AFC West: Jay Cutler

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you really want to feel what the Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders rivalry should be, what many of those who fill the seats in each city in each football weekend expect it to be, you’re going to need a few things.

Like …

Gray hair.

A good memory, as in a really, really good memory. You know, almost Mensa.

VHS.

Oh, and quarterbacks. Game-changing, rivalry-stoking quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsQB play has helped Denver dominate its rivalry with the Raiders in recent seasons.
As the Broncos and Raiders prepare to open up AFC West play for each on Monday night, these two ships will again pass in the night. The Broncos, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, consider themselves a Super Bowl contender, complete with plenty of eight-figure contracts and a parcel of off-the-field drama in tow.

The Raiders are in Year 2 of not just a re-build job, but they have largely scrapped the lot and elected to start from the ground up. With that the team's decision-makers, including general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach (and former Broncos defensive coordinator) Dennis Allen, have handed the offensive keys, at least for the moment, to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, their latest hope behind center.

The bottom line is it’s been quite some time since this long-standing, annual battle between two of the AFL’s original eight, has been a give-as-good-as-you-get rivalry. Even with all of the road the two have traveled together, the fact is they have rarely been good together, facing off at the peak of their powers.

One of the two has most often been up, flexing potential postseason muscle, and the other has basically been the welcome mat. There have been just five seasons when both the Raiders and Broncos made the playoffs in the same year. And since the start of the 1992 season, they have both made the playoffs in the same year just once -- in 2000 when the Raiders won the division at 12-4 and the Broncos were a wild card at 11-5. That’s a long way from the zenith, the 1977 season when the two didn’t just meet in the playoffs, they met in the AFC Championship with a Super Bowl trip at stake.

Or as Broncos Ring of Famer Randy Gradishar put it; “Now that’s what a rivalry looks like. If people ever want to know what it looks like, what it feels like, that was it right there."

Since, however, there’s also the Shanahan effect. When Mike Shanahan was hired by the Broncos, it was his second stint as an NFL head coach since his first stint had ended rather unceremoniously in Oakland four games into the 1989 season. Shanahan and the late Al Davis also had a long, well-chronicled tiff over some bonus money after the firing, adding some emotional hot sauce. So, needless to say, Shanahan liked beating Davis’ team and made it an organizational priority. And Shanahan did it a lot, going 21-7 against the Raiders in his time with the Broncos.

Current coach John Fox is 3-1 against the Raiders in his two previous seasons on the Front Range. The only time since Shanahan’s first season in Denver the Raiders have had an upper hand against the guy wearing the big headset for the Broncos was during Josh McDaniels’ just-under-two-year tenure when the Raiders were 3-1 against the Broncos.

But like most things in the league these days, success and failure over the long haul can often be traced back to what happened at quarterback, how the draft went and just how many ill-conceived contracts were handed out to free agents who didn’t perform.

While the Broncos have certainly had their draft/checkbook stumbles over the past two decades, they have had fewer than the Raiders. Even as the quarterback search in the post-Elway era has had some ups and downs in Denver -- seven different quarterbacks have started against the Raiders for the Broncos since Elway retired following the 1998 season -- it has gone far better than the mistake-filled search behind center for the Raiders.

Brian Griese, Jay Cutler and Peyton Manning have been named Pro Bowl quarterbacks for Denver in the post-Elway era while Gus Frerotte, Tim Tebow, Jake Plummer and Manning each started postseason games for the Broncos over the past 15 years. By contrast the Raiders have started 13 different quarterbacks against the Broncos since the start of Shanahan’s first season in Denver. And Rich Gannon is the only Raiders quarterback to have started at least five consecutive meetings with the Broncos over that span.

Sure, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey will often say "we don't like them and they don't like us," when the division games come rolling by, but Broncos-Raiders is really a remember-when rivalry right now, something maintained and nurtured because folks feel it’s the right thing to do along the way. The bones are there, though, just waiting for both teams to cooperate and make it what all involved always seem to hope it will be.
A few years ago, when asked my thoughts on San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers, I would give this stock answer: He’s the best player in the NFL without a Super Bowl ring.

Rivers
Circa 2008-2010, that was not an unreasonable response. Rivers was on the cusp of being an elite player quarterback. However, things have changed in the past couple of years. Rivers’ turnover rate has gone out of control and several talented quarterbacks emerged and overshadowed him.

I still think Rivers, 31, can be a top quarterback. It is not his fault the previous San Diego regime let skill-position players like Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert leave. It is not his fault his offensive line was ravaged by injuries. Rivers needs help. If he gets it, he can be terrific again.

