Why McDaniels has to win now in Denver; more mailbag questions

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I have read and heard all the talk surrounding the Jay Cutler vs. Josh McDaniels melodrama playing out in Denver. But I'm still intrigued by these two questions: Why was McDaniels so interested in replacing Cutler with Matt Cassel in the first place, when Cassel is potentially a one-year wonder? More importantly, McDaniels continues to say the team did not initiate trade talks involving Cutler, but if that's the case, how exactly did it go down?

The first answer is easy, and it revolves around job security. Head coaches in the NFL used to get a minimum of three years, and in most cases four or five, to turn around a franchise. Now they are lucky to make it to three if they don't have immediate success in year one or two. I think McDaniels knew he needed to win now in Denver and believed his best chance to make the playoffs in 2009 or 2010 was with Cassel running the offense. Cassel may not possess Cutler's natural ability, but his time working with McDaniels the past four years in New England would have allowed him to hit the ground running and potentially have more success than Cutler in his first year with a new offensive scheme in place.

As for the other question, if the Broncos did not initiate any trade discussions, who did? Did Detroit and Tampa just call Denver out of the blue and ask whether or not Denver would be interested in trading Cutler? I doubt it. How often do the Saints get calls from teams looking to trade for Drew Brees? Or the Colts and Peyton Manning? The answer is never, which tells me McDaniels or someone else associated with the Broncos had to make it known they were interested in Cassel. That is the only way the dialogue for a three-way trade could have begun, with the Broncos wanting Cassel.

Now, maybe McDaniels put a feeler out to New England about Cassel and the Patriots told the Lions or the Bucs to call Denver about Cutler. That's certainly possible and I guess McDaniels could then feel comfortable saying he didn't initiate the Cutler trade talk. It would still seem a bit disingenuous to act like the Cutler talk was completely out of the blue when there is no way that could be the case. Though I don't care for how Cutler is handling the situation, maybe that is the part of this deal that is frustrating him so much. The refusal on the part of the Broncos to admit they struck the match that got the fire going in the first place.

Mail time ...

Ross, I respectfully disagree with your comment, "If players had the chance to choose between being a little bit stronger, a little bit faster or feeling a little bit healthier physically for a game, trust me, healthy would win every time."

If this were the case, why has steroids abuse been the highest profile story in pro sports over the last 10+ years. Admit it -- they want to get a little stronger, a little faster, and the health factor is only a realization after they retire. Lyle Alzado realized, albeit too late.--Manny D., Miami

There is no doubt that NFL players want to be bigger, faster and stronger. That is just the nature of the beast. My point was that, above all else, players want to feel healthy, or at least as healthy as possible, for the games. That is why so many hours are spent rehabbing or receiving treatment on various nagging injuries, either in the training room, hanging out in the cold tub or by going to chiropractors and massage therapists.

Competing in the NFL is difficult enough, but adding a broken hand or strained groin that needs to be wrapped, thus limiting lateral mobility, makes it even harder. By the middle of the season, every player usually has something that is bothering him physically, and any preventive measures that can be taken in the offseason to either eliminate or minimize the discomfort or limited range of motion caused by an injury is critical.

Your steroid example isn't really related to my column because I was talking about the player's orthopedic health during the season, not his long-term general health. You do have a point, however, as there is no doubt that a lot of NFL players fail to consider their long-term health when considering whether or not to take performance enhancing drugs or even play through certain injuries.

Have any formal studies been conducted to correlate team injuries to the various strength & conditioning approaches used throughout the league? It would be interesting to find out if teams that employ the Hammer Strength machines, for example, have endured significantly less injuries than teams using another approach. I also wonder if the climate/region of the team would be a factor; now you have indoor training facilities but its possible that "northern" teams might experience more hamstring injuries due to cold conditions and the ability to work out less than year-round as a southern team might. It would also be interesting to break down injury history by position group to look for further trends -- perhaps certain positions are more susceptible to particular injuries than others based on the training type. Thanks in advance.--Simon Weierman, Lebanon, Ohio

Not that I have heard of, Simon, but as a player I probably would not have been made privy to that information even if it was available. It is a fantastic idea, however, and I think there are so many things that could be learned if more quantitative analysis was done in the NFL on a number of issues, including the one you raise with different strength and conditioning philosophies and their injury results over time.

I can tell you that based on my time in New England and conversations with other league personnel, if anyone had taken the time to compile that type of data, it would probably be the Patriots and Bill Belichick. I have heard some of the stories about different numbers he wanted someone on his staff to crunch, and it is pretty impressive. He is a well-educated guy who recognizes the value of extensive research and the impact that understanding certain trends can have on his ability to make good decisions.

The flaw with doing it as it relates to a specific training method is that a lot of the strength coaches around the league vary their methods and take a mix-and-match approach. The better idea is to simply look at individual strength coaches over time and track how many players landed on IR and how many games were missed by projected starters. The problem is that there are other variables in play, including how many two-a-day practices the head coach puts his charges through during camp and how physical the practices are during the season.

I am not sure if you choose the pictures to accompany your articles (which are normally great... keep up the good work), but on Wednesday, SI.com had a picture of an injured Charles Tillman on the NFL front page. I thought it was a little inappropriate. While the man did get hurt a few times last year and conditioning may have been a part of it, his baby daughter almost died at the start of training camp. Even though I am a die-hard Bears fan, I couldn't find fault with him for possibly being out of shape because of that. I found it a little rude that he was associated with the article.

Also, maybe this is just hometown media getting in my brain, but I thought the Bears had one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in Rusty Jones.--Sven Paizley, Chicago

You're right, Sven, I don't have any control over the pictures. As a matter of fact, the first time I see them is the same time you do, when my article is posted live on the site. That being said, I can assure you ,the editors were not trying to insinuate he should be blamed for getting injured last year. There was a need for a picture that correlated with my column and that one got picked based on a couple of factors that had nothing to do with Tillman.

Incidentally, it is pretty timely that you mentioned Rusty Jones. He was my strength coach in Buffalo and was the best in the area of injury prevention that I came across during my time in the NFL. He was always on top of the latest science and research and he was, and I have to assume still is, ahead of the game in terms of nutrition, body fat, stretching and free motion exercises.

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to dismantle a government that has become tyrannical or is no longer able to protect the inalienable rights of the people, those that have the power to do so also have the responsibility to do so. Cowboys fans have a certain historical grounds for running Jerry Jones out of office, wouldn't you say?--Patrick Dougherty, Baltimore

That would be a pretty tough argument to make, Patrick. The Cowboys haven't had any playoff success in the new millennium, but Jerry Jones is the same owner who got this franchise to the promise land three times in the 1990's. There are fans all over the country who would cry tears of joy if their team even made it to a Super Bowl, let alone won it. And Jones has won three. So despite your frustrations, you really have it pretty good being a Cowboys fan.