Who’s at fault in the Cutler debacle?

Jay Cutler’s name has been all over the news this week after the Broncos announced that they were going to try to deal him. The situation between the franchise quarterback and the franchise deteriorated at warp speed after it was revealed that the Broncos had tried to trade for QB Matt Cassel to replace Cutler at the helm of the offense.

Unlike my earlier Julius Peppers post, I’m not going to try to guess at trade partners for Cutler, because all the big sports news sites have already done that. Bill Williamson at ESPN, who was briefly the Seahawks correspondent whom I worked with at PFW , has done an especially good job on ESPN’s AFC West blog. The price is even set: Two first-round picks plus a quarterback. So that ground is more than adequately covered.

But I am going to assign blame in this whole thing. And I believe the biggest culprit is…

Bill Belichick

Let me explain.

New Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels learned at the heel of Belichick, whose autocratic style is legendary. Belichick knows what he wants, does what he wants, and gets what he wants, no matter whose feelings he hurts or whose egos he tramples in the process.

That works for Belichick because he has a track record of success. At this point in New England, with three Lombardis  in the trophy case, he’s beyond criticism. He’s one of the few coaches in the league who is absolutely unfireable at this point.

But here’s the problem: McDaniels learned from and is emulating Belichick’s style, only without the same credentials. Belichick is a coaching lifer; McDaniels is 32. McDaniels is smart and talented, but he doesn’t have the gravitas or the pull that Belichick has.

And in the Cutler situation, McDaniels acted like Belichick would. He treated the player as disposable, went behind Cutler’s back. When he got called on it, McDaniels didn’t immediately back down.

Did McDaniels do anything wrong? Factually, no. He has the right to trade Cutler and get Cassel. He has the right to go behind the quarterback’s blind side to try to make a deal. And he has the right to want to trade Cutler at any time for any reason.

But McDaniels didn’t do these things in the wisest way. McDaniels needs to establish himself and earn the respect of his players. Acting like an autocrat when you don’t have the credentials to be a dictator isn’t the way to get that done. McDaniels’ old-school, hard-line approach just won’t play until he has a few seasons of wins and banners and trophies behind him. Belichick can act this way; McDaniels can’t — at least not yet.

Maybe this is why Belichick products haven’t yet had great success in the NFL. Eric Mangini got run out of the Meadowlands and is now in Cleveland. Romeo Crennell got a pink slip that created that opening with the Browns. And Charlie Weis’ hold on the Notre Dame job seems to grow more tenuous with every passing year.

Belichick can act however he wants. He could trade Tom Brady at this point and get away with it. But taking his style into a new job won’t work from the outset. And Belichick hasn’t taught his assistants-turned-head coaches how to establish the credibility that will allow them to act like he does. So it’s his fault.

Of course, it’s not really Belichick’s job to teach his assistants how to do this. And maybe, just maybe, he’s smart enough not to impart that lesson. After all, McDaniels, Mangini, and Crennel were all AFC foes…

Maybe the autocratic genius is even smarter than we give him credit for. After all, he blew up a quarterback/coach relationship from two time zones away.

3 Comments

Filed under NFL coaches, NFL trades

3 responses to “Who’s at fault in the Cutler debacle?

  1. Pingback: FR: Offseason rumor mill « Football Relativity

  2. Pingback: Belichick’s shadow side looms over proteges « Football Relativity

  3. Pingback: Mile High mistake: What went wrong for the Broncos and Josh McDaniels « Football Relativity

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