JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Broncos guard Chris Kuper remembers sitting in his living room five years ago and texting Jay Cutler, wondering if the rumors were true: that the quarterback wanted to be traded from Denver.
“I think he ultimately wanted to stay here,” Kuper said Wednesday. “But he said there were so many he said/she saids that it’s hard to decipher what was real and what wasn’t.”
Cutler, discouraged that coach Josh McDaniels had discussed acquiring Matt Cassel, requested a trade.
He was dealt to the Bears on April 2, 2009.
“The last guy you’d think would be sent off woulda been Jay,” Kuper said. “He’s the quarterback — and you just don’t find quarterbacks like that.
“You just can’t trade ’em out.”
If Cutler hadn’t been shipped out, the Broncos, stuck with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow at the controls, might not have parted with their coach, general manager or star wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Peyton Manning, however, might never have arrived.
It’s a compelling Chicago parlor game, even before you consider the Broncos used the Bears’ draft picks to eventually land defensive end Robert Ayers and, more important, wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
If Cutler stays in Denver, does Marshall?
Are the Broncos here this week, preparing to play the Seahawks in the Super Bowl?
“It’s almost like they got rid of the whole offense,” said kicker Matt Prater, one of four active Broncos to play in the team’s Cutler era.
“But it’s in the past — and now it’s worked out for the best.”
Kuper — selected in 2006, along with Cutler, Marshall, tight end Tony Scheffler and defensive end Elvis Dumervil — figured the Broncos’ Super Bowl trip would come with that core group.
Prater thought Cutler would lead them.
“It’s definitely always a shock,” he said, “when your franchise quarterback gets traded.”
The deal netted the Broncos Orton, two first-round picks and a third-rounder (they gave the Bears a fifth-round pick), and altered the direction of both franchises.
“We were a pretty tight group,” Kuper said. “At that time, we thought we had a young core of really good players on offense, and we were starting to scratch the surface there.
“So it was kinda devastating when our group got blown up a little bit.”
The Broncos went 8-8 in 2009, with Orton starting all but one game.
Marshall was traded to the Dolphins during the offseason — about a year after the Cutler deal — and would later rejoin his friend on the Bears in 2012.
“Brandon Marshall was traded for two second-round picks?” Prater said, still indignant.
A 4-12 record in 2010 got McDaniels fired.
“It was a learning experience for the four guys that are still here,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “It was a challenge for all of us to continue to be better pros.
“We had a lot of losing seasons there.
“We learned how to appreciate the wins a lot more and continue to fight harder to try to win.”
The next year brought Tebow Mania, an 8-8 regular season and a playoff berth that belied the fact the Broncos were outscored during the season by 81.
Then Manning signed.
They’ve gone 26-6 in the regular season since, losing in last season’s divisional round and making this season’s Super Bowl.
“I mean, that’s the reason you get a guy like that on your team — to give you chances to win games like this,” said cornerback Champ Bailey, another Cutler Era holdover. “He’s the best to ever do it.
“I haven’t played against a better quarterback, so I’m just glad he’s part of our organization now — because he definitely has a big part of why we’re here.
“And I love him to death.”
Kuper said he “didn’t think we were going to get to the Super Bowl as soon as we did,” even in a quarterback’s league.
“Peyton gets in here and transforms our whole team,” he said. “He took over at quarterback, took over the offense.”
Some Broncos see traces of Cutler in the game’s most famous player.
“When you have quarterbacks like Jay and Peyton, they don’t make too many mistakes,” Prater said, though Bears fans might disagree.
Kuper liked teaming with both quarterbacks — “I enjoyed Jay’s demeanor; he was very constant with his emotions,” he said — and sees one similarity.
“They’re very competitive,” he said.
Only one, though, has something to play for this week.