The Denver Broncos: 5 years of irrelevance

%28Graphic+illustration+by+Elliot+Stemen+%7C+The+Collegian%29

(Graphic illustration by Elliot Stemen | The Collegian)

Chase Hontz

Editor’s Note: This is opinion based content that reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

On Feb. 7, 2016, the Denver Broncos secured their third Super Bowl victory in franchise history. They did so with a defense-oriented team led by Von Miller, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning (a shell of himself at that point) and coached by Gary Kubiak.

Since that day, the Broncos have an overall combined record of 38-54 with no playoff appearances. In the nearly six-year stretch since the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 victory, the organization has featured a series of revolving-doors at its most important positions.

In the aftermath of Manning’s post-Super Bowl retirement, the franchise has started each of the last five seasons with a different starting quarterback. Similarly, following Kubiak’s resignation within a year of the Super Bowl victory, the Broncos have already hired two different head coaches and seem destined to move on to a third after the 2021 season.

John Elway, the Pro Football Hall of Famer Broncos’ quarterback and architect of the Super Bowl 50 team, stepped down from his role as general manager at the end of the 2020 season. As the final nail in the coffin, the team traded defensive superstar and Super Bowl 50 MVP Miller to the Los Angeles Rams just over a month ago.

Needless to say, Super Bowl 50 feels like a lifetime ago for Broncos fans. So how did the franchise descend so quickly into perennial irrelevance? More importantly, what is the quickest and most feasible solution to breathe life back into the once-proud organization?

Darrell Blair, a professor in Colorado State University’s College of Liberal Arts as well as a former Broncos reporter for the Coloradoan from 1996-2004, discussed the woeful state of the post-Super Bowl 50 Broncos.

“For whatever reason, Denver has not found a solution at head coach since SB 50,” Blair said. “And that lack of a consistent presence within the organization creates uncertainty at all levels. Lots of teams feel pressure to make changes from the fanbase following a disastrous season (or two). But if the right head coach remains in place, the ownership can confidently back the coaching staff and await positive outcomes. Overall, I see the coaching carousel as the biggest hindrance to the Broncos since SB 50.”

While it is indisputable that the lack of consistency at the head coaching position has proven to be a massive issue for the Broncos organization since Kubiak’s departure, the franchise’s continuously failed attempts at identifying franchise quarterbacks has arguably acted as an even bigger contributor to the team’s downfall. In today’s pass-happy NFL, teams go only as far as their quarterbacks are able to take them.

The Broncos are in an extremely unique position. They can shoot immediately back into contention as soon as next year with a single acquisition.”

“Denver certainly has tried to find a replacement for Peyton Manning,” Blair said. “The list of replacement QBs runs about as long as the Colorado River, but again, no long-term solution to date. And it seems for whatever reason, the Broncos remain fated to this pattern. No quarterback Denver has drafted ever led any team to a Super Bowl. Not one.”

While it is mind-boggling that an organization with three Super Bowl titles has never won with a quarterback they’ve drafted, such a bizarre history should not and cannot discourage the Broncos from allocating resources to the quarterback position.

It appears as though the franchise has become infatuated with replicating the team-building recipe that won them Super Bowl 50. Whether it is hiring two straight defensive-minded coaches, signing journeyman quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco) or emphasizing both defense and offensive skill positions over quarterback in the draft, the Broncos seem insistent on the belief that they can still win a title with an average quarterback that is carried by an elite defense and skill players.

This assertion on the part of the Broncos is entirely misguided. The previous four Super Bowl winning teams were all led by elite quarterback play. Two were won by Tom Brady, in my opinion the greatest quarterback of all time, and the other two were won by Patrick Mahomes II and Nick Foles. Mahomes is already considered to be a surefire hall-of-famer, and Foles had one of the best stretch of games ever played by a quarterback in the 2018 playoffs.

An excellent defense and surrounding cast is certainly necessary to win a Super Bowl, but teams can no longer reach the pinnacle of the sports world with mediocrity at the quarterback position. As such, the Broncos front office must abandon its obsession with re-creating the past and instead look to the future.

Despite five years of complete neglect of the quarterback position, the Broncos might be able to luck out this coming offseason. By all accounts, it appears that either Russell Wilson and/or Aaron Rodgers will be available via trade this offseason

Having seemingly focused on all aspects of the team other than the quarterback position, the Broncos already have a stout defense and talented surrounding offensive cast in place. Considering this, the Broncos can erase all their mistakes over the past five years by doing whatever it takes to bring in one of the two hall of fame quarterbacks.

It is nearly unprecedented that one such hall of fame quarterback, let alone two, is available in a given offseason. The Broncos are in an extremely unique position. They can shoot immediately back into contention as soon as next year with a single acquisition.

As for finding a head coach to pair with either Wilson or Rodgers, options are less clear. Fortunately for the team, things seem to figure themselves out once the quarterback position is solidified. Good head coaches are not nearly as difficult to find as elite quarterbacks.

In reference to the coaching search the Broncos will likely find themselves in this offseason, Blair said, “The path forward for Denver: Find a coach loveable by both ownership and front office personnel whose players love him and who is hopefully a young wizard (and not named Josh McDaniels).”

Blair went on to say, “Ted Lasso, how about a return to coaching American football? Denver needs you.”

Reach Chase Hontz at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @HontzCollegian.