The Fallacy of a Super Bowl ‘Window’ for the Broncos

When Broncos’ General Manager John Elway uttered his famous line of winning right now, then changed it to, from now on, it was interpreted many ways. His actions since then have left some confused as to what he meant.

As a recap: He brought in some high profile players who flocked to Denver in glee to play with Peyton Manning.  But the disappointment of hobbled Manning and the uninspired coaching by John Fox, changed the now to from now on.  Getting to the playoffs was not enough–Elway wants to see the Broncos kicking and screaming to the bitter end.

Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips and a slew of pet coaches were hired. A dynamic defense was built under Wade and Woods, but the trade off was an offense lacking a pulse.

Not only did Kubiak import his old school style, he kept his old cronies with him. It was a system not easily compatible with Manning’s style of play.  The result was the high powered defense dragging the Broncos’ train to a super bowl ring. It also left them drained.

With the retirement of Manning, Elway looked to the draft to bring in a sturdy, dynamic quarterback. Paxton Lynch, a player with tremendous physical potential, was also raw. However, with his athleticism and skill to move, it was expected Kubiak would use Lynch to implement the play action, bootlegs and roll outs that were lacking with Manning. He would mold his playbook to what Lynch could do and build each week.

Instead, Kubiak stuck with the same tired scheme and coaches, and in Siemian, went with a steady quarterback who was familiar with the playbook and would stick to the script.

Defenses can’t sustain back-to-back years of having to play both sides of the ball. It’s fatiguing mentally and physically. The more time spent on the field, the more damage to the body.  That toll became more apparent as last season wore on, and the rumors of locker room discontent between Broncos offense and defense began to leak.

At some point, Elway had enough of the uninspired Broncos.  That Offense lacked the juice to ever carry the team.  He was ready to move in a different direction. We’ll never know the whole story or the real truth, but based on the wrecking ball taken to the offense and coaching staff, it’s clear there was a problem beyond Kubiak’s health.

The firing of quarterback coach Greg Knapp was the clue. When Adam Gase left, Knapp was kept on as a bridge between the old and the new. He was also kept on after Manning retired. Knapp had been there for a passing style of offense and a rushing one. He’s worked with young and old quarterbacks. If Manning didn’t want him, he’d have been fired.

Hiring Bill Musgrave actually says more about where Elway wants to go than the hiring Mike McCoy. Most importantly, it says Elway didn’t care about continuity for Trevor Siemian.

Secondly, it shows he wanted to move in a new direction. Musgrave is a QB whisperer. He most recently worked on elevating Derek Carr’s play. He also started out as a West Coast Offensive coach but moved away from that system. If you want to know why and more about Bill, you can read it here.

Additionally, it shows this Broncos team is in a rebuild. You don’t fire every coach affiliated with the way the offense was run, if you don’t want wholesale changes. It’s now being set up for a future of winning because teams don’t get to the playoffs on any consistent basis without a good quarterback. Defenses win championships, but offenses must produce to get a team there.

Hiring Musgrave shows Elway knows this. He brought in a coach to focus on Lynch. This isn’t to say all the quarterbacks won’t benefit from Musgrave’s tutoring, but it is clear that Elway drafted him for a reason. That reason wasn’t to sit for two years behind a QB with a limited ceiling. Musgrave gives Lynch the best chance to improve and take the starting mantel.

However, Musgrave isn’t the only sign of a rebuild of future winning for our team–a rebuild that hasn’t lost sight on the now, as well as from now on. The 2017 draft gives another clue, as does the signing of Jamaal Charles. Why?

Garett Bolles. Carlos Henderson. De’Angelo Henderson. Jake Butts. Common sense says that Elway has decided to do what many teams have: start a new quarterback, with new weapons, as well as aging mentors as their guides.

