In professional sports, teams go through two main phases; championship mode and rebuild mode, both of which offer a sense of optimism for fans. There is nothing more exciting than having a team year in, year out compete for a Super Bowl. However, having a team rebuilding with lots of young, up-and-coming talent in a “trust the process” mode, also galvanizes a fanbase. However, what does not excite a fanbase is a team in the middle ground, between chasing a ring and rebuilding. Are the Denver Broncos in this awkward middle ground?
The 2019 Denver Broncos: Rebuild or Ring?
Just a few years ago, the Broncos were among the cream of the crop of the NFL. But when a team signs an aging quarterback with only a few years left in his career, that championship window is bound to be small. However, what came along with Peyton Manning were other veteran players, and a decreased emphasis on developing younger players for the coming years, post-Peyton. The Broncos signed Aqib Talib, T.J Ward, Darian Stewart, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders, all terrific signings. But, with the exception of Sanders, these were not players that would be able to help the Broncos continue to win after Peyton left.
So this brings the obvious question. If the Broncos championship window effectively closed once Peyton left, why aren’t they rebuilding? Well, it is a tough sell to players like Von Miller, Chris Harris, and Sanders that they should stick around in the primes of their career for a rebuild, that may take three to five years, and only culminate once they are out of their primes. Veteran players do not want to suffer through multiple 4-12 seasons, picking in the top five of the draft and developing players that will only be effective once they are gone. The Broncos, and mainly John Elway, had to convince players like Miller that they are still competing for rings.
The Broncos up until recently had more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons. This is not a team that is okay with throwing in the towel on a few seasons, just to get the first overall pick in the draft. And yet, the last two years, they have been among the worst in the league, but not by rebuild design like other teams (see: New York Jets).
Now the Broncos have found themselves between rebuilding and competing for a ring. They have signed young players in the draft and free agency, who they hope to be long time Broncos. Both Bradley Chubb and Phillip Lindsay have the potential to be amongst the best in the NFL in their respective positions for years to come. Developing young players like Chubb and Lindsay to one day be franchise players is the exact formula of a rebuilding team. But the Broncos also have veterans like Miller who signed a long-term contract and Harris who just signed a one-year deal. Signing veteran players in their prime, is the exact formula of a team who is vying for a ring. So Elway has effectively attempted to rebuild, and build a “win-now” team at the same time. But everyone knows there is no winning a Super Bowl without a quarterback, which brings us to Joe Flacco.
The quarterback situation can be viewed as a microcosm of what the Broncos team is attempting to accomplish. On the one hand, they have signed Flacco, a Super Bowl winning quarterback, albeit past his prime (except if you ask Elway), but they also drafted Drew Lock in this year’s draft in hopes of him taking over the starting position in the coming years. Signing a veteran like Flacco may indicate that Elway is trying to build a team to win right away. But then why would they pick Lock in the draft this year, a quarterback who Elway clearly didn’t truly think was “his guy” if he waited until the second round to pick him? Now, of course pairing a veteran quarterback with a young quarterback to be mentored is a very common method, but it seems out of place with this team, or maybe it is exactly what this team is trying to accomplish.
This quarterback situation allows the Broncos to have the option to chase a ring or rebuild. If the Broncos get off to a weak start, they can expedite the rebuilding process and insert Lock as the starter. But, if the Broncos flip the script of the past couple years and are actually able to compete for a ring, then Flacco can see himself as their starter for the next few seasons.
With all the flack Elway has received in the post-Peyton era, he actually has been a successful executive with regard to the rebuilding. As previously mentioned, with the exception of quarterbacks, he has drafted and helped develop several young players that will be part of the Broncos core for years to come. What Elway hasn’t been successful in doing is finding players that will help the Broncos win a Super Bowl now.
However, a lot of his shortcomings could be attributed to a below-average coaching staff. This year, it can be argued that the Broncos coaching staff is the best all-around coaching staff they’ve had in recent memory. Vic Fangio commands respect in every room he is in, and the noise from training camp indicates the Broncos are very pleased with their new hire. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello will certainly not run the same predictable old-school offense we have seen from the Broncos in previous years. And Ed Donatell brings the same no-nonsense attitude as Fangio that can help the Broncos return their defense to the days of Wade Phillips.
These coaches not only have great potential to help the Broncos win now, but they also all have reputations of assisting young players to develop. Fangio just helped a young Bears team exceed all expectations. Scangarello has been seen as a young quarterback guru, and Donatell took a young Bears defense and led them to the number one scoring defense in the NFL. These coaches perfectly fit the mold of what the Broncos represent; try to win now, but if not, develop the players to win soon.
In today’s NFL, you are either trying to win a ring or trying to rebuild; unless you’re the Denver Broncos, then you are of course trying to do both… and that just may be the best formula for them.