The Denver Broncos (Re)Building Inspector
On February 7, 2016, confetti poured from above the bleachers as the Denver Broncos celebrated their last Super Bowl victory. Peyton Manning walked away from the game a living legend, and John Elway cemented his legacy as both a championship quarterback, as well as a general manager.
The following summer, long after the confetti was swept away, Denver gave John Elway a 5-year/$30 million extension while proclaiming, In John we trust. And why not? Elway was the architect that replaced Tim Tebow with Peyton Manning, dismissed coach John Fox after a 12-4 Super Bowl appearance season, designed a championship team, and his every move seemed to turn gold.
Elway orchestrated by instinct, bravado, and with unapologetic expertise. As Elway once famously said, “Plan B? I don’t have a plan B. We’re going with plan A.”
Losing the Midas Touch can happen to anyone. A first-round quarterback can miss, a coaching change can backfire, heck, even a virus can come and wipe out all your starting quarterbacks for a game.
A look at the architectural design known as the Bronco rebuild.
Quarterback – Let’s forget about Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Disregard Case Keenum and Joe Flacco. Put aside that the organization passed on Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. The Bronco future must be in good hands with Drew Lock. Right? Talented arm strength, good size, and speed, a bargain in the second round, what’s not to like? Besides his touchdown to interception ratio (9 TDs/13 INTs), his winning percentage (.333), and the fact that he’s already missed time due to rib, thumb, and shoulder injuries.
Running Back – The blueprints at running back seem a little confusing. The Broncos draft DeVonte Booker (2016), replace him with Royce Freeman (2018), end up finding an undrafted Pro-Bowler in Phillip Lindsay (2018), and then end up paying $8 million-a-year for Melvin Gordon (2020) to split carries with him?
Offensive Line – The construction plan for this project was relatively simple. Draft a few young guys like Garett Boles (2017), Dalton Risner (2019), and Lloyd Cushenberry (2020) to fill the left side. Pay millions of dollars to Graham Glascow ($11 million-a-year) and Ja’Waun James ($13 million-a-year) to secure the right. Hire a consultant/coach like Mike Munchak to oversee operations, and voila. You end up with an expensive payroll, an opt-out, a 4-8 record, and ironically, a player in Boles that finally stopped holding long enough to sign a 4-year/$68 million contract to stay in Denver.
Defense – Is it scarier that Von Miller and Jurrell Casey combine for $37 million worth of defensive players that don’t play on Sundays. Or that A.J. Bouye makes $13 million and starts. I wouldn’t say things are dire but, Justin Simmons needs a contract, your leading tackler is some guy named Alexander Johnson, and the Raiders beat you 37-12.
Coaching – Besides Vance Joseph, Rich Scangarello, Pat Shurmur, Mike McCoy, Gary Kubiak, Joe Woods, Bill Musgrave, Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell, Rick Dennison, and a few hundred others, the coaching position doesn’t seem to be an area of much concern. As a matter of fact, since winning the Super Bowl the only coaching staff still around today include a handful of line coaches, a strength and conditioning guy, and a general manager named John Elway.
Free Agency – Building through free agency hasn’t quite been the ROI (return on investment) that Elway had hoped for. Back in 2014, Elway signed DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, TJ Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders. But during the rebuild era, those names have turned into Ronald Leary, Ju’Wuan James, and Menelik Watson.
The Draft – Drafting quarterback Paxton Lynch in the first round (2016) should have been a warning shot. In 2017, Elway selected wide receiver Carlos Henderson in the third round. In 2018, Denver passed on quarterbacks Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Last season, Elway used both his first and second-round picks for receivers. But despite the Broncos inability to win football games, the team fails to lose enough games to secure a quality pick. Denver is projected to have the 11th pick in the draft in 2021.
It has been said that Culture is defined and created by the top-down, but it comes to life from the bottom up.
After a rebuild that includes three head coaches, six offensive coordinators, nine starting quarterbacks, and what looks to be four straight losing seasons, I raise my glass…
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