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Elway might not have let Cutler go

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

In the 12 seasons since John Elway retired, the Denver Broncos have been searching for his replacement.

After only four postseason appearances — and one victory — during that stretch, the Broncos gave Elway the difficult task of finding a franchise quarterback this offseason.

If Elway had his way, Jay Cutler probably would still be a Bronco.

Asked Tuesday at the owners meetings if he would have traded Cutler, Elway, now the team’s executive vice president, told the Sun-Times, “That’s hard to say because I don’t know all the circumstances.

“But I do know how hard it is to get a guy who has that much talent at the position.”

Elway, of course, didn’t have a say during the 2009 offseason, when then-coach Josh McDaniels was the catalyst behind a blockbuster trade that shipped Cutler — a one-time Pro Bowl selection — to the Bears for a package of picks and quarterback Kyle Orton.

In January, two days before the NFC title game, Elway talked about Cutler at length on KXDP-FM (87.7) in Denver.

“It was a tough situation he was in in Denver,” Elway said. “I would say, to be honest, he’s the type of player you don’t give up on as easily as we gave up on. But you look at what he’s done. He’s done a good job there. He’s matured.”

Asked if Cutler would still be a Bronco if he were in charge at the time, Elway said, “There’s a good possibility, yeah.

“I would say that. But I don’t know. I wasn’t in the middle of that. I didn’t know Jay real well.

“But I would have done everything I can, especially when you have a talent like you have in Jay. Those guys don’t come around very often.”

On Tuesday, Elway said he didn’t remember that comment.

“But I think that type of guy,” he said, “you always have to give a chance to.”

Interestingly, Elway’s longtime coach, Mike Shanahan, selected Cutler 11th overall in the 2006 NFL draft. He started all 16 games in 2007, and he was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2008 season. After Shanahan was fired, the Broncos hired McDaniels, then one of the hottest coordinators available because of his tenure with the New England Patriots. Cutler, though, bristled because of reports that McDaniels was interested in trading for Matt Cassel. Cutler told the Sun-Times in September that McDaniels essentially lied to him when he confronted him before admitting it later. After McDaniels told him in a face-to-face meeting that any player could be traded, Cutler had enough.

“By that point, I was like, ‘You know what? Just trade me now,’ ” Cutler told the Sun-Times. “ ‘I mean, just do it now. Let’s get it over with.’ ”

Elway was diplomatic when asked about his dealings with Cutler.

“I did not know Jay,’’ Elway told the Sun-Times. ‘‘We went to lunch, but I did not get to know Jay. I just knew what a talent he was at the quarterback position. Personally, I never got to spend a lot of time around him. But I did see him play, and I thought he was a very talented guy who could make all the throws.

“I had a great deal of respect for his playing ability. Other than that . . .”

Elway didn’t finish the thought but added, “I thought he could be a guy who could be a great player.”

In the radio interview, Elway was asked which of the four quarterbacks playing in the title games — Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Mark Sanchez — he liked most.

He was stumped at first before concluding, “I’d take Aaron Rodgers.”

Elway’s top quarterbacks are Orton and Tim Tebow, who had a legendary career at Florida. The Broncos, though, have the second overall pick in the draft, and Elway and coach John Fox haven’t ruled out drafting another quarterback, but it’s unlikely.

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