In chess, you say "check" when one of your pieces has moved in position to attack the opposing king--when your next move, if not thwarted, would result in your victory. Throughout the length of a chess match, each king may be in check many times, or few; as quickly as within a handful of moves, or perhaps not until the endgame draws to a close. Often, check is a mere formality, easily escaped or blocked. The opponent might merely push a pawn, slide over a square, or capture the piece making the threat. Still, putting the opponent's king in check is always significant. The opponent must react to the move in some way, or the match is over. Occasionally, putting the king in check provides a time advantage, gaining what players call a tempo; getting literally and figuratively one step ahead of the game. Even better, sometimes putting an opponent in check derails their strategy: forces a change in pawn structure, forces a trade of pieces, or otherwise weakens the opponents position. "Check" is most often heard in the middle and endgame, as the players' strategies develop, as the webs are woven across the board, as the snares are drawn, made taut, and set.
The Cutler situation has been brewing in Denver for weeks and weeks. Reportedly furious when his trusted QB coach was broomed with Shanahan and rest of the Broncos coaching staff (after Cutler was promised he'd be retained). Cutler reportedly asked to be traded right then. They temporariliy mollified him by saying the new offense would be markedly similar to the old one. The situation then deteriorated further when it came out that one of Cutler's favored targets, TE Tony Scheffler, was being shopped. Then began a curious case of "He Said, He Said" that may never be truly untangled . . . word came out that the Patriots were in the process of dealing Matt Cassel to the Chiefs--this was surprising, because all signs had pointed to the Patriots simply paying Cassel to stick around for one more year. When new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels realized that Cassel was available--his quarterback, the quarterback he'd groomed from a late-round nobody into a surprisingly effective starter, the quarterback who'd run his very offense at a playoff-caliber level just weeks beforehand . . . well, he was intrigued.
Martin Mayhew and the Lions sensed an opportunity, and immediately he began working the phones, devising a Flip This QB scenario that would send a pick (or picks) to New England, Cassel to Denver, and Jay Cutler to Detroit. This, I believe, was a "check" moment for Martin Mayhew's attempt to rebuild this franchise. For a second, us Lions fans got a taste of glory: positive headlines. Our beloved franchise's leadership making waves amongst the national media for competence and not buffonery! Finding out we were agonizingly close to acquiring a 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime! Even though the trade was not consummated at the time, there was no question that Martin Mayhew had seized the bull by the horns. He had played at the highest-stakes tables with some of the titans of the NFL landscape, and acquitted himself well. We saw we had a GM with vision, reflexes, and an opportunistic approach. It wasn't the end of the match, but a significant turning point? Absolutely.
Cutler took the news of he trade talks . . . poorly. As anyone reading this should know, he began a monthlong campaign to get himself traded. Not content to work for a head coach who'd rather have a less-tested, less-experienced, less-talented quarterback, he asked to be traded. The way the Broncos organization handled this couldn't have been worse, and after a month of bluster and gamesmanship by both sides, the Brocons have announced they are trading him as soon as possible, and have already removed him from the team website.
This couldn't possibly have come with better timing for the Lions: they just worked out a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer today. I immediately posted that this is either genuine, and an extraordinary quarterbacking talent has fallen into the Lions' lap--or, this is part of an elaborate smokescreen, the point of which I wasn't quite sure. There's currently no demand for Stafford; if the Lions do not take him he could fall all the way out of the top ten. Convincing the rest of the league that you are absolutely overjoyed to reach for Stafford seems to serve no purpose whatsoever . . . now all the teams beneath you can solidify their boards knowing that the Lions are no threat to take anyone they covet.
Unless the Broncos put a giant "FOR SALE" sign on Cutler, and open up the bidding.
Now, the Lions have leaked that Matt Stafford showed them much more than he'd shown anyone else to this point. Now, they have opened up the possibility that Stafford may indeed be a quarterback worthy of building a team around. Now, they are entering a bidding war with, by far, the most expansive cache of ammunition. Let us not kid ourselves: though the Jets, Buccaneers, Bears, 49ers, and Browns have called the Broncos to make their bid, none of these teams have nearly the picks that the Lions have, nor do they have any way to replace what the Broncos would be giving away: a great young quarterback. Those about to protest that the Browns have Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn would do well to understand that if either of those quarterbacks were even nearly Cutler's equal, the Browns would not be trying to acquire Cutler. No, the Lions have positioned themselves as the only interested team that can provide a quarterback that might possibly replace Cutler: Matt Stafford. And the Broncos, by publicly severing ties with Cutler and announcing that he will be traded, have removed a significant amount of their leverage. Now, instead of a few teams bidding against each other, trying to make the Broncos part with the cornerstone of their franchise, there is one team who can give Denver what they so desperately need: a new quarterback.
It remains to be seen how this all will play out. But we are much further into the match than we were before. This may yet be another "check", a momentary derailing of the greater strategy in a battle that yet will rage for months or years. Or . . . it could be the beginning of the endgame. The crucial turning point in a war for respectability, for pride. The moment when the trap is sprung, and the snare draws fast upon its prey. The day before the day when the Lion can once again lift his head with pride.