the grandmaster, rampant

>> 3.31.2009


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.


5Bakerstgreet,  April 1, 2009 at 5:27 AM  

The Lions quarterbacking options remain fluid as we wake up this morning and read on MLive that the owner of the Broncos now says Cutler will be traded.

Stay tuned..... ""The Jay Cutler situation had grown quiet over the past week, but Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has had it with Cutler's antics and announced he's officially putting the disgruntled quarterback on the trading block.

March 31, Denver Post: "Numerous attempts to contact Jay Cutler in the last 10 days, both by head coach Josh McDaniels and myself, have been unsuccessful," Bowlen said in a statement released late Tuesday. "A conversation with his agent (Bus Cook) earlier today clearly communicated and confirmed to us that Jay no longer has any desire to play for the Denver Broncos. We will begin discussions with other teams in an effort to accommodate his request to be traded."""

Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 7:32 AM  

To be honest, if this is how this dude wants to act all the while, wanting a Brees-esque contract extension, I DONT want him on the Lions, PERIOD!


Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 10:28 AM  

according to the denver post, bowlen wants AT LEAST an elite QB and TWO high draft picks in return for jay. i don't think i'd be willing to do that deal unless there was a third team involved.

anyone else get the feeling that the football gods are dangling yet another 'carrot' in front of us and that this could be the be all or end all for martin?

Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 11:58 AM  

I have to agree with the other anonymous poster.
Without a QB to trade Denver, the Lions do not get in on this. Boylen is an idiot for hiring a coach without making sure the first year coach could handle adversity. And sure Cutler hasnt handled it well, either, McDaniels is the coach, he is supposed to rise above it all. TEXT messages? What is this high school prep sports? I would ahve been on a plane to wherever Cutler was the week I was hired, and set up antoehr meeting at the facility later down the road. Thsi kids got to be considered 'good', though not great. And, half the teams in the NFL have BAD QB's about start the season with said BAD QB as a starter!
DRAFT OL, then LB, then DT, then CB, then I dont care whatever after that......


David M,  April 1, 2009 at 1:08 PM  

A fine article Ty,
I like all the colorful language and the metaphors. The chess match metaphor works pretty well with your argument.
By the way, I just posted Aaron Curry's player profile if you wanted to check it out.

Ty,  April 1, 2009 at 2:22 PM  


I'm not too worried about his "attitude problem". Keep in mind, Cutler was adored by the previous staff and front office. He had bosses--that's who the coaches are for these guys, bosses--who thought both his performance and potential were off the chart. He thought he was in a perfect situation, with two great young wideouts, a great pass catching TE, a fanatic fan base, a great town, and great facilities. Then it's all pulled out from under him, and instead he gets a 32-year-old head coach who brooms everybody, and in a fit of Fauntleoryic pique, tries to move Cutler for a guy who hasn't been number one on his team's depth chart since the Clinton administration. Moreover, the coach lied about it, directly, multiple times.

It doesn't suprise me that he feels betrayed, or that he wants out. Maybe the right answer was to put his head down for two years and then play hardball when his contract came up.

My point is this: Elway decided to play baseball rather than be drafted by the Colts. Favre jerked around the Packers for years before pulling his regrettable bait-and-switch. John Elway and Brett Favre won truckloads of games, playoff games, and Super Bowl rings, and now walk like gods in Denver and Green Bay, respectively. Maybe Cutler is a big-ego guy, but the Hall of Fame is filled with guys who think they walk on water. This kid is a rock-solid stud, period, and if you can get a stud QB you get one, period.


Ty,  April 1, 2009 at 2:28 PM  


They're not getting an 'elite' QB AND two picks in exchange for an elite QB. If that's the price, he's not getting what he wants, period. I maintain that we have the most ammo to get this deal done, and whether Cutler comes to Detroit, or we get some other value as part of a three-way deal, I think the Lions and some combination of their first five picks will have to be involved to get the deal done . . . call it a hunch.


Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 2:28 PM  

I just dont see it...
They havent got the QB that makes the trade worthwhile for Denver? Thats why it was going to take a three team trade for them to even be in discussions of a trade for Cutty Mac. I dont know, I would give up my #20 MAYBE, and Or if it was the #1 they want I would give up a combination of #1 and our 3a pick for their #12 and Cutty Mac?


Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 2:34 PM  

sounds like maywand are sticking to their guns about building through the draft - which, to me, is the right move. we really can't afford to give up any more draft picks if they want to do that.

i dunno .. i've been back and forth on this and it sounds like stafford has impressed them enough to warrant being the first pick. not sure how i feel about that, guess we'll find out in the upcoming weeks when everything comes to a head.

if we can get jay w/o breaking the bank [slim to none chance that happens], i'd be ok with the trade.

from the sound of it, staf aced his 'test' yesterday and is now the front runner for the first pick in the draft if a better deal doesn't come along. not sure how i feel about that, to be quite honest. guess we'll just have to see.

