It's a pity Broncos owner Pat Bowlen didn't delay announcing the team's intention to trade Jay Cutler just a few more hours Tuesday night, because I've never heard of a story that deserves to receive the April Fool's Day treatment more than this one. The Cutler versus the Broncos saga has been a bad joke from Day 1.
Now that the marriage is officially over and divorce inevitable, divining just where the talented but over-sensitive 25-year-old quarterback will land has become America's hottest new sports craze. Not surprisingly, given the dearth of top-tier quarterbacking in the NFL, numerous suitors will line up for Cutler. About one-third of the 32-team league could use him.
But buyer beware. In the past month-plus, Cutler has displayed the immaturity that might have made new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels a bit wary of him in the first place, and whoever acquires him now does so realizing he is capable of initiating a full-scale public hissy fit under the right set of circumstances (i.e., when his team does not properly account for his ego).
While many teams have been mentioned as potential trade partners with Denver, here are the clubs I think will be most motivated to pursue Cutler in the coming days, either out of need for a quarterback or because of what they have on hand to trade. This is not the same as handicapping his likely landing spots or the teams best positioned to deal for him. This is about discerning the clubs that have the greatest incentive to make such a move:
Rex Ryan's made it clear he's confident in his quarterback depth chart (what else could he say?), but despite that, the Jets face going to camp with Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge as their starting options. 'Nuff said. The problem is, the Jets don't have a quarterback to trade that Denver will likely view as a starting option. That's why a three-way deal with Cleveland (the Browns would move either Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson to the Broncos) may be the Jets' best hope. Yep, that would mean Eric Mangini doing Woody Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum a favor. What are the odds on that one?
Motivation meter: 9.7 (on a scale of 10)
The Bucs are in a similar situation to the Jets, with only Luke McCown, Brian Griese and Josh Johnson at quarterback. We know they want Cutler because they wanted him a month ago. The Bucs have never been shy about shipping away first-round picks, giving up two No. 1s and two No. 2s for Jon Gruden in 2002, and two No. 1s for Keyshawn Johnson in 2000. So their No. 19 pick this year is likely a given in any deal, but after that, I'd be very careful if I were the Bucs. If the price tag for Cutler ends up being this year's No. 1 and next year's No. 1, that's too steep. It took Tampa Bay a long time to overcome the loss of so many valuable picks after the Gruden deal, and they'd be wise to not re-dig that hole.
Motivation meter: 9.0
The Browns aren't desperate for a quarterback, given they've got two starters in Quinn and Anderson. But new head coach Mangini doesn't seem to be crazy about either one of them, and that makes the Browns a player in the Cutler sweepstakes if they want to be. Moving Quinn, who hasn't proven anything yet, and disgruntled defensive tackle Shaun Rogers must look pretty appealing to the Browns about now.
Motivation meter: 8.5
More than anyone in this year's draft, the Lions have the ammo to come after Cutler, as they own the No. 1, No. 20 and No. 33 picks and five of the top 82 overall. New Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has made ending the team's decades-long nightmare at quarterback a top priority, but I still get the sense he doesn't love his options at that position in this year's draft. Schwartz may be a bit wary of Cutler after seeing the way this melodrama has played out the past five weeks, and if so, he should just stand pat and see what unfolds in the draft. But Detroit could exponentially quicken the pace of its rebuilding program with a proven quarterback in hand, and that might make Cutler irresistible.
Motivation meter: 7.5
The Bears have sworn their loyalty to Kyle Orton, at least for now. But that's what they have to say, just as they did for Rex Grossman -- until they didn't. Chicago is not known for making bold moves at quarterback, but a package of their No. 18 pick, Orton, and maybe another choice could at least get them on the Broncos' radar. If Denver had to make due with Orton as its starter for the time being, it could do a lot worse.
Motivation meter: 7.2
Would the Broncos consider being the team to give Alex Smith a fresh start? The 49ers are prepared to go into camp with Shaun Hill, Smith and maybe a rookie quarterback taken in the draft, but they have to be intrigued with the idea of adding Cutler. If San Francisco was willing to woo Kurt Warner last month, it will certainly have some interest in exploring Cutler's market. With the No. 10-overall pick from the 49ers, the Broncos might be in position to add USC's Mark Sanchez as their quarterback of the future.
Motivation meter: 7.0
The Vikings might rightly reason that they'd be Super Bowl material with Cutler on board, but unless the Broncos covet either Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson -- and I doubt they do -- this is a deal that will probably never materialize.
Motivation meter: 6.9
I've predicted the Jaguars will select Sanchez at No. 8 in my last couple of mock drafts because I hear they like him and that David Garrard is no fixture in the position after a less-than-scintillating 2008 season. Owning a top 10 pick that could be used to fill Denver's long-term need at quarterback makes Jacksonville an option.
Motivation meter: 6.7
We've learned to never underestimate Daniel Snyder's impulse to go for the make-a-splash move. The Redskins can convince themselves of almost anything when they get in the mood to deal, so the notion of trading Jason Campbell for another quarterback with the same initials is far from unfathomable. Campbell is entering the final year of his contract, and the Redskins seem lukewarm on his future in D.C.
Motivation meter: 6.5
The thought is that with Julius Peppers available to move, the Panthers have some real bargaining power that defensively challenged Denver would have to entertain. But two things about this scenario bother me: Landing franchise quarterbacks via trade does not fit the low-key way John Fox and Marty Hurney usually go about their business, and Peppers may not want to play for Denver. He's already made up his list of teams he'd be willing to consider, right?
Motivation meter: 5.0
There are plenty of Titans fans who want to see Cutler return home to Nashville, where he played collegiately with Vanderbilt. But I'm not sure many of those voices emanate from Tennessee's team complex. Though I'm sure the Titans wouldn't mind moving Vince Young in any deal, Jeff Fisher is committed to giving Kerry Collins every chance to run his offense for another year or two, and that reality wouldn't make Mr. Cutler very happy.
Motivation meter: 4.5
I'm putting the Eagles on my list just for the fun that would ensue if it became known Philly were shopping Donovan McNabb. You think Cutler kicked up a fuss in Denver? You ain't seen nothing yet. With two first-round picks, the Eagles at least have the juice to make a run at Cutler if they want.
Motivation meter: 4.0
MORE COVERAGEKING: Broncos, Cutler finally reach a stalemate