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Three ways the Broncos can move forward

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

No matter whom you side with, or whether the Broncos' fractured relationship with franchise quarterback Jay Cutler gets repaired, the Josh McDaniels era in Denver has started on shaky ground.

No team in the NFL has dealt with such unnecessary controversy this offseason.

The entire organization must learn from this. Under the tandem of owner Pat Bowlen and coach Mike Shanahan, the Broncos were known as a team players wanted to play for.

After the McDaniels-Cutler fiasco, that could change. Denver may not be looked at as such a desirable destination after McDaniels engaged in trade talks for Cutler last week, reportedly having considered bringing on board Matt Cassel, who played for him in New England.

The Broncos have announced they will not trade Cutler now and the two sides are expected to communicate soon in an attempt to mend fences. Even if Cutler and McDaniels, who Cutler has maintained were building a strong, new relationship, can find a common ground, it will hover over the 32-year-old coach as he tries to turn around Denver, which stumbled in the final two seasons of the Shanahan era.

Denver must learn a valuable lesson from the saga. Things like this just can't happen again. Yes, it could all end well, but this was a serious warning sign for a team that is trying to restore its winning ways.

Here are three areas Denver must pay attention to as it tries to move forward from this public relations disaster.

Bowlen must take charge: Bowlen is not used to being in the spotlight for such drama. It mus be eating at him.

Bowlen has a reputation around the league as being one of the better owners. He is smart, gives his team what it needs to win and his main business interest is the Broncos. He loves his team and he is a daily presence.

He must become a bigger presence. In fact, Bowlen must live up to his own words. It starts with him. He seemed to get that when he fired Shanahan. He made a point to say that he would be making the final call on matters.

Under Shanahan, it was well known in league circles that Shanahan ran the show in Denver. Bowlen is a quiet, shy, nice man who has believed his football people should run the football side.

Still, many thought Shanahan took advantage of his ultra-long leash and there were no checks and balances in Denver the past couple of years. Bowlen seemed to sense public perception by making a point of saying he'd be more involved after firing Shanahan.
But, the word around Denver was that McDaniels, 32, was given the keys to the house in the early stages of his Denver tenure, just as Shanahan was.

Now that this Cutler situation has blown up in Denver's face, perhaps Bowlen truly will take charge.

McDaniels needs to be more open minded: McDaniels can make up for this situation quickly, but it is absurd that he is looked at so skeptically less than two months after being hired. Remember, he is six months away from coaching his first game and he's already a villain in some circles in Denver.

But the truth is, McDaniels put himself in this situation. He talked about Cassel despite having a Pro Bowl quarterback who is 25. That raised questions. Why would McDaniels want to trade the younger, more experienced, more accomplished Cutler for Cassel? Perhaps this Patriot Way thing has gotten a tad clouded.

McDaniels has been able to build his team the way he wants and he is making wholesale changes, all the way down to replacing long snapper Mike Leach, who was virtually perfect in Denver in seven seasons, for the equally solid Lonie Paxton. Paxton was with New England. He is good but so is Leach, and many people around Denver didn't think this move was necessary, especially on the first day of free agency with Denver having so many needs on defense. A long snapper is a luxury in free agency and Denver already had a solid snapper.

It is completely within McDaniels' right to construct the team the way he wants, but he has to realize there is a world out outside of New England.

Ultimately, McDaniels' biggest problem was he discussed trading for Cassel and trading Cutler without getting it done. If you are going to investigate this type of dramatic move, you better get it done or it will explode. And, boy, did it explode.

McDaniels is young and he is going to make mistakes. He made a huge miscue weeks into his tenure. He can and he will likely survive it, but he must learn from it.

Reward Cutler: A major theme between the Broncos and Cutler's upcoming meeting will likely be trust.

The Broncos said this week that they will not trade Cutler, and they were emphatic about it. Still, the meeting will be lively to say the least. Cutler told ESPN's Chris Mortensen last week the Broncos were denying seeking a trade while he said he knew for a fact they were in trade discussions. He wants the Broncos to level with him.

Cutler will certainly want to be reassured when he meets with McDaniels. Cutler is open to talking and staying, but those close to him say he wants to make sure he can trust the team.
Yes, Denver said it won't trade him, but since Cassel is off the market there are no clear options as Cutler's replacement. Denver will likely have to do more than just say he won't be traded to appease the quarterback.

Here's what Denver should do: give Cutler a long contract extension. He has three more seasons remaining on his rookie contract that he signed in 2006, so it would be a bit unusual giving him a new contract with just half of his existing deal over. But it is also unusual to talk about dealing a 25-year-old Pro Bowl player.

Giving Cutler a new contract would be an ultimate sign of good faith by Denver. And it would end any trade discussions or talk of Cutler trying to leave through restricted free agency in two years. It would make life normal again. Denver is teeming with salary-cap room and this would be a good time to do it.

Plus, there is no reason not to. Cutler is a quality player who is going to be in the league for a long time. If the two sides work out their differences, the Broncos would likely want to re-sign him down the road anyway. Why not do it now?

If the Broncos want to do right by Cutler and make a positive out of this offseason disaster, giv
ing him an extension will go a long way in moving on from this drama.