Commentary

Clayton mailbag: Browns, Cutler fit

Originally Published: March 16, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

For this edition of the mailbag, I wanted to jump ahead to field some early thoughts on the messed-up situation with Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.

First, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels continues to push the issue the wrong way by trying to be more like a boss than a diplomat. He ruined Cutler's confidence in the organization after the Broncos were involved in trade talks to obtain Matt Cassel from the New England Patriots. Cassel landed with the Kansas City Chiefs instead.

Cutler apparently had still planned to show up Monday for the start of the team's offseason program. But then Saturday's talk between the Cutler and McDaniels fell apart because of poor communication. Even though the Broncos insist they won't trade him, they have to consider it after this past weekend's events.

You have to go back to the Jeff George trade in 1994 to find a similar incident. George, the first pick in the 1990 draft, wore out his welcome after four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and was traded to the Atlanta Falcons.

2008: Best of Jay Cutler

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George went to Atlanta in exchange for first- and third-round picks in the 1994 draft and a second-rounder that turned into a first-round selection in the 1995 draft based on his playing time for the Falcons. Note the value of the trade, because it might be the basis of what the Broncos seek in return for Cutler. The Broncos probably would ask for a similar package if they shop Cutler. The Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears could be interested.

The team with the best chance to interest the Broncos would be the Cleveland Browns. The Browns, you ask? Yes, the Browns would be best because they could offer a promising quarterback in return in either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson.

Because Cutler didn't show up for the Broncos' team meeting on Monday, the next move is up to the Broncos.

Q: Given Bus Cook's history (Steve McNair, Brett Favre among others), how much of the debacle in Denver do you think is attributable to Bus Cook? I don't mean to say that he manufactured the situation, but is it possible that he is "fanning the flames" in order to get a bigger check for himself via Jay Cutler?

From Charles in Durham, N.C.

A: Cook, Jay Cutler's agent, has done nothing in the Cutler mess other than offer his support. People may be getting a wrong perception of Cook. He's not a Scott Boras. He's not trying to play hardball. Remember, Steve McNair and Brett Favre had long, successful careers in their cities, and Cook was their agent. In fact, Cook's willingness to sign both to long-term deals made sure the Tennessee Titans and the Green Bay Packers, respectively, kept their quarterbacks as long as possible. But when trouble comes, Cook will fight for his client. Remember, it was the Titans who kept McNair off team property when they were ready to move him. The Favre problem was between Favre and his bosses. Cook just had to do the dirty work. In the Cutler affair, he just has to sit back and watch and be with his client in all meetings. The problem is between Cutler and his coach.

Q: What are the chances that the Browns improve their running game in the first two rounds of the draft? And if they do, does this mean that the days of Jamal Lewis are numbered?

From Mr. B in Tampa

A: I think the Browns will try to do something at the running back position in the second or third round. Good backs probably will drop because this draft class isn't filled with speedy backs and lacks the sizzle of last year's class. It will be interesting to see whether one of the four first-round-caliber backs falls into the second round. Thanks to the Kellen Winslow trade, the Browns now have two second-round selections. You figure they'll use one of them on a running back. If they do, they might release Lewis.

Q: Hey, John, I'm tired of Cutler's act already! This guy has done exactly what in the NFL? He's lost more games than he's won, has yet to make the playoffs, chokes down the stretch, and whines seemingly nonstop! Let's not forget he didn't take over the 0-16 Lions. … Do you see him ever moving past this "punk" stage he seems to be stuck in?

From Frank in Boise, Idaho

A: Quarterbacks are hard to find, and the Broncos found a great talent in Cutler. Let's not be quick to kick him out the door. It took a decade for the team to find anyone who could remind people of the John Elway days. We can agree Cutler is not Elway, but he has better throwing skills than Brian Griese and Jake Plummer. Brett Favre was immature during his rookie season in Atlanta, and the Falcons traded him away. You saw how well that one worked out. Give Cutler some space.

Q: I have been a Cincinnati Bengals fan through the good and the bad. With the deals of bringing in Laveranues Coles to help keep some pressure off Chad Johnson, and signing Carson Palmer, what should be the main focus for this coming draft -- offensive line or continue to try and build the defense?

From Todd in Ft. Myers, Fla.

