Are we seeing chinks in Mr. Bronco’s armor?
It’s been an interesting couple of years for the Broncos main man. Since assembling the greatest offensive team in league history, losing to Seattle in Super Bowl 48 then turning it around, shifting focus to defense and winning SB50, the returns haven’t been quite as great.
Elway missed badly on Paxton Lynch. He misread his locker room and fanbase in releasing T.J. Ward. He brought in Mark Sanchez, he let Denver play for two seasons with Trevor Siemian at the helm. He presided over expectations that forced Gary Kubiak to step down. He sent a letter of recommendation for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Denver Broncos letterhead. He brought Brock Osweiler back. He let Wade Phillips go prematurely, Vance Joseph and Joe Woods could have benefitted greatly from someone of Phillips’ pedigree in transition.
Most visibly and back in the news this week due to comments from Elway, he’s now twice botched the “Colin Kaepernick thing”.
First, I’ll ask you to test the limits of your memory and remember all the way back to the summer after Denver’s Super Bowl victory.
So, you know, 2016.
Three big things were happening simultaneously; Peyton Manning retired, Brock Osweiler agreed to a free-agent contract with Houston and Von Miller was looking for a contract extension. Fresh off a Super Bowl 50 MVP performance, Von was rightfully set to break the bank. Miller’s impending huge contract put incredible pressure on Denver financially as they were still in need of a starting quarterback.
Enter Colin Kaepernick, estranged Niners quarterback and recent Super Bowl participant. Denver had the framework of a trade worked out with San Francisco to acquire Kaepernick but the paramaters of that deal required Colin take a $7 million pay cut off his $16.5 million salary. That’s asking a professional player, in the middle of his career to take half the money he’s valued at to play for a team in transition with an offensive line that nearly got Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler killed in 2015. That’s a tough sell for anyone, much less a man that had played in back-to-back NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl before being slowed by a knee injury.
Kaepernick declined the pay cut and the trade was scrapped.
Kaepernick’s 16-4 TD to INT ratio and 90.7 QBR in his 11 games for the Niners in 2016 are superior to anything a Denver QB has put up since. The notion that Colin couldn’t still perform at an NFL level is unfounded.
The issue had largely passed Denver by but with the need for a QB2 resurfacing, Broncos fans and reporters again questioned why CK was not on Denver’s radar.
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In response, John Elway claimed that Colin Kaepernick had already had his chance to join the Broncos, he declined and because of that, would not be considered if the team were to search for a veteran backup. His “chance” was the insulting contract offer in the trade mentioned above.
Where this leaves us is with the thought that one of two things is happening here:
First, John wants people that bleed Orange and Blue and anyone that’s refused that is dead to him. A fine notion and one that fans love, proclaiming that a requirement for Broncos players is to really “want” to be a Bronco. I’d like to point out that really wanting to be a Bronco didn’t pan out so well for Trevor Siemian, TJ Ward, CJ Anderson or Aqib Talib. Wanting to be a Bronco isn’t going to be enough to save Lynch.
If the contention is that we don’t bring in guys that rejected us previously, we can point to Osweiler, who had plenty to say on his way out the door in ’16 but was brought back in ’17.
Second and far more nefarious is the idea that John Elway is letting personal politics guide his management of the Denver Broncos. If character matters, it’s worth noting that Von Miller, the highest paid defensive player in the NFL was suspended six games by the NFL for substance abuse. Denver just signed linebacker AJ Johnson, who has spent the last three years battling rape allegations, of which he was exonerated. Adam Gotsis just had his own sexual assault charges dropped recently. Matt Russell, team executive was suspended by the Broncos before last season for drunken, public shenanigans.
Denver clearly isn’t adverse to hiring players with checkered pasts or even ongoing legal issues. The message appears to be that assault and substance abuse are acceptable but conspicuous protest is not. It’s hard not to feel that’s politically motivated.
Fans and even Elway himself seem to overvalue the Bronco experience. Playing for Elway may not be precisely the privilege he believes it to be and that ego can drive decisions that hurt the Broncos.
The Denver Broncos are bigger than any individual. The 1977 Super Bowl team had different ownership, coaching and players. They played at a different stadium. They were still Broncos and that relationship with the city will endure Bowlen, Elway and anything else attached to the current regime. Anyone lucky enough to work for the Broncos needs to keep that in mind. The tradition that Pat Bowlen fostered in Denver will endure long after he is gone. He knows that.