Here are six potential trade partners and what type of compensation could be in the offing for a fourth-year quarterback coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance:
Detroit: It would require a bold move, but the Lions might be able to seal this deal by offering the top overall selection in April's draft. Detroit would acquire a proven commodity who would greatly accelerate the rebuilding process after an 0-16 season. The Lions would still have another first-round pick (No. 20) from last season's trade of wide receiver Roy Williams to Dallas.
Denver could then use either the top pick or its own first-round choice (No. 12 overall) on a quarterback McDaniels can mold a la Cassel in New England. Georgia's Matt Stafford, Southern California's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman are considered the draft's top three prospects.
Tampa Bay: The Bucs were in the market for Cutler in February as part of what would have been a three-way trade with Denver and New England. Tampa Bay's interest should be piqued once again. A package of picks that include the No. 19 overall selection is the likely compensation. Tossing a young interior offensive lineman like Arron Sears or Jeremy Zuttah into the mix would sweeten the pot.
New York Jets: Cutler would fill the void created by Brett Favre's retirement. Speaking of which, Favre and Cutler have the same agent. Bus Cook is adept at behind-the-scenes negotiations and would be wise to try and maneuver Cutler to a team that would become a legitimate Super Bowl contender with his arrival. Like with Tampa Bay, the Jets would have to offer their first-round pick (No. 17 overall) and other considerations.
San Francisco: As evidenced by the unsuccessful free-agent dalliance with Arizona's Kurt Warner, new 49ers head coach Mike Singletary isn't fully committed to Shaun Hill as his starting quarterback. The 49ers have the No. 10 overall selection, which would put Denver in striking distance for any quarterbacks that begin to slide. The Broncos also could demand one of San Francisco's outside linebackers (Parys Haralson or Manny Lawson) to seal the deal. Denver is shifting to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Mike Nolan, who coached both players in San Francisco the past three seasons.
Carolina: The Broncos made a blockbuster trade earlier this decade when they sent running back Clinton Portis to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey. Why not consider doing the same with a Cutler-for-Julius Peppers swap? Peppers has said he wants out of Carolina and the chance to switch from defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Broncos could demand current starter Jake Delhomme or promising backup Matt Moore as part of the deal. One caveat: Denver would have to be willing to offer Peppers a mountain-sized contract extension. He is currently slated to earn $16.6 million for 2009 as Carolina's franchise player.
Chicago: Kyle Orton didn't solidify himself as a long-term answer in 2008. Cutler is a strong-armed thrower who could still thrive in Chicago's rough weather conditions. The Bears have eschewed free-agent signings this offseason while planning to build through the draft. But for a team that hasn't fielded a Pro Bowl quarterback since Jim McMahon in 1985, a talent like Cutler could be too tempting to pass on. The Bears have the 18th pick of the first round.