Failure to land Jay Cutler altered direction of Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. -- The direction of the Washington Redskins' franchise shifted in a five-minute span in 2009. They went from thinking they had a quarterback, for now and the future, to continuing a long quest to find one.

They were minutes away from landing Jay Cutler; then the Chicago Bears beat them out.

"It was disappointing," former Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said. "You know how much time I put into that? A lot. Months. Dan [Snyder] put in a lot, too. It was disappointing because at times we thought we had a deal then they called and said, no. Then they called back and said, 'Hold on. If the deal falls through, we'll trade him to you.' Then it was like, 'No, it didn't work.'"

Indeed, on the day the Denver Broncos traded Cutler to Chicago, one source heavily involved in the discussions called me around 2 p.m. and said the Redskins were out -- but it's not yet official. Fifteen minutes later he called back and said the Redskins were about to get him. Then no call. In the end, Chicago upped its offer and the Broncos preferred Kyle Orton to Jason Campbell, therefore completing the deal.

And, thus, the directions of two teams were altered. But it's not as if Cutler has solved every issue for Chicago. The Bears are on their third head coach since trading for Cutler. And Cutler's playing in his fifth offensive system.

It's impossible to know how it would have turned out for Washington had the trade gone differently. But there's little doubt the Redskins would look a lot different today. Considering Mike Shanahan was fired from Denver after the 2008 season, there's an excellent chance he would have been hired shortly after the April trade. The Redskins' research on Cutler included numerous conversations with Shanahan. And Cutler had just made the Pro Bowl in 2008, his third with Shanahan.

Redskins broadcaster and former tight end Chris Cooley said a lot would have depended on how the relationship between Shanahan and Cutler evolved.

But, Cooley said, "He would function really well in that offense here. It's been the one thing lacking in terms of us building as an organization."

It's an issue because the Redskins haven't yet resolved their quarterback situation. Since missing out on Cutler, they've started Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.

They traded two picks for McNabb. They also gave up two first-rounders and a second-rounder in addition to swapping first-rounders to get Griffin. The also drafted Kirk Cousins.

"Imagine Cutler with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and a good run game," Cerrato said. "It would have been totally different. People may disagree, but Cutler played well for Mike. Mike would probably still be there and probably have won a couple [of] division titles. It would have been so much better for Mike and Kyle [Shanahan] with Cutler there. They could have run their offense with a quarterback who bought in."

The sentiment about Shanahan still being here was shared by others.

To get Cutler, the Redskins would have traded a first-round pick and a fourth-rounder in addition to quarterback Campbell. But they would not have needed to spend seven draft choices during the next three seasons to try and find a quarterback. Chances are, however, they would have used another pick on a backup quarterback so it's possible that Cousins, or someone else, still would have been selected.

And it means they would have been in better position to help themselves despite the salary cap penalties, announced shortly after the 2012 trade with the St. Louis Rams. The penalties still would have hurt their ability to acquire veteran talent, but they still would have had their first-round picks in 2013 and '14.

"The defense still would have been an issue," said one former general manager, who was not a fan of former coordinator Jim Haslett.

Then again, they could have devoted more resources to finding and developing young defensive talent.

"How would fans have perceived Cutler here?" Cooley said. "How would he have been if they hadn't won here?"

The Redskins won a division title in 2012 with Griffin. And the speculation about the direction of the franchise could be done through Griffin's injury and, according to numerous coaches, his reluctance to grow with a zone-read system (Griffin has said he would have played any style).

Regardless, since failing to pull off that trade, the Redskins have finished one season with less than double-digit losses. There's no guarantee they have their quarterback of the future in Cousins, either.

It's truly impossible to know what would have happened.

"Mike knew him and what made him tick," Cerrato said. "It would have given the organization a shot in the arm. Some like him and some don't, but he'd have played his best football because of the way he is with Mike ... It was like a punch in the gut."