But I can’t say I don’t have a big problem with Rivers not being on ESPN.com’s list of the top 100 players on offense. There are 15 quarterbacks on the list, which shows this is a golden age for NFL quarterbacks.

So, tough decisions have to be made. Rivers’ recent play doesn’t give him much equity. Of the 15 quarterbacks on the list, perhaps the only one I think I’d put Rivers over at this point is Chicago’s Jay Cutler, who is ranked at No. 97.

The new Chargers’ brass is excited about Rivers moving forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if his national reputation soars again, but because of the last two years, his omission from this list is understandable.

Rivers is key for McCoy hire

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
12:45
PM ET
The San Diego Chargers won on Tuesday morning.

Will it result in more victories when it counts? That’s the goal, but it is clear the Chargers want to take a young, refreshed approach as they move away from the long tenure of GM A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner that ended with a three-year playoff drought.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Mike McCoy
Byron Hetzler/US PRESSWIRENew San Diego head coach Mike McCoy's biggest job will be getting quarterback Philip Rivers back on track.
And the Chargers want to do it by fixing their 31-year-old quarterback.

Less than 72 hours after Mike McCoy landed on the market, the Chargers plucked the grand prize of the remaining head-coaching candidates by agreeing to terms with the Denver offensive coordinator. San Diego was one of five open jobs when it agreed with McCoy. McCoy had interviewed with four of the five, and the fifth -- Jacksonville -- was hoping to line up a visit.

San Diego finalized its deal with McCoy while Arizona tried to get a second interview with him Tuesday. The Cardinals were his most aggressive pursuer, and they were considered one of the few teams that would have waited for McCoy if Denver had ended up in the Super Bowl. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday -- the day of McCoy’s only interview with the Chargers -- that McCoy wanted the Chargers’ job.

And he got it.

His first task will be working with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Heading into the 2011 season, Rivers was considered the best active quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. But Rivers has since become a turnover machine. Still, he is far from a lost cause. He threw just one interception in the final six games of the 2012 season and none in the final four games.

Rivers has seen the talent dwindle around him at essentially every offensive position. It will be up to new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco -- who, like McCoy, is 40 -- to help in the talent area. It is up to McCoy to give Rivers a new life and to give him new philosophies. Rivers has worked closely with Turner since 2007.

Now, McCoy will get a chance to infuse his energy and knowledge into Rivers. This must be the main reason McCoy has been hired. Nothing can turn around a franchise like a top quarterback. Rivers can be that guy again.

Rivers is clearly the reason McCoy wanted the Chargers. Rivers was considered the best quarterback among the five teams without a coach, including Jay Cutler in Chicago. Cutler is younger than Rivers, but he is considered a more difficult personality to work with.

McCoy enters his relationship with Rivers on the heels of two unbelievable quarterback coaching experiences in the past two years. In 2011, McCoy coached Tim Tebow. In 2012, he guided Peyton Manning. He went to the playoffs with both QBs.

McCoy got on the radar as a head-coaching candidate with his Tebow work. In midseason, simply as an act of survival, McCoy scrapped a pro-style offense and scripted an option-based offense that suited Tebow. It worked. Then, in 2012, McCoy got a year into the mind of Manning, the greatest quarterback mind of all time.

McCoy comes to San Diego with quite a résumé and playbook.

For the second time in less than a week, I applaud San Diego for a key hire. The Chargers hired Telesco over longtime A.J. Smith assistant Jimmy Raye. Telesco is known as one of the bright young minds in the league. Going outside of the organization was a smart move for the stale Chargers.

The Chargers talked to several older coaches, including Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, and the team was planning to talk to Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who worked with Telesco.

But when the young, fresh McCoy became available, he clearly became the Chargers’ target. There’s no doubt the Chargers won the coaching sweepstakes with McCoy, and the reason why is the presence of Rivers. Now, they all have to make it work.
Mike Holmgren is open to returning to coaching and rumors continue to swirl around Jon Gruden.

They are two of the biggest names who could be available this offseason for the seven teams looking for a coach. Could the two men be in play for the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers?

Both former Super Bowl winning-coaches are offensive minded and I think that is what the Chiefs and Chargers are looking for. I see the Chiefs as a better fit for Holmgren and the Chargers would be a better fit for Gruden.

I think the Chiefs are open to the idea of bringing in a high-profile coach. And the Chiefs are open to any new leadership structure with general manager Scott Pioli being evaluated and not guaranteed of being retained.

