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Broncos: a real soap opera

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Nobody could question the fact that everything about the Denver Broncos has resembled a soap opera the past three months.

The question is, which one?

Back on Dec. 30, when Denver owner Pat Bowlen suddenly decided to dismiss head coach Mike Shanahan, it looked straight out of As the World Turns. Only this was dumping a coach after a 14-year relationship, instead of a wife or husband.

When the Denver players, starting with quarterback Jay Cutler, voiced their shock at Shanahan's departure and wondered out loud about the franchise's direction, we could have called it The Young and the Restless.

Then along came 32-year-old Josh McDaniels, the latest Boy Wonder (he turns 33 on April 22) to become an NFL head coach, and the comparisons to All My Children seemed more appropriate. For the record, McDaniels is nine months younger than enigmatic baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez.

Now, though, all hell has broken loose. Cutler feels like he's not wanted (poor baby). McDaniels hasn't appeared to be actively reaching out (as if he thinks potentially great quarterbacks grow on trees). Bowlen almost sounds regretful over the whole mess (like he expected a Disney script).

It doesn't help that Cutler's agent, a rabble-rouser attorney named James "Bus" Cook, is known for cultivating hard feelings as a strategy for moving his clients most notably Brett Favre last year from Green Bay to the New York Jets.

Now Cutler's ties to the Broncos are basically broken. He blew off McDaniels' first official team meeting last week, and the young millionaire put his Denver house on the market (as well as another one owned by his father).

At least McDaniels began this week trying to say more of the right things in an interview with the NFL Network. But that's just a start. Another soap-opera title from the past fits this mess: Search for Tomorrow.

What happens next? Either somebody has to take charge of this situation, or the Broncos' latest rebuilding project will last much longer than just a year or two.

If McDaniels and new general manager Brian Xanders make a trade before the draft, Denver's 2009 quarterback could come from the following list: Vince Young of Tennessee, Matt Schaub of Houston, Trent Edwards of Buffalo, Carson Palmer of Cincinnati, Brady Quinn of Cleveland, Matt Leinart of Arizona.

Don't be thinking the Broncos might find a nugget with an extra No. 1 draft pick, either. This isn't a good year for quarterbacks in the NFL draft. The top-rated guy, Matthew Stafford of Georgia, is far from a sure-fire NFL star.

Only one person can salvage this predicament, if he hasn't begun trying to do so already. That would be the owner, the guy who signs the checks.

Bowlen first should meet individually with McDaniels, Xanders and Cutler. Lay out the ground rules: no trades, no public bitching, no disagreements except in person. Next, Bowlen should sit down with his coach and his quarterback, close the door, and refuse to end the conversation until all three are on the same page. As part of the next phase, McDaniels and Cutler must agree to spend a weekend together (perhaps Bowlen could rent a nice house in the mountains), planning their future.

This might mean some give and take, with concessions on all sides. McDaniels' stance Monday suggests he already has some guidance from Bowlen. But McDaniels and Cutler still have to work on their partnership now, or else.

Cutler has to realize that if McDaniels could make an instant star out of Matt Cassel last year after Tom Brady went down, imagine what he could do with Cutler. Likewise, McDaniels has to be more sensitive to everything Cutler has endured in his three NFL seasons (not the least of which was dealing with diabetes), and the new head coach has to look realistically at how much longer it would take to turn around the Broncos with anyone else at quarterback.

This is not to say that, without any doubt, Jay Cutler can take Denver to the Super Bowl someday. But he's more likely to do that than a lot of other NFL quarterbacks.

One last point: We can't say, either, that Josh McDaniels will take Denver to the Super Bowl someday. With Cutler, though, he has a much better chance.

What would we call that soap opera? One Life to Live.

routon@csindy.com

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