As my students and those folks who read this blog are well aware, I love football and I’m a lifelong fan of the Denver Broncos. As a result, there’s something I need to get off my chest.
Several somethings, in fact, all dealing with this tumultuous “off-season.” You know, the one that lost us Coach Shanahan and gave us Coach McDaniels, who promptly tossed aside quarterback Jay Cutler — who happened to be quite good — to replace him with Kyle Orton … or at least that’s the simplistic (and quite wrong) off-season narrative that the traditional media outlets have been portraying, which is exactly my problem today. The talking heads at ESPN, NFLN, FoxNews, and, well, just about anywhere on TV or in the papers or in the magazines have gotten lazy and sensation-hungry. They’ve stupidified (TM) a noble profession. And nowhere is it more apparent than in football coverage.
Perhaps it started the first time Michael Irvin opened his mouth as a “commentator.” Or maybe it was when Emmitt Smith said it was hard to go undefeated with a loss. Heck, maybe it was when Satan — it had to be — decided to give us the trifecta of Dallas Dunderheads by also having Deion Sanders telling us all about football.
I don’t know. It was certainly well established by the time Jamie Dukes and Solomon Wilcots got hired by the NFL Network. More Dumb and More Dumberer, I’m afraid.
The stupidization of the media is probably because they think we are all stupid, but I’m happy to say that this is not, as a rule, true. Case in point: Mile High Report, which has become my go-to source for Broncos reporting since it was pointed out to me in comments in another post. Run by fans, it has more insightful reporting than the Denver Post, ESPN, NFLN, and FoxSports put together. In fact, everything I’m going to say here about the Broncos’ offseason has, I’m sure, been covered at MHR in one form or another (it’s a big site).
At any rate, all this is preamble to the basic conclusion that reality is not as simple as the traditional media say it is. And it’s the continued misrepresentation of the facts of this off-season that I’m getting tired of reading and hearing. Thus, in honor of the Mythology class I’m teaching this fall, it’s time for a bit of media myth-busting.
Myth #1: Josh McDaniels got rid of Jay Cutler.
I think if I could kill one media myth dead, dead, dead, it would be this one. All else seems to flow from it. Alas, it has frightfully little to do with the facts. First off, if you want to get technical, Pat Bowlen got rid of Jay Cutler. Remember him? Owner of the Broncos? McDaniels’ boss? Dude who signs the checks? He gave McDaniels and Xanders an order — you know, because they apparently answer the phone when he calls — and the two men, like the employees they are, did as they were paid to do.
But okay. Fair enough, you want to say that McDaniels schemed to force Cutler out. Well, that doesn’t seem to be exactly true either. Let’s look at a timeline, shall we?
30 Dec 2008: Mike Shanahan is fired as coach. Almost immediately reports begin to trickle out about quarterback Cutler throwing fits. Here, just for a taster, are some of Cutler’s statements that same day, cached from the Rocky (R.I.P.):
I’m disappointed, I’m shocked, I’m not happy about it, I’m not pleased with it at all. … We had zero inkling this was going to happen. I didn’t have a clue. … I think, with the offensive staff we had, we were moving ahead. … But to lose all of our offensive coaches, too, that would be a big thing. Guys like Jeremy (Bates), (receivers coach Jedd) Fisch, that would be a step back for us, in my mind. … I hope it all works out, but I know I’m disappointed, I’m not happy, and it’s a lot to think about.
I’ve done a bit of highlighting there, as if it was really needed. The point is, does any of that sound like a fellow who wants to be a Bronco? I mean, what exactly does Cutler, an employee of Pat Bowlen, have “to think about”? He’s not a coach, but a player. So really not much when it gets down to it, unless he’s thinking about leaving town. And, indeed, rumors soon start to spread that he’s going to demand a trade if his friend Jeremy Bates is not retained as offensive coordinator.
12 Jan 2009: Josh McDaniels is hired as coach. Not long after his hiring — and to the surprise of no one at all — he fires Bates, who no doubt was still trying to call a screen pass to a double-covered wide receiver as he was marched out of the building.