The issue with Holmgren is he is 64 and he has a history of not staying in a position for the long haul. The Chiefs may not be a quick fix with a question mark at quarterback and a young roster. They will need someone interested in putting down roots. I don’t know if Holmgren is that guy.

Gruden -- an analyst on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football -- has maintained he is not interested in returning to coaching. However, every offseason, there is speculation Gruden could consider a return. The Bears and Chargers have been mentioned as possibilities for Gruden because they have established quarterbacks in Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers, respectively.

I could see Gruden and Rivers working well together. Gruden would have to be agreeable to working with a general manager because San Diego ownership likes to operate with that structure. Such an arrangement has not been a problem for Gruden in the past.

These pairings are far from being in play but there are reasons to think they could make sense for both the Chiefs and the Chargers.
The 2012 NFL season has re-affirmed that this is a quarterback league. It starts and finishes at the position.

With so much competition for head coaches this offseason the teams with the best quarterbacks will have an edge.

You can argue the San Diego Chargers have the best quarterback situation of the teams that fired their coach on Monday. The Chicago Bears with Jay Cutler could also vie for top talent.

But Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers is just 31 and he has several more years left in his career. He has a better reputation around the league than Cutler, so I can see many coaches preferring to work with Rivers over Cutler.

There is no doubt Rivers has declined in the past two years. But I think it is correctable. It needs to be noted that Rivers threw just one interception in the final six games and he wasn’t intercepted in the final four.

That is tangible proof that he can play with ball security. He just needs more talent around him. The offensive talent pool in San Diego has shrunk incredibly and will need a lot of help.

With a new philosophy, a new voice and more talent, Rivers can still be successful.

How Rivers has grown on Bailey

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
7:30
PM ET
About five years ago or so, Champ Bailey let it be known.

He did not like Philip Rivers.

The young San Diego quarterback was lippy and he famously feuded with then-Denver quarterback Jay Cutler. Having his teammate’s back, Bailey was open about his disdain for Rivers. However, Cutler is long gone from Denver and Bailey -- a star cornerback, who will face Rivers on Monday night -- said he has grown to appreciate Rivers.

“The thing was, back then, he was talking when he shouldn’t have,” Bailey explained Friday why he had a problem with a young Rivers.

“I think he hadn’t earned his respect around the league at that point. But now, it’s a different story. That was a few years ago. I think he mostly hated our quarterback at the time (laughing). I know what type of person he is. He’s one of those guys you hate to play against him; you love to play with him. I like guys like that.”

How exactly did Rivers grow on Bailey?

“Just mutual respect, I think,” Bailey said. “That grows when you have a guy out there proving himself every week. I don’t like people who talk a lot of smack that haven’t done anything. He’s done a lot since then. He hasn’t won the big one, but neither have I. It’s hard in this game to earn that respect. I think people respect him now because of what he’s done.”

AFC West links: Exit Cutler, enter Peyton

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
12:15
PM ET
Denver Broncos

Was Demaryius Thomas a big fan of former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow? "The only thing I can say is it was fun while it lasted. He helped my career out, that was my best year since I've been in the league," Thomas told NFL.com's Dan Hanzus.

Had Josh McDaniels not chased off quarterback Jay Cutler, the Broncos would not have been in the market for Peyton Manning, says the Denver Post's Mike Klis.

Offensive line coach Dave Magazu talks with DenverBroncos.com about the progress of the group and how the team's new quarterback changes things for his position group.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs appear to be interested in several prospects, including Josh Gordon and Larry Lumpkin, both players who could go in the supplemental draft.

Oakland Raiders

General manager Reggie McKenzie is the one who chose safety Tyvon Branch as the Raiders' franchise player, and McKenzie is the one who should work to get a deal done, writes Chris Shellcroft of Just Blog Baby.

San Diego Chargers

While recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, rookie guard Johnnie Troutman says the injury won't discourage him from getting on the field.

The Chargers opened up Week 1 of the 2011 season with a fourth-quarter comeback victory against the Vikings. Follow along as the team's official website takes a look back at last season.

Broncos: Backup QB plan

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
10:36
AM ET
» NFC Backup QBs: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Assessing the Broncos’ backup QB situation if Peyton Manning is injured and misses time.

Caleb Hanie was a bust in Chicago, but the Broncos believe he fits their system and he can be a solid backup to Manning this year. He is big and strong and has some skill. Yet, he was a disaster last season in Chicago when Jay Cutler went down. Hanie was 0-4 as a starter. He is in an interesting position because Manning has to prove he is healed from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season. If Manning can’t come back, the Broncos will be banking on Hanie early. It’s a major risk. The Broncos drafted long-term prospect Brock Osweiler, but the team doesn’t plan on him being a No. 2 this early in his career.

