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Wild ride for Bronco

McDaniels says he didn't go after Cassel

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 25, 2009
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DANA POINT, Calif. - The Patriots always seem to be at the epicenter of NFL intrigue, and it's no different with the league's latest soap opera - the spat between new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels (the former Patriots offensive coordinator) and Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler.

The discord arose after it became public that McDaniels considered trading Cutler in a three-way deal with Tampa Bay that would have reunited McDaniels with Matt Cassel and sent a first-round pick to Foxborough. Instead, the Patriots, who were already deep into negotiations with the Chiefs, opted to send Cassel and his $14.65 million salary to Kansas City (and old friend Scott Pioli) for a second-round pick in a deal that also shipped out Mike Vrabel.

McDaniels was left holding the bag, forced to deal with a franchise quarterback who felt betrayed. McDaniels hasn't been able to patch things up with Cutler, who through his agent, Bus Cook, has requested a trade.

McDaniels insists the Broncos didn't initiate talks on a three-way trade involving Cassel, and he said at the NFL owners' meetings yesterday, "I don't think Bill Belichick wanted to trade Matt Cassel to me. Why would he want to do that?"

Well, why wouldn't he?

"Because it would help our team," said McDaniels. "He knew and does know that I've coached the player. He saw what happened this past year.

"I don't know that I would want to do that with any of our players - send him to a guy that had coached them and had success with them. That would improve their team significantly.

"I can't speak for him. I just know that's one of the reasons why we never came up with the scenario. It just didn't make any sense. We had a good player. We had Jay Cutler."

McDaniels said teams besides the Buccaneers approached the Broncos about trying to swing a three-way deal before Cassel was dealt.

"There were different teams. There were different scenarios," said McDaniels. "You're talking about three-way trades that rarely happen.

"I can't speak for New England, I can't speak for Kansas City in terms of how far along they were, but obviously they had had dialogue and it was productive for them and they were happy with what happened."

McDaniels maintained that he never talked to his former boss about a deal for Cassel. He said he didn't have any direct contact with the Patriots, but did hint that other teams were acting as brokers.

Belichick said on WEEI last Thursday that the Patriots checked with teams 24-48 hours before the Cassel trade was confirmed and there was no interest until the last minute.

McDaniels seemed to contradict that a little bit.

"I never talked to them," said McDaniels. "There were a few teams that had conversations in those two days. The Patriots had to be involved in them."

Ultimately, McDaniels's success in coaching Cassel last season may have doomed Denver's chances of landing him all along, although McDaniels tried to backtrack from that notion slightly.

"I don't think the decision was really about that," McDaniels said. "I think they were so far along, and they did what they felt was in the best interest of their team at that point.

"I really can't speak about what Bill thought, but I know this, we're all out to try to help our own teams, so we're not really looking to help a lot of other teams along the way."

In his introductory news conference as Broncos coach, McDaniels thanked Belichick "for providing me my foundation in this league and mentoring me for eight years" and said the two had formed a "special bond."

All that is true. But in the world of NFL head coaches, it's every man for himself. McDaniels was asked if the Cutler imbroglio had damaged his relationship with Belichick.

"Not on my end," he said. "I haven't really had a whole lot of communication with him. I've talked to him a few times since I've been in Denver, but haven't had a whole lot of conversations with him. I know he's been very busy, as have we. I hope that that stays the same way."

McDaniels said Cutler is still his quarterback, and Belichick remains his role model.

"I've had an opportunity to witness what I feel like is the finest football coach in the National Football League the last eight years deal with things of this nature," said McDaniels. "I was around when we traded Drew Bledsoe. I was around when we had to release Lawyer Milloy. I saw how Bill handled that and handled the team and never lost focus on what we were trying to do every day, which is improve.

"He didn't allow it to become a distraction for his team and his players. I appreciated being able to witness that.

"This is part of the deal. You don't make a decision to become the head coach without understanding you're going to have days, weeks, months like this."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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