26 Feb 2009: Word starts spreading that McDaniels listened to a trade offer that would have replaced Cutler with Matt Cassel. Not that McDaniels went looking for a trade, mind you — and quite clearly he didn’t accept one — but that he listened to one. As he would later say, he wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t take calls from other teams, no matter how outlandish they were. If he were to get into the habit of hanging up on other organizations the moment they mentioned Cutler’s name, after all, he’d be burning future bridges. And there isn’t any harm in just listening, after all, I mean, well, unless …
28 Feb 2009: Cutler goes on TV to rant about how the Broncos tried to trade him, which, as it happens, isn’t true. They listened to someone else who wanted to trade for him, but they didn’t instigate it and they clearly didn’t do it. Frankly, I would be pretty flattered if I knew other folks were calling my boss looking to hire me and my boss listened politely before saying “no.” But that’s just me, I guess.
14 Mar 2009: When McDaniels refuses to lick his boots — or perhaps when Bowlen refuses to make him the highest paid quarterback in the league — Cutler demands a trade. Try to remember that: Cutler demanded the trade. McDaniels didn’t demand that he leave.
19 Mar 2009: Cutler’s agent, Bus Cook, makes clear that the bridges were burned as soon as McDaniels fired Cutler’s boy-toy Bates.
31 Mar 2009: Cutler has now been refusing to answer the phone calls of his boss, Pat Bowlen, who has paid him millions of dollars to play a game. Bowlen, fed up with his petulancy, orders McDaniels and Xanders to get rid of him.
2 Apr 2009: The Trade to Chicago is completed.
Read that over a few times if you need to do so. The one thing the facts make clear is that McDaniels didn’t get rid of Cutler. Cutler got rid of Cutler. All poor McDaniels (as if he needs my pity!) did was rightfully fire a crappy coordinator and then listen to a phone call.
Myth #2: Jay Cutler was traded for Kyle Orton.
We keep hearing this, and I suppose it’s easier to put in an headline, but it’s just not true. The actual outlines of The Trade were that Cutler and a fifth-round pick were traded to the Chicago Bears for two first-round draft picks, a third-rounder and Kyle Orton. Have Orton and Cutler swapped places as quarterbacks? Yes, they have. But they weren’t simply traded for each other. The Trade cannot be categorized as if that’s the case.
In fact, we still don’t know the full extent of The Trade. The way it is laying out so far, Chicago got Cutler and a wide receiver named Johnny Knox in exchange for Orton, DE/OLB Robert Ayers, TE Richard Quinn, and a first-round pick in 2010.
That’s the on-paper equation, but even that probably doesn’t tell the whole story, since I doubt the Broncos would have drafted RB Knowshon Moreno this year without Chicago’s extra pick, and it’s unlikely that they would have traded away next year’s first pick for CB Alphonso Smith if they again didn’t have an extra pick from Chicago.
Myth #3: Compare Kyle Orton to Jay Cutler to judge Josh McDaniels.
Even aside from all the “little” details in myths 1 and 2, the media nevertheless continues to spin the Trade as if McDaniels should be judged by comparing Orton’s performances to Cutler’s. On principle, I have no problem with commentators weighing in on McDaniels for good or ill — though I am, personally, in favor of the changes he has wrought within the organization — since commenting is, after all, their job. But Orton vs. Cutler is the wrong comparison.
Since Cutler demanded a trade, and McDaniels and Xanders were given a direct order by their boss to accomplish just that, what should be judged is whether they took the best deal available.
When it comes to judging the “What ifs” of The Trade, therefore, Orton’s performance should not be compared to Cutler’s. Cutler’s departure was not something that they had complete control over. Quite to the contrary, comparison should be made to what other compensation McDaniels and Xanders could have received back in a trade. If you want to reduce it merely to a quarterback contest (which, again, isn’t accurate), then Orton should be compared to any other quarterbacks that the Broncos could have received in return. To the best of my knowledge, that means Brady Quinn and Jason Campbell, perhaps Luke McCown. Comparing Orton to Cutler makes no more sense than comparing him to Tom Brady: the Broncos had no shot at retaining Cutler, and they had no shot at trading for Brady.
So stop spreading these myths, folks. Oh, and if anyone at NFLN is reading this: Fire Jamie Dukes. Please.