A: Maybe I'm crazy, but I think the Bengals need to shore up the offensive line and upgrade at tight end. Certainly, if Michael Crabtree doesn't get snapped up in the draft by the time the Bengals select with the sixth pick, they should take him and consider trading Johnson. As much as it would help the defense to add a couple of playmakers, it's time to make sure Carson Palmer is happy. He has been through two years of hell with injuries and the poor play of the team. The schedule will be easy next season, and the Bengals can improve dramatically if they score more points. The draft also seems to be a little deeper on offense than defense. Play to the strength of the draft.

Q: I know most people are tired of hearing about Terrell Owens. But I think so far he's shining a lot of light on my beloved city of Buffalo. I think T.O. is going to use this season to restructure his career to show the world that he's not this bad apple that stinks up the locker room as most people think he does. I hope T.O. could teach a young James Hardy how to be a big wideout since there's not a WR close to their sizes. Ultimately, T.O. is going to generate points for a team that has been lacking in that department for years. Now all the Bills have to do is tighten up that OL and add a veteran linebacker, and suddenly the playoffs don't seem so far.

From K. Watts Jr. in Buffalo, N.Y.

A: As much as I believe it was a good move for Dallas to let T.O. go, I believe it was a good move for the Bills to sign him. He can add three or four points to the offense. If that happens, the Bills, who will play a tough schedule in the 2009 season, could win nine games and have a chance at a wild card. Clearly, his presence alone might be able to put the Bills on "Monday Night Football." The curiosity factor around the country is immense. He probably will be on decent behavior this season, but he no doubt will complain when he doesn't get the ball. Even if he doesn't get 1,000 yards receiving, Owens will get between eight and 12 touchdown receptions. It was a good move, one of the best of the offseason.

Q: I am a die-hard New Orleans Saints fan. The Saints need help in the safety position. Do you think they will be able to sign Darren Sharper?

From Chris in New Orleans

A: To me, it's a perfect fit. Despite his age, Sharper still can make plays, and he's a great leader for a defense. The strong safety market has been brutal. Most strong safeties have struggled to sign contracts of more than $3 million a year. That's why so many are accepting one-year deals. Teams are getting away from signing hard-hitting safeties to help their defense in pass coverage. Sharper is still good in all aspects of the game. I'd sign him if I were the Saints.

Q: I really believe that the St. Louis Rams have done a great job on defense this offseason. But now with the release of Orlando Pace, my dream of the Rams even thinking about drafting Aaron Curry are shattered. Is there any free-agent offensive tackle worth signing to give me hope again?

From Chad in St. Louis

A: Chad, I don't think the Rams were giving serious consideration to taking Curry. I think they were leaning toward taking Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe in the draft. The release of Pace only brings that picture into better focus. The Rams drafted on the defensive line the past two years, and I think their linebacking corps has enough talent with Will Witherspoon and Pisa Tinoisamoa.

Q: What is up with Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers? They are nearly $30 million under the cap! Are they simply trying to corner the market on being the youngest team in the NFL? They are changing defenses and there are numerous question marks, so what's with the relative inactivity?

From Shawn in McKinney, Texas

A: Ted Thompson truly believes in building through the draft. Most of the top teams do that. It makes for boring offseasons, but you notice that the Steelers, Chargers, Colts and other playoff teams don't go into the free-agency market much. To be honest, if you see the Packers signing free agents, you worry. That means their draft choices aren't working out and trouble is ahead.

Q: John, I think Byron Leftwich would be a great pickup for the New York Jets. He would come cheap and I might be crazy, but I think he is young enough to still possess some upside. What do you think of Leftwich, the possibility of him in NY, and do you think you can put in a good word?

From Damien in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

A: Leftwich, 29, is 10 years younger than Jeff Garcia and has not yet hit his prime. I think that new coach Rex Ryan probably wants to see his three young quarterbacks in minicamp, then make a decision about bringing in Leftwich or someone else. The only problem with waiting is that some other team might sign Leftwich. His presence on the unemployment line is the biggest mystery of this free-agency period.

Q: The Kansas City Chiefs say that as of right now Matt Cassel is not the Chiefs' starting quarterback, that Tyler Thigpen and even Brodie Croyle may have a chance to win it over him. What are your thoughts? From Todd in Belton, Mo.

A: I think that is just talk. Cassel will make $14.6 million next season guaranteed. Certainly, he has to win the job, but Thigpen and Croyle would have to work 14 years just to make what is on the books for Cassel this year. I'm hearing the Chiefs might be willing to listen to trade offers for Croyle, but don't expect calls to come. Scott Pioli didn't bring a 65 percent passer to Kansas City to sit on the bench. If Cassel doesn't start, Pioli will be off to a rough start. I don't think that will happen.

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

John Clayton

NFL senior writer