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If Jay Cutler is on the block, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be bidding

In the eternal search for answers, the first question is always an easy one. It works that way on Jeopardy, and it works that way in life.

Say, what would Jay Cutler look like in a Buccaneer uniform?

Why, he would look splendid, of course. The red jersey would look dandy, and the pewter helmet would look striking. Given his arm, and forgiving his whine, he would look dangerous, and when is the last time anyone has said that about a Bucs quarterback?

Now for the tougher question:

Should the Bucs offer their No. 1 draft pick for him?

Final answer? Yeah, they should.

Okay, okay. Let's be real here. Despite the NFL's loudest snit, despite the team's posturing and Cutler's pout, the Broncos aren't likely to get rid of Cutler, if for no other reason than the sheer ugliness of the alternatives. Over the years, a lot of hurt feelings have been salved by an owner writing a very large check to the player with the wounded ego.

That's the likely conclusion here, too. It's one thing for new coach Josh McDaniels to prefer Matt Cassel, but it's another to trade a Pro Bowl player to start a draft choice, a rookie, or a backup named Chris Simms. Trade Cutler, and it could become a coach's legacy.

If you had to predict how Denver's latest mess — McJaygate, they are calling it in Denver — will turn out, here's a guess: Owner Pat Bowlen will eventually meet with Cutler, and the more he acts like an ATM, the less Cutler's bottom lip will stick out. In the end, the Broncos will talk about "reconfirming our commitment" to Cutler (read: paying the money), who will talk about "a misunderstanding that was taken out of context" (read: getting the money), and everyone will act as if McDaniels and Cutler were Butch and Sundance all along. And shame on that darned media for not noticing.

On the other hand, Cutler has put up his house for sale in Denver, and he isn't returning Bowlen's phone calls, and no one is sure if he will show up for the start of offseason conditioning on Monday.

So what if the relationship between a quarterback and his team really is broken? What if those who think a trade is inevitable are right? Should the Bucs be willing to jump on Cutler like a lost fumble?

You betcha.

Granted, a No. 1 draft pick (and maybe a third, if you believe the rumored asking price) is a swallow-hard price, especially for a team with as many holes on defense as the Bucs. When you think about the offseason so far, most of us have expected the Bucs to spend that pick on a defensive lineman, maybe on a linebacker, on anyone who could discourage the other team on third down. Given the lack of a second-round draft pick (traded away in the Kellen Winslow deal), the notion of an idle first day of the draft is unsettling.

On the other hand, Jay Cutler.

The kid is 25, and he's a Pro Bowl player already. He has a great arm, and he can move in the pocket, and he has some swagger. In the last two years, he has passed for more than 8,000 yards — something no Buc has ever done over a two-year period.

That's the intriguing thing here: Since Doug Williams walked away after the 1982 season, it seems the Bucs have been in search of a long-term answer at quarterback. Vinny Testaverde might have been it if his supporting cast had been better, and Brad Johnson was efficient for a while, but there really hasn't been anyone worth building an offense around for a several-year period. Cutler could be that guy.

Yeah, he has some growing up to do. Lately, the kid has whined so loud you might think he was playing for Boone's Farm. That hasn't helped his popularity among Broncos fans, who seem to think he should shake off his team's trade attempts like a blindside sack and get on with it. The airwaves are filled with those who think Cutler is a baby who should be burped and put to bed, preferably in Minnesota or Detroit or, yes, Tampa Bay.

In the NFL, quarterbacks come at a price. Look at the Bucs' roster, and it's hard to put together a package of players that would satisfy the Broncos. The currency would come from draft picks.

Again, a No. 1 pick is a lot for a team with needs. I get that. But some of the early mock drafts had the Bucs taking a project at quarterback in Kansas State's Josh Freeman. Really, which guy would you rather have? Come to think of it, except for a precious few No. 1 draft picks — Lee Roy Selmon, Williams, Paul Gruber, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and, if he ever shows up because we're leaving the light on, Bo Jackson — who wouldn't you trade even up for a quarterback worth believing in?

Yes, the Bucs need defensive players to fit "the plan" that everyone keeps talking about. But here's a thought: What if the plan doesn't culminate in 2009? What if the plan is to be a contender by 2010? Or 2011?

When it comes to quarterbacks, you get one while you can.

If you are right on the player, no one will ever regret the price.

If Jay Cutler is on the block, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be bidding 03/14/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 15, 2009 7:26am]
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