It’s been a long season for Broncos fans. Less than two years removed from watching our team win its third Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium, it’s become a chore to even sit through an entire game. Vance Joseph was adamant in his belief before the season that these Broncos weren’t broken and just needed a reboot, not an entire rebuild. As loss after loss has piled up, it’s abundantly clear that he couldn’t have been more wrong in his assertion.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Outside of a few early wins, the Broncos are in the midst of their longest stretch of futility since Josh McDaniels was fist-pumping and screaming at players on the sideline. They’ve already matched their worst losing streak in 50 years and are almost assured to finish the season near the bottom of the league. There is a silver lining that comes with that (you know, embrace the tank!), but while having a good draft pick will be nice, writing these recaps every week has become rather depressing. Watching the Broncos most recent display of vomit-inducing football is bad enough without having to relive it again.
Then this morning, Scotty Payne of Mile High Report posted an article about how the Broncos can reset their organization and get back to their winning ways, which inspired me to more or less do the same thing for my weekly recap. It sounded like a lot more fun than revisiting the rampant ugliness that is Broncos football.
I’ll offer some of my own thoughts on a few of Scotty’s ideas (hopefully he doesn’t unfollow me on Twitter) and present some that I’ve seen from a couple other guys in the Denver media (or “local bloggers,” as Mike Klis would call them). They are good ideas and they need to be shared as much as possible.
1. Appoint Beth Bowlen as the new owner of the team
Three years ago, when Pat Bowlen sadly had to step away from the Broncos due to his ongoing battle with Alzheimer’s disease, ownership of his franchise was placed into a trust. Team president Joe Ellis assumed control until he and the other two members of that trust could determine which of Pat’s seven children would inherit ownership of the Broncos, per Pat’s wishes. That obviously still hasn’t taken place yet and it’s long past time for it to happen, but who should the new owner be?
Meet Beth Bowlen Wallace, Pat’s second oldest daughter with his ex-wife Sally Parker and a perfectly good candidate to take over the Broncos. Like her father, Beth has a law degree from the University of Denver, which she earned in 2016 after spending time as the team’s director of special projects and events. She is active in the community and by all accounts has a lot of the same qualities that her dad was famous for. Darren “D-Mac” McKee of 104.3 the Fan has been pounding the drum for Beth to be the new owner, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.
These types of things are always complicated, but I believe that Beth would honor Pat’s legacy and be the best possible choice to lead the Broncos for the foreseeable future. I don’t know when (or if) that will actually come to pass. I just know that it should, and as soon as possible.
2. Clean house in the front office, but keep John Elway
Of course, new owner or not, there are some more immediate changes that the Broncos need to make if they want to properly rebuild their team. It starts in the front office, which has made some questionable acquisitions in the past few years, particularly when it comes to the draft. I stand by my opinion that Elway shouldn’t be fired for the team’s recent failings, but he most certainly needs to shake up the staff around him.
Get rid of Matt Russell and Tom Heckert. May as well show every other scout and personnel guy the door while you’re at it. Bring in some new people with some fresh ideas, but more importantly Elway needs to surround himself with minds that don’t always think the way that he does. There should be an emphasis on finding people that aren’t afraid to challenge him or present different ways of evaluating talent in the draft, because clearly the process that the current staff has been following isn’t working for the Broncos. You can’t win from now on if you don’t hit on your draft picks.
3. Fire Vance Joseph and get a new head coach
I think we’ve all seen enough of Vance to know that he’s probably never going to make it as head coach here in Denver. Let him finish out the season, then admit that it’s just not a good fit and pull the plug. Elway and his (hopefully new) personnel guys can let the new coach decide what to do with the rest of the current staff before conducting their search. This has been happening way too often in Broncos Country the past six years, but I just don’t see how another season with Vance would do this team any good.
Your guess is as good as mine on who the next coach should be. Jim Harbaugh is a pipe dream. Retreads who have already been fired once as a head coach probably won’t cut it either. However, WHO would be a lot less important in this search than WHAT, as in what does this man bring to the table that the Broncos current head coach doesn’t have? Probably everything, but for example Vance was hired because he was a “leader of men” who could bring his team together and keep them headed in the right direction, despite the fact that he wasn’t a great X’s and O’s guy. That clearly hasn’t worked at all for the Broncos, so maybe this time go for a coach who knows his shit when it comes to X’s and O’s and has a lot of accomplishments on his resume. A guy like Matt LaFleur comes to mind.
