Before this year’s selection of Robert Griffin III, Cutler was the last quarterback drafted by Shanahan. Back in 2006, Shanahan and the Denver Broncos moved up in the draft to take Cutler out of Vanderbilt with the 11th overall pick.
The Broncos were coming off a 2005 campaign in which Jake Plummer won 10 straight games as starting quarterback, but had a disappointing performance in the AFC Championship. Denver sent the 15th and 68th overall picks to the St. Louis Rams to secure the 11th choice.
“We had a guy that took us to the AFC Championship Game and beat a team that had won 10 straight playoff games,” Shanahan recalled this week. “We weren’t in position really to make that change right then but had an opportunity to get a quarterback that I thought was a difference-maker. I think Jay is that type of guy.”
The move came as a surprise to many because of the previous season’s success, and because Shanahan and the Broncos never interviewed Cutler leading up to the draft. Instead, Shanahan had good friend Jeff Fisher – then coach of the Tennessee Titans – interview Cutler for him, and give him his impressions.
Ironically, Fisher now coaches the Rams, and it was St. Louis’s No. 2 overall pick that Washington secured in a trade in order to draft Griffin.
Shanahan was fired by Denver following an 8-8 campaign in 2008, and during the same offseason, Cutler was traded to Chicago. Shanahan said that he and Cutler have remained close.
“We talk about Chicago and the type of offense he’s running. We go back and talk about some of the players [in Denver], because Jay’s first year was really good,” Shanahan said. “He was first in the AFC in offense and second in the NFL, plus we had a young football team. We talk about the guys who were traded or moved to other football teams. We had a chance to talk at a fundraiser, play a little golf and have dinner together.”
Saturday’s game features some other familiar faces. Cutler’s backup is former Redskins’ starter Jason Campbell, whom Shanahan traded to Oakland shortly after he took over in Washington in 2010. The game also marks the return to the Windy City of Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, who spent last season with the Bears.