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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
McDaniels handles Cutler circus

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DANA POINT, Calif. -- As I walked into the conference room Tuesday morning for the annual AFC coaches' session at the NFL owners' meeting, there was no doubt where I needed to go to chase the next step in the Jay Cutler-Denver Broncos saga.

I needed to head to the table that had seven seats occupied and at least another 30 eager bodies surrounding it.

That must be Josh McDaniels' table.

The first person I ran across in the room was Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whom I know from our two years in Denver together. Kubiak looked at me and smiled widely.

"I know where you are going," he said.

As I waded through the media crush all awaiting the arrival of the 32-year-old rookie coach, I was amused by the looks on the other AFC coaches' faces when they saw the press corps awaiting McDaniels. First-year New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh both started laughing when they entered the room and saw the Cutler-caused cluster. The other 15 tables in the room each had about three to five people awaiting coaches. McDaniels' table sold out faster than a Springsteen concert.

Later, McDaniels said new Colts coach Jim Caldwell offered to switch seats when he entered the room.

But McDaniels was a trooper.

Flanked by a Broncos spokesman, McDaniels offered a warm smile when he maneuvered through the throng and landed in the only empty chair (he coined it the "lucky seat") at the table. He knew what to expect.

Still, it was daunting. Had the Cutler fiasco not started 24 days ago, McDaniels wouldn't have been a featured attraction. Four years ago, at the NFL meetings, then-Denver coach Mike Shanahan had two or three people at his table for the majority of the hour-long session -- and he was a two-time Super Bowl winner.

This year's Super Bowl-winning coach, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, had five people at his table to start the session -- or about 30 fewer than the kid coach who has never won an NFL game.

For the first half hour of his session, McDaniels fielded all Cutler questions. The questions eventually did switch (and McDaniels acknowledged he was happy to change the subject), but it didn't take long before they took a detour back onto the Cutler Expressway.

The best part of McDaniels' session was the atmosphere, not the contents of the interview. McDaniels offered the company line.

He said the Broncos are committed to Cutler and the team doesn't want to trade its quarterback. But he did say he will do "what's in the best interest of the team."

Asked at what point would it be in the best interest of the team to trade Cutler (who is staying away from the team's offseason workout program and has formally asked to be traded) McDaniels answered: "Never."

Then he said the opportunity to trade a player like Cutler is rare. Yet, he never ruled it out. That is one of the reasons why Cutler's camp is upset. They want to hear McDaniels say for sure he will not be traded.

McDaniels said the team wants to keep Cutler and he is the team's quarterback but "it is his job" to be open to everything.

McDaniels said he will continue to try to get in contact with Cutler in an attempt to work out the problem. He wants the situation to be resolved. Cutler has only met with the team with his agent, Bus Cook, present. McDaniels said Tuesday that because it is not a contract issue, he thinks the situation is between player and coach.

McDaniels said Cutler never asked him to be traded early in the offseason. It has been reported that Cutler did ask for a trade prior to Denver talking about acquiring Matt Cassel and trading Cutler. McDaniels maintained Denver never initiated trade talks. Cutler has said he knows for a fact that the Broncos did start talks.

McDaniels said the chance of coaching Cutler was the initial selling point of the job for him. He admitted he never imagined this situation so early in his tenure.

"But every day is not going to be roses," McDaniels said.

Indeed, Tuesday's session was a tad thorny.

Perhaps the best moment of the session was saved for last. All of the coaches from the teams that started in the American Football League showed off the jerseys that their teams will wear twice this season to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the AFL. Coaches had the jersey number of their biggest stars.

Yes, McDaniels was issued No. 6 with Cutler's name on it. Could you imagine Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy having to hold up a Brett Favre jersey last summer or Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid having to hold up a Terrell Owens jersey three years ago?

But McDaniels handled that awkward moment just as he did the entire hour -- with a smile. He was probably relieved because it marked the end of his hour-plus under the microscope.