Right, just who in the hell is Matt LaFleur? I first learned of him on Benjamin Allbright’s Twitter (you know, the most famous “local blogger”), off of a retweet from Bears Daily. LaFleur, the offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, has spent time as quarterbacks coach with the Redskins from 2010-2013 (including the one year RGIII was actually good), with Notre Dame in 2014 (when the Irish went 8-5 and Everett Golson threw 29 touchdown passes) and with the Falcons from 2015-2016 (which includes Matt Ryan’s MVP season). Sure, some of these accolades are more commonly attributed to Kyle Shanahan, but quarterbacks under LaFleur’s watch have thrived pretty much everywhere he’s been. Oh yeah, Jared Goff and those Rams are also doing pretty damn well this year, if you haven’t noticed.
It doesn’t have to be LaFleur necessarily, but that’s the kind of coach the Broncos should be looking for to replace Vance. Someone who has been successful in a variety of places and who always seems to get his players to perform at a high level. That may seem like a “no duh” perspective to have, but common sense has largely eluded the Broncos since they won Super Bowl 50. It would be best for them to get back to that.
4. Sign Kirk Cousins
If you didn’t take the time to read Scotty’s article (and seriously, what are you waiting for?), he brought up the idea of the Broncos pursuing Cousins in free agency next year. That’s something that I was previously lukewarm towards, mainly because Cousins is going to command a hefty price tag and is someone I view as a good, not great quarterback. However, good quarterback play is something we haven’t had around here since the first half of 2014, so let’s just say I’m warming up to the idea.
Another reason I’m rethinking my position on Cousins is because Elway had his most success as GM of the Broncos when he had an established quarterback to build around. Cousins is no Peyton Manning, but he would still be an alluring bargaining chip when other players are considering the Broncos. With Cousins in the fold, Elway could use the teams top picks on other positions of need (more on that here briefly) and it would help him secure the type of free agents he has missed on since Peyton retired (Calais Campbell, anyone?).
Furthermore, it’s possible that Cousins is actually pretty darn good. He has managed to lead the Redskins to a near .500 record this season, despite them being near the top of the league with players on IR and the fact that… well, they’re the Redskins. Cousins is certainly better than any of the Broncos’ current quarterbacks and he’ll only be 30 to start next season, which means that he should have many productive years ahead of him. In order to maximize the prime years of guys like Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr., that alone could make the investment worth it.
5. Draft Connor Williams or Saquon Barkley in the first round and Baker Mayfield in the second (if there’s no Kirk Cousins)
This of course will all depend on who is assembling the Broncos’ draft board and whether or not they learn from their past mistakes, but assuming they have, then I recommend going for a high impact player on offense with the first pick, and not a quarterback. The struggles of the offensive line are no secret and Williams would go a long way towards solving the Broncos’ longstanding issue at right tackle. Like Garrett Bolles, Williams is also a left tackle, but most elite pass rushers line up against the right tackle anyway. You need two good tackles to keep your quarterback upright, so draft Williams, pair him with Bolles and then figure out who plays where later.
Barkley is another option that Scotty pointed out, and there’s no question that the offense is in desperate need of more playmakers. Going running back early is not as popular as it used to be, but it’s worth it if Barkley can make the same kind of difference here that he did at Penn State. As for Mayfield, I get that he’s a little on the short side and can be a little fiery. He’s also been lighting up just about every defense that he’s gone against this season, so I don’t care if he’s a crabby little guy. If Benjamin Allbright can be trusted, and it seems like he’s right a lot more often than he’s wrong, then Mayfield is the quarterback you want in this draft. It’s even more appealing since the Broncos can probably get him in the second round or by trading up to the end of the first, because teams are stupid and have a bias for quarterbacks based on their height.
And there are many more things the Broncos will need to do to build themselves back up into contenders. Tight end and middle linebacker remain serious problems. Existing contracts would need to be juggled or removed. It’s not as easy as doing these five things and then everything is wonderful again, but I would like to see all of them happen. Whether you agree or not, I think we all know that some changes have to be made after this disaster of a season.
Next week’s game: Dolphins 23, Broncos 13
Oh shit, there are still games left this season! I get that those who are embracing the tank are afraid that Trevor Siemian starting again will ruin the Broncos’ chances at getting a top draft pick, but Trevor had lost three straight games when he was benched, including one to the now two-win New York Giants (who can apparently only beat AFC West teams). Then you factor in all the guys who are out on defense, including Aqib Talib getting suspended for snatching another one of Michael Crabtree’s chains or Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko getting injured, and the fact that whether the Broncos are good or bad, they usually struggle mightily to win games down in Florida.
Most importantly, I still don’t believe the Broncos can beat anyone right now, including the mediocre Dolphins. The Broncos are probably heading for a top pick no matter which one of their crappy quarterbacks winds up playing.