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Monday, March 30, 2009
End of Cutler saga in sight

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

What a difference a week makes.

Before the owners' meeting, it appeared Broncos QB Jay Cutler was destined to be traded. However, from the sounds of first-year coach Josh McDaniels at the owners' meeting, the Broncos have refocused, and now it appears McDaniels will try to fix his tattered relationship with Cutler.

To make a trade, the Broncos would have to receive a huge bounty along with a starting quarterback in return. That was going to be difficult. Once Cutler shows up at Broncos headquarters -- I predict that will happen in the next two weeks -- the Cutler trade saga should end.

Cutler wasn't the only hot topic at the owners' meeting. Judging by the questions in my mailbag, football fans seem to be a little skeptical about going to an 18-game schedule. Some fear the drain of injuries. Others think 18 games are a little much.

Let's dive into the mailbag:

From the inbox

Q: What's this about an 18-game season? The NFL wants to extend the season to make more money. It seems to be the only thing the NFL is about right now. Roger Goodell gave an excuse like "it's about the fans" to put the best quality out there. Come game 14 or 15, these guys are already the walking wounded. Now we need more?

Josh in Winston-Salem, N.C.

A:
Josh, one thing that hasn't changed in decades has been the fact the NFL has really been on a 20-game schedule. They used to have six preseason and 14 regular-season games. They switched to four preseason and 16 regular-season games. This is simply the next step. What the league won't do is shrink the number of games. Owners need the 10 home games -- preseason and regular season combined -- to fund their payroll. What the league is trying to do is to provide a better product for the paying fans and to improve revenue in order to get a collective bargaining extension. You are right in the sense that the NFL is a game of attrition. Injuries play a big role in how teams do. The healthier teams usually have the best shot at winning a Super Bowl. But injuries happen in training camp and in the preseason, too. Expanding the regular season is an idea whose time has come.

Q: What do the Eagles plan to do with their first-round picks? Are they going to try and trade for Jason Peters, trade up or stay put? Also, are they serious about trading for Braylon Edwards, or are they possibly looking at Anquan Boldin still?

Brett in New York

A:
It's pretty obvious the Eagles will be using their draft to help their offense. If they don't make a trade, they will probably draft an offensive tackle and a running back. I'd rather see them trade one of their first-round picks to get Edwards, Boldin or Jason Peters, but there are odds against that happening. Remember, the Bills want to keep Peters. The Cardinals are trying to keep Boldin. Edwards is available, but the price has to be right for the Browns to deal him. The Eagles are loaded with 12 draft choices, so they have more clout at the table than any other team. Let's see how they do with it.

Q: I'm a huge Bengals fan and I want to hear why Marvin Lewis was not fired and if this year is his last chance?

Dewey in Ohio

A:
If you are a longtime Bengals fan, you know that the Brown family doesn't like paying a coach who isn't coaching. They stand by the coach usually until the end of his contract. The problem isn't as much the coaching as it is the talent. The Brown family likes Lewis and will give him every chance to succeed. That's why he wasn't fired. Lewis made a nice hire on defense by giving the coordinator job to Mike Zimmer. The team needs to get more playmakers on defense to get things right, but Zimmer has set up a nice scheme that utilizes the quickness of the defensive players. An easy schedule should make things more interesting this season, but there is a chance Lewis could lose his job if the Bengals don't start winning in the next two years.

Q: What do you think of the Broncos getting a top draft pick, and as many other high draft picks as they can for Cutler, and then signing Jeff Garcia? Garcia gets thrown from team to team, but for the most part, he does well.

Chris from Hudson, Colo.

A:
Garcia is a winner, but he's also going to be 39 this year. If you look at the Broncos' roster, you can pretty well guess this isn't going to be an overnight surprise team. The team is totally rebuilding the defense. It could take a couple of years to get it right on defense. To bring in an older quarterback only sets back the development of the team. The one exciting part of the Broncos is that they have good, young offensive players. This is the best young receiving corps in the league. Ryan Clady was an instant star at left tackle.

Q: With the passing of the new rule that QBs can't be hit below the knee, when will stripping the ball be a penalty? As soon as one QB has his shoulder or elbow torn when a lineman goes for the ball, the league will cry foul and then that will be a penalty. Should they just go ahead and make QBs wear the red jersey even in games?

Shawn in Arlington, Texas

A:
Shawn, I do get your sarcasm. It's tough to be a defensive player. The league took away the head slap. It minimized the number of holding calls. I do think the penalty for the below-the-knee hits is merited because of the number of top quarterbacks with major knee injuries in recent years: Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and others.

Q: I am a big Jets fan and we have concerns at quarterback. The Brett Favre experiment didn't work and Cutler could be available. What should the Jets do?

Luis in New York

A:
I agree: This team is built for the short term, and the Jets need to go with the experienced quarterback to win. That's why I keep pushing for them to sign Byron Leftwich. You can't tell me Leftwich isn't better than Kellen Clemens. I think Brett Ratliff has a chance to develop like Tony Romo, but he's not ready to take over the team yet. They did explore the Cutler trade possibilities, but it looks as though Cutler is staying in Denver. Sign Leftwich. He's available at the right price.

Q: As a Dolphins fan, I've been following all the offseason moves made by every AFC East team. Each team has made at least one key acquisition for a big-time player -- except the Dolphins. I know they are more focused on building a solid core for years to come, and I am OK with that, but how do you feel they are keeping up with the competition in the division?

Brick

A:
I contend the Dolphins might be getting a little too aggressive. They signed Jake Grove at center and gave away Samson Satele. I don't know if they are better with that move. Remember all the free-agent moves last year? Although they improved depth, very few new starters were found in free agency. The key to last season was landing Chad Pennington and adding some Parcells toughness to the roster. The problem ahead for the Dolphins is that there is usually a two- or three-game drop-off from teams that go from worst to first in a division. Surprise division winners struggle the next season. The Dolphins appear to be battling the Bills for second place in the division, but they aren't too far behind the Patriots as far as talent is concerned.

Q: Why did the Steelers receive only a fifth-round compensatory pick when Alan Faneca was slotted for a third-rounder with that $7.8 million a year contract? Plus, he made the Pro Bowl.

Tony in Los Angeles

A:
Great question, and the Steelers asked the same question at the owners' meeting. What they found out is that a departing free agent older than 30 can't net anything better than a fifth-round choice. They were banking on a third, too. They received the max value. They simply didn't know the rule that has been there for a few years in the compensatory formula. Life is an education.

Q: The NFL's overtime rules seem to be unpopular. A possible solution to the overtime issue would be to have the pregame coin flip also count for the overtime period. Though some will still complain, at least the luck factor associated with the coin flip is avoided. A team trailing by one, knowing it will not get the ball back in overtime, could then go for the two-point conversion. If that occurs -- success or failure -- overtime is avoided.

David in Bothell, Wash.

A:
David, you must be a smart basketball fan, because that is an absolutely great solution. It's a minor adjustment, but it has major impact. It's like basketball with the possession arrow. One of the great parts of the game now is how well teams move the ball and score in the final two minutes of games. Often, you can have three scoring drives by the two teams in the final four minutes of a game. By offering your solution, there's another element of strategy that gives coaches something to think about. You get my nomination for a two-day sitting pass on the league's competition committee.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.