Ty,  April 1, 2009 at 2:35 PM  


Thanks! That put a smile on my face. I try not to lay on the metaphors too thickly or too often, lest they become trite. But this is a space for me to let all my Lions-y ruminations out, and sometimes it's just gotta be a chess match or car wash or what have you.

OTOH, sometimes I have to frame stuff in a story just to keep it interesting! Three pages' worth of me thinking out loud doesn't do anybody any good.


Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 2:38 PM  

here's the latest article in this saga:

i could see this happening and, as long as the lions don't give up more than a few picks, i'd be ok with it.

Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 3:20 PM  

Ok, I still say we need these draft picks, jsut like my man said a couple posts above. BUILD THRU the draft. Dont give up a Mike Ditka trade for a Ricky Williams player(meaning so-so player with great ability, but inner demons) - LOL........

IF, and ONLY IF you can trade the #20 to Cleveland, for Quinn, then trade Quinn and the #33, or somethin and get Cutler, and/or their #12.....

Ty,  April 1, 2009 at 3:28 PM  


The 1.20 won't be nearly enough to get Cutler in the door. We're talking about a Pro Bowl quarterback who's really not even in his prime yet. Guys like this just don't hit the open market. If we got the 1.20 and 3.20 for Roy Williams and and a 6th/7th swap, there's no way we pick up Jay Cutler for just a 1.20.

If that's too rich for your blood, then so be it, but getting a chance to acquire a player like this just doesn't happen.


Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 3:44 PM  

Well, sure I wouldnt expect to get Cutler for JUST the #20 pick. BUT, I wouldnt give up 3 picks for him, as is being mentioned in the Denver Post today, and I wouldnt give up the world to get Quinn, to trade him for Cutler, as being mentioned in the Cleveland Plain today?

I would give up #20, and the #20 in the third round, sure. This is a Pro Bowl QB, who's value has now plummeted because the team admits their F'd and have to rid themselves of him. Who's value has also been decimated each day that he is made out to be a whiny, cry baby.

I dont know, I would give up #1 if it meant I am also getting Browns pick, or Broncos pick, in round one?

Ty,  April 1, 2009 at 3:48 PM  

To all RE: 'building through the draft'. Building through the draft is awesome. However, if you could start with a blank roster and magically held the first 32 picks, you'd go into camp with 32 rookies, and maybe five of them would walk in as impact players. Ten would start to come on in a season or two, and the rest will never be productive starters. As vessels of potential, it's great to love, cherish, and wax eloquent about draft picks. Still, those draft picks have to become productive players if your franchise is ever going to succeed. I don't see the problem with trading picks to secure proven players, within reason. We have so many that our biggest needs should still be addressed, even if one or two of the top five are traded away.


Ty,  April 1, 2009 at 3:49 PM  

Everyone, please disregar the 17 different tense disagreements in the third sentence there. Thanks.


Anonymous,  April 1, 2009 at 8:35 PM  

Oh well, sounds like The Yankees of the NFL will end up getting Cutler.

David M,  April 1, 2009 at 9:54 PM  

Hey Ty,
I shot you an email just now about some ideas I have. Im just giving you a heads up in case you have a spam filter enabled.

Square,  April 2, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

I'd give up both first rounders for Cutler. Maybe it's too rich for some people but getting a difference maker at QB will dramatically improve this team over the years. We can always pick up more D lineman / LBS in next years draft. You don't get a shot at a top 10 QB very often (no matter where you draft from).

Anonymous,  April 2, 2009 at 10:03 AM  

I must admit, I have changed my stance a bit since I first threw my two cents in on this subject of Cutler. I now believe, Mayhew has a shot to change the Lions with a single player. I would trade our #1 our #20, and our 3rd Round #20, for their #12, and Cutty MAc!


Ty,  April 2, 2009 at 11:06 AM  


I got your email; a reply is en route to your mailbox now.


Ty,  April 2, 2009 at 11:08 AM  


Yeah, I think the Redskins are going to pull this off. Yet again, some NFL team is going to spend $200M in one offeseason in a league where there is a $100M salary cap. Don't ask me how.


Ty,  April 2, 2009 at 11:12 AM  


I'd agree, except that I really think we have to get an immediate starter at MLB out of this draft. Whether that's Curry at 1.1, Maualuga or Laurenitis at 1.20, or (with luck) Laurenitis at 2.1, that's all fine. But, I don't think we can go into the draft with no first-rounders and just pray Laurenitis falls. Yes, a difference-making QB is crucial, and I would give up a lot for one. But to come out of this draft with only, say, Clay Matthews III and a third-round DT would leave the defense not any better against the run than it was last season . . . almost unthinkable given how rotten the Lions defense was against the run last year, and how high of a priority it's supposed to be for the new regime.


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