen is and the Browns are the only team in the National Football League with enough talent at that position to make the Broncos a bona fide offer that will facilitate moving the recalcitrant Cutler to another team, not necessarily Cleveland.

Bowlen has been backed into a corner by new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who severely bruised Cutler's feelings by attempting to trade for New England's Matt Cassel several weeks ago.

He is working from a position of weakness. Everyone knows he wants to get rid of Cutler and most suitors likely will try to low-ball him in trade conversations over the next week or two. Realism will take a brief vacation.

Time is not on Bowlen's side. He undoubtedly wants to have something in place by the time the college draft arrives April 25. How he arrives at that juncture should prove intriguing.

None of the other teams reportedly interested in Cutler – the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and possibly Jacksonville Jaguars – have the trade ammunition the Browns own. None of those teams can offer Denver the likes of a Quinn or Anderson in talks.

Bowlen knows he must replace Cutler with someone with not only name recognition, but the kind of talent that will not allow the Broncos to fall below the offensive standards to which their fans have become accustomed.

The Jets can offer Kellen Clemens, Erik Ainge and Brett Ratliff; Detroit can serve up retread Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton; Tampa Bay has Brian Griese, Josh Johnson and Luke McCown (yep, the same Luke McCown the Browns drafted in 2004); Chicago has the unpredictable Kyle Orton; the 49ers can showcase Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Damon Huard; and the Jaguars can dangle David Garrard and Cleo Lemon.

Not exactly names that would launch Bowlen or McDaniels into cartwheels of joy.

Right now, the only quarterbacks the Broncos can count on are Chris Simms, just a couple of years removed from a splenectomy, and third-year man Darrell Hackney.

Think maybe Bowlen regrets firing Mike Shanahan?

Speaking of Shanahan, the rumor mill has Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder keenly interested in the former Denver coach and a reunion with Cutler in D.C. would make a perfect ending. Incumbent Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell and the club's top draft pick would be the trade bait.

If that's the case, Bowlen might be tempted, but his new coach might prefer someone like Quinn, who was schooled in the Charlie Weis system at Notre Dame, the same system favored by McDaniels.

A straight-up swap involving Cutler and either of the Cleveland quarterbacks is out of the question. That's not going to happen. Cutler's experience and talent can fetch more than that on the open market and would involve draft choices, something with which the Browns won't part.

Mangini and Kokinis need to get creative and overwhelm Bowlen with a deal he'll have trouble declining.

It appears the only way the Browns can be a player and get draft picks is to involve a third team. That would preclude Cutler winding up in Cleveland, but could produce more picks and/or bring one of the previously mentioned veteran quarterbacks to the Browns.

So many possibilities exist if other teams become involved. So many permutations, it makes one dizzy, almost with excitement, at what eventually could happen. Don't totally rule out Cutler and McDaniels settling their differences, rendering this entire exercise moot.

Failing that, the many ways this can be accomplished pushes the edges of the plausibility envelope. It heightens the anticipation.

This Web site has exploded, not unexpectedly, with all kinds of suggestions for Mangini and Kokinis, most of which can be categorized as wishful thinking.

If it's Mangini's intention to rebuild this team from the ground up, draft choices must be part of that plan. As he learned in New England under Bill Belichick, the draft is the lifeblood of the team.

He must resist the temptation to stray from that philosophy, even at the risk of losing the chance to get a very good quarterback. To compromise the acquisition of a Jay Cutler by trading away the future is gambling. And I don't think Mangini is that much of a gambler.

If Quinn is the Broncos' main target, it is imperative the Browns nail at least two more draft picks.

That way, it would make more sense for the Browns to take impressive USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with the No. 5 pick in the first round of the college draft and develop him. Sanchez would replace the departed Quinn and learn under Anderson, much like Carson Palmer learned under Jon Kitna in Cincinnati as a rookie.

The worst that can happen if Mangini and Kokinis fail to take advantage of the Jay Cutler Sweepstakes? Cutler winds up elsewhere and the Browns are stuck with Quinn and Anderson.

I can live with that.

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