Confidence rating (out of 100) if Manning goes out for an extended period: 30.
I know a lot of Raiders fans wanted to see new general manager Reggie McKenzie make a big splash and compensate for having less than a full slate of draft picks by trading up in the draft.

McKenzie, in his first year as a GM, made one deal as he moved down 10 spots in the fifth round and added a seventh-rounder. However, there were no bold moves.

It was the right call because the Raiders have to stop mortgaging the future. Compensatory picks can't be traded, so the Raiders could only deal their fifth- and sixth-round picks this year. Those picks have little value, so McKenzie likely would have had to include future picks if he wanted to trade up and pick higher than No. 95.

The problem is Oakland has a reduced draft class again next year, so McKenzie would have been foolish if he dipped into that class. McKenzie is not a fool.

The Raiders still owe Cincinnati a first- or second-round pick next year and they still owe Seattle a fourth- or fifth-round pick in 2013. The Bengals, as part of the Carson Palmer trade, will get the Raiders' 2013 first-rounder if Oakland goes to the AFC title game. If not, the Bengals will get the Raiders’ second-round pick.

As part of the Aaron Curry trade, the Seahawks will get either Oakland's fourth- or fifth-round pick based on Curry’s playing time.

The Raiders were bailed out by three compensatory picks this year. Don’t expect much of a comp-pick haul next season. The Raiders signed several free agents and lost Jason Campbell and Michael Bush to Chicago as free agents. So, unless Bush goes off in Chicago or Campbell has to play because of an injury to Jay Cutler, the Raiders aren’t going to get much in the way of comp picks. Yes, Oakland released several players who caught on elsewhere but released players are not part of the comp-pick formula.

Thus, Oakland is looking at a small draft class for one more year. McKenzie is playing it smart by being patient and careful. By 2014, it should pay off with a full draft class.

Preseason slate set

April, 4, 2012
4/04/12
3:45
PM ET
Peyton Manning's first appearance in a Denver Broncos uniform will come against a former Denver quarterback.

The NFL announced Denver will open the preseason at Chicago and against Jay Cutler. The game will be closely watched around the country. It will be Manning’s first game action since 2010. He missed all of the 2011 season with a neck injury.

Below are the preseason schedules (most of the dates have not been announced) for each AFC West team. Every team in the division but Kansas City received a nationally televised game. As previously announced, the annual Oakland-San Francisco preseason game will not be played this season. There was severe fan violence at last year’s game.

Denver

Week 1 at Chicago

Week 2 vs. Seattle

Aug. 26 vs. San Francisco, 4 p.m. ET, Fox

Week 4 at Arizona

Kansas City

Week 1 vs. Arizona

Week 2 at St. Louis

Week 3 vs. Seattle

Week 4 at Green Bay

Oakland

Aug. 13 vs. Dallas, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 2 at Arizona

Week 3 vs. Detroit

Week 4 at Seattle

San Diego

Aug. 9 vs. Green Bay, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Week 2 vs. Dallas

Week 3 at Minnesota

Week 4 at San Francisco
Jay Cutler’s former backup is going to Cutler’s former team.

ESPNChicago.com is reporting that the Denver Broncos have signed former Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie — who played collegiately at Colorado State — to a two-year deal.

Hanie
Hanie, 26, played well in relief of Cutler in the NFC title game in the 2010 season. However, he was dreadful as Cutler’s injury replacement in 2011, going 0-4 as a starter. The Broncos like the mobile, athletic Hanie because they think he is a better fit for their offense than he was for Mike Martz’s in Chicago.

I thought the Broncos would try to sign a more experienced veteran like recent San Diego cut Billy Volek. The Broncos talked to Volek, but were more interested in Hanie.

Hanie will be the man in Denver if Peyton Manning – who missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury – can’t play. The Broncos are convinced Manning will be fine.

Let’s face it: The Broncos will be dire straits if Manning, 36, misses a huge chunk of time, regardless of who is the backup. In Hanie, Denver gets a player it thinks can adjust to its system. Watch for Denver to perhaps add a quarterback in some point in the draft.
For years, the theme in Denver was the Broncos were searching for their next John Elway.

Leave it to Elway to finally get the job done. It’s been a windy road at the most important position on the field in Denver since Elway -- who became Denver’s top football decision-maker last year -- retired after the 1998 season and back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

The Broncos now have greatness at the position again in the form of Manning. Let’s review what has happened during the often frustrating journey between Elway and Manning in Denver:

Brian Griese

Years as Denver’s starter: 1999-2002

Comment: Griese had the impossible task of replacing Elway. He had his moments, but he was not a special player and Denver couldn’t handle seeing the dip at the position.

Jake Plummer

Years as Denver’s starter: 2003-06

Comment: Plummer was probably better than he was given credit for. He won his share of games in Denver, but, again, he wasn’t a special player.

Jay Cutler

Years as Denver’s starter: 2006-08

Comment: He is the poster boy of Denver’s frustration at quarterback in its post-Elway existence. Cutler flourished under coach Mike Shanahan and he seemed like he was on his way to being an elite player for Denver. But he famously clashed with Shanahan’s replacement, Josh McDaniels, and he was shipped off to Chicago. It changed the course of the organization that has been felt all the way until Manning’s agreement to come to Denver.

Kyle Orton

Years as Denver’s starter: 2009-11

Comment: Acquired in the Cutler deal, Orton did a nice job for Denver, but he was just a journeyman.

Tim Tebow

Yeas as Denver’s starter: 2010-2011

Comment: He was McDaniels’ parting gift to Denver. Tebow started 16 games in Denver and it was a wild scene. But Elway was never comfortable with Tebow’s ability to be an NFL passer, and now it appears Tebow will be another quarterback who will be shown the door in Denver.
Kyle Orton took the Jason Campbell route out of the AFC West.

A former starter in the division, Orton has quickly decided to further his career as the backup to Tony Romo in Dallas on a three-year deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Tuesday, former Oakland starter Jason Campbell went to Chicago to back up Jay Cutler for a year.

Orton was the former starter in Denver and he started the final three games of the season in Kansas City and led the Chiefs to a 2-1 record. But Orton most likely didn’t find any starting opportunities on the market, so he went to a solid team as a backup.

Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel, who inserted Orton as the starter in his first move as interim coach last season, often praised Orton. Crennel and Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli both expressed interest in Orton.

Yet, the Chiefs likely didn’t tell Orton he had a strong chance to compete with Matt Cassel. It would be strange if Orton bypassed a chance to compete to start to take a clear backup job.

This is another indication Cassel will remain the starter in Kansas City.

Tough break for Jason Campbell

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
12:30
AM ET
In the end, Jason Campbell signed with the Chicago Bears because it was the best backup job available. After realizing he wasn’t going to get any interest to compete somewhere for a starting job, Campbell took a one-year deal to be Jay Cutler’s backup.

Campbell

Campbell


The incredible turn of events for Campbell has continued. I truly feel bad for him. He deserves better.

Campbell was playing well last season as the Raiders’ starter when he broke his collarbone in October. Two days later, the Raiders sent two premium picks for Carson Palmer, and Campbell went from a valuable pending free agent to a player who is now a backup.

It is clear why Campbell wanted to leave Oakland. There is no way he’d want to stay and back up his replacement, Palmer, even though Campbell is now backing up a better, younger quarterback in Jay Cutler.

Kansas City probably wasn't interested in bringing Campbell in as competition for Matt Cassel. Even though Campbell played for Chiefs quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn in Washington. Kyle Orton is going to visit Dallas (where he too would be a backup), so it is an indication that Cassel may remain the starter.

I think Campbell would have been a formidable competitor for Tim Tebow in Denver, but the Broncos didn't want to do anything until the Peyton Manning sweepstakes was resolved.

Campbell jumped at what he thought was the best bet and he will have to hope he gets a chance to start sometime down the road.

Oakland fans should salute Campbell as he leaves town. He was a classy leader who stayed professional and supported the team after his injury. Lesser people wouldn’t have handled it as well as Campbell did.
Would Jason Campbell rather back up Jay Cutler or Carson Palmer?

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Campbell, Oakland’s former starter, is set to visit with the Bears.

He’d back up Cutler there.

Like Kansas City’s Kyle Orton (Schefter is reporting he will visit Dallas, where he’d backup Tony Romo), Campbell is clearly having trouble finding a place where he’d compete to start. I’m a bit surprised by that.

Campbell has been the victim of terrible luck. He broke his collarbone in October and the Raiders then traded two premium picks for Palmer. The Raiders are now married to Palmer. If Campbell leaves Oakland, it is clear he is looking for change of scenery rather than being open to signing with the Raiders to back up Palmer.

The Bears likely would be willing to give Campbell more than Oakland. A potential backup quarterback in Oakland is Matt Leinart. He was just cut by Houston. Oakland’s new offensive coordinator is Greg Knapp. He was previously Leinart’s quarterbacks coach in Houston.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider