Denver Broncos trio that could have been at career crossroads

A trio of former Denver Broncos — quarterback Jay Cutler, offensive tackle Ryan Clady, and wide receiver Brandon Marshall — are at a career crossroads…

At the end of the 2008 NFL season, the Denver Broncos collapsed miserably, resulting in the firing of head coach Mike Shanahan. It was a disastrous end to a season, that included three straight losses in the last three weeks, the last of which resulted in playoff hopes vanishing into the thin Denver air.

Shanahan’s firing paved the way for new head coach Josh McDaniels, who promptly blew up a roster that was a lot better than anyone gave it credit for. McDaniels’ first order of business was to alienate and get rid of quarterback Jay Cutler, the team’s first round pick in 2006, and a major catalyst of controversy in the Mile High City.


Cutler’s insertion into the lineup came prematurely, as Shanahan had grown impatient with veteran Jake Plummer. Plummer was benched in 2006 and replaced permanently by Cutler. The Broncos missed the playoffs in every season Cutler was with the team, but there was no question the promise was there.

After all, Shanahan had drafted well in 2006 and 2008, potentially historic classes for the Broncos’ franchise at least as it related to the offensive side of the football. In 2006, Shanahan drafted both Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who became the Broncos’ number one receiver by the 2007 season.

In 2008, Shanahan drafted left tackle Ryan Clady, who was a superstar from the day he set foot in camp.

The Broncos had the pieces put together on offense, and all Josh McDaniels had to do in 2009 was fix a defense that was generally one of the most porous in the NFL, especially against the run. He saw his time in Denver as an opportunity to leave an imprint, but he had no idea just how negative it would end up being.

In less than two years, McDaniels traded Cutler and Marshall, who had been Pro Bowl selections together in 2008 (which was also the first and only time Cutler was selected to the Pro Bowl). They were supposed to be building blocks for the future of the Broncos, but because of character, we were led to believe it was best for everyone if they moved on.

As the Broncos have progressed since then, it’s hard to argue with the way things have played out, but you can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the trio of Cutler, Marshall, and Clady had developed in this league together.

Now in their 30s, that trio of players is likely to be available in some way or another this offseason. Clady was recently a cap casualty of the New York Jets, who acquired him from the Denver Broncos in a trade less than a year ago.

Marshall could also find himself a cap casualty in New York this offseason, as he has no dead money on his contract and is not getting any younger.

Cutler has missed 25 games the past six seasons, and his time in Chicago has almost come to an end. He’s on the trading block, but there are some out there who believe the Bears will just end up cutting their former franchise quarterback with little cap implications.

It’s sad to see all of these former Denver Broncos picks being let go near the end of their careers, particularly because none of them was able to be part of anything really special with the organization. Clady was with the Broncos the longest, lasting from 2008-2015. He was on the team for both Super Bowl appearances, but it was while on injured reserve.

Clady made four Pro Bowl appearances with the Broncos, while Cutler and Marshall combined for three.

Since leaving Denver, both Cutler and Marshall have enjoyed varying levels of success. When Cutler was healthy in the early years he was with the Bears, he was among the best young quarterbacks in the league. He has since developed a reputation as being one of the most injury prone and inconsistent gunslingers in the NFL.

Marshall, in my opinion, has established himself as one of the best receivers this game has seen. In four different cities, he has excelled and become a number one receiving threat.

Clady, were it not for injuries, would likely have cemented himself as one of the most dominant offensive tackles in Denver Broncos history, and could have perhaps created a Ring of Fame caliber legacy.

No matter what hand fate dealt these three players, it’s crazy to think that less than 10 years since they were last together, their careers in the NFL are at a crossroads and perhaps hanging in the balance. It’s strange to think that the trio of players that was considered the future of the franchise not that long ago could be on their way out of the NFL soon.

What ‘could have been’ will always be left to the imagination, but with two Super Bowl appearances and one victory since 2013, there’s no one regretting the domino effect these players moving on had on the Denver Broncos as a franchise.