Charles is a cog in this plan. He brings more than the chance to recapture his glory days, he can read defenses at the line, he can block. He’s an extra layer of protection whenever Bolles starts. He’ll be invaluable for Lynch as an extra set of eyes and arms, so while it seems suicide in adding a rookie LT, by signing Charles, Elway didn’t leave his QB vulnerable.

Good offenses grow together as a unit. The No Fly Zone guys remarked last week about how important staying together as a unit was for their success. They said it allows one another to know what the other is thinking. Act as one. Plus, they can install more diverse defenses because they don’t need to waste time on the basics.

In the meantime, Elway has also brought in new guys to learn under them. He’s drafted their eventual replacements. Bradley Roby, Justin Simmons, Will Parks, Lorenzo Doss. Brendan Langley. He kept Joe Woods. Hired a coach Woods trusted to run his dominant NFZ.

He drafted Shane Ray and DeMarcus Walker to learn. Elway signed several undrafted defensive players. Will the last three classes of defensive players be as good as who they’ll be replacing? Some yes, some no. But as a whole, they’ll be as exceptional. Maybe better.

The result on defense is there is no ‘Super Bowl window.’  Elway is strategically building a perpetual machine like New England has. To assume Elway can only do it once, is doubting him as a GM. When you bring in a core of the right players and coaches, your scouts (hopefully) learn what players to draft. They see what the current skilled guys can do and know what to look for in the upcoming generations of players.

Elway and his staff have been very good at doing this on defense. This has been apparent when the young guys have had to step in for injuries. The D has barely missed a beat.  The offense however, has been a train wreck. The scouting department has a ex-WR who seems to miss in identifying talent. Besides DT, name me another drafted player who starts? What about the rest? On the OL, minus Paradis, don’t get me started on the misses. Running back position is the same. Virgil is the lone TE for our team and he can’t catch. Plus a miss on Brock Osweiler.

Under Mike McCoy, the Chargers built up a stable of offensive weapons. Injuries on that side of the ball and their defense is why they couldn’t reach the next step. Not talent.

Musgrave failed as an OC in Oakland, but with Jack DelRio they built up a decent offense as much as it pains me to say it. This gives one strong hope that Elway is turning the ship around. That better drafting on the offensive sid happened.  With building a better system, Scouts will begin seeing what works.

While scouts have a strong say in who’s drafted, coaches do as well. The Broncos new OL Coach, Jeff Davidson, after analyzing our OL, must have hammered home that RT was a must with a vet, but a top rookie on the left was the way to go.

Since Bosa, Mack and Huston usually line up on our right, that may have been a focus. This OL now has wily vets with rookies as potential new starters: Stephenson/Bolles, Leary/McGovern, Paradis/Ferenz, Schofield/Garcia and Watson/Sambrailo. Additionally, Dillon Day.

Pundits believe this is Aqib’s last season and therefore this is our last chance for another Super Bowl because the defensive window will close. These same people also thought that’s why sticking with Siemian the entire season was the right thing to do and want to use him again.

For me, those premises are incorrect. If Aqib isn’t kept after 2017, his CB replacement will be a drop; however, there are four positions in the NFZ and Simmons and Park have the signs of being upgrades. There are three CB’s in training for our future, including Bradley Roby.

Consider: our offense lost against KC, SD and Oakland. Yes, Trevor had a good second half in the first KC game and the defense lost that game. However, the second KC game was a nightmare showing he hadn’t improved since week one. If you can’t beat your division rivals consistently, you aren’t the right choice as the ‘best chance to win.’

Even ignoring that, three points against NE*?  Billichick said before the game he wasn’t worried about Siemian and knew what he’d do. I can’t remember the last time Denver only scored three in a game. Embarrassingly, we had our worst offensive season, since Elway retired. Even one-footed Manning was not as bad as TS. Don’t think that fact wasn’t lost on Elway.

Hence a complete rebuild on offense by doing what he did on defense after that game which will remain nameless. When Elway rebuilt the defense, we still made the playoffs.

Will Denver make the playoffