Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Double Coverage: Cutler trade and the draft


 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Jay Cutler is out of Denver, but the trade that sent the quarterback to Chicago will  help shape the Broncos' roster.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Bill Williamson

Jay Cutler's divorce from Denver is final. Now the Broncos, armed with the picks they acquired from Chicago for the Pro Bowl quarterback, must determine how to proceed in the draft.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and his NFC West counterpart, Mike Sando, debate the options while exploring how the Seahawks and 49ers could affect the Broncos' future at quarterback.

Mike Sando: Quarterbacks are a high-risk proposition at the top of the draft, but that's also where teams tend to find the great ones. Nine quarterbacks drafted since 1965 have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Seven of them were first-round picks, including a guy named Elway. If the experts are right in saying Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the franchise quarterbacks in this draft, shouldn't the Broncos consider trading up to get one? They certainly have the firepower.

Bill Williamson: There's no way the Broncos should trade up that high if it means giving up both the 12th and 18th overall picks. Sure, Denver could get a top-five pick in return, but I don't think it's worth the risk -- even for a quarterback.

The picks acquired for Cutler are too valuable to risk on Stafford, Sanchez or a player along the lines of Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.

The idea is to get a lot of quality players here. If Denver is going to survive the Cutler trade, it will need to maximize those picks. Trading up and drafting Raji or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry would be great for a needy defense, but the Broncos need to address multiple areas, not just one. The Cutler trade does allow the Broncos to address several areas in the draft instead of rolling the dice on just one.

Mike Sando: More than a few 49ers fans watched with interest while the Broncos figured out where Cutler would wind up. His destination wasn't San Francisco, but the 49ers and their NFC West rivals could still shape the Broncos' quarterback situation beyond the Cutler era.

The Rams probably have too many needs and too much money invested in Marc Bulger to consider a quarterback at No. 2, but the Seahawks and 49ers could draft one. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me he thought the 49ers would be crazy to pass on Sanchez at No. 10 if the USC quarterback remained available at that point. The NFC West could foul up Denver's plans if the Broncos are hoping to find a quarterback in the first round.

 
  Jody Gomez/US Presswire
  Armed with two first-round picks, the Broncos could trade up to snag USC's Mark Sanchez.

Bill Williamson: I do think Denver needs to find a way to get Sanchez. You're right in saying the Seahawks and 49ers could stand in the way. In the big picture, I think it is a waste for Denver to have to draft another young quarterback just three years after it traded up to pick Cutler, but this is the situation Denver put itself in by creating the Cutler mess. The Broncos have to dig their way out, and taking Sanchez would be the perfect start.

Several scouts I have talked to believe he'd be a great fit for coach Josh McDaniels' system. In fact, Sanchez reminds some of Matt Cassel, the smoking gun in the Cutler saga. Sanchez would be the answer at quarterback for Denver. Kyle Orton and Chris Simms are not.

I like the idea of Denver drafting Sanchez so much, I could see the Broncos trading up a few spots -- as long as it doesn't cost them the 18th pick to get him. Yes, you can argue that McDaniels, a staunch supporter of the Patriot Way, could try to identify a quarterback in the late rounds. Tom Brady was a sixth-rounder and Cassel was found in the seventh.

But McDaniels doesn't have time to hope lightning strikes a third time. If he doesn't find a quarterback to adequately replace Cutler, his career in Denver will be a short one. He needs someone to hitch his wagon to, and Sanchez seems to be the perfect guy.

Mike Sando: I realize the Broncos could have handled the Cutler situation better, but if owner Pat Bowlen thought McDaniels was the right guy six weeks ago, he needs to stand behind him. That's precisely what I expect Bowlen to do after reading that terse news release announcing the team's plans to trade Cutler. The wording of that release made it clear Bowlen had soured on Cutler.

McDaniels' history in New England suggests the Broncos won't be eager to trade up very far. They'll probably follow your earlier advice in filling out their roster with as many quality players as possible. What if they stand pat at No. 12 and can't get one of the quarterbacks?

Bill Williamson: If Sanchez is gone, and assuming Stafford is off the board as well, the Broncos will have to bite the bullet and try to figure out their quarterback issue later. Still, Denver can get a lot of value from its two first-round picks. Defense needed to be the major focus of the draft anyway, so Denver has to identify two players who can fit into the 3-4 scheme immediately.

 
  NFL.com Video
  Watch DL B.J. Raji work out during the combine.

The Broncos should focus on Raji, USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. If Denver can somehow land two of these three players, this draft will stand as a major start toward the reconstruction of the defense. It won't make the Cutler trade a victory for the Broncos, but it will be a solid start.

Some analysts think Raji could fall down the draft board, but the Raiders (No. 7), Packers (No. 9) and 49ers (No. 10) are among the teams that could snag him. If Raji drops to No. 12, watch for Denver to write his name on its draft card as soon as Buffalo makes the 11th pick.

If Raji is gone, Maualuga would be a perfect fit for Mike Nolan's new defense. Nolan was with the 49ers when they drafted Patrick Willis, so he knows the value of a great inside linebacker.

The Broncos like Jackson and he could be available at No. 18. The Chargers could be a threat to take him at No. 16, and the Patriots could have interest if they traded up.

Mike Sando: There's reason to wonder if the 49ers would have the nerve to draft another quarterback in the first round after missing on Alex Smith four years ago. Raji or one of the offensive tackles could make sense at No. 10. If that happens and Sanchez slips out of the top 10, perhaps the Broncos can emerge from the Cutler mess with a franchise quarterback and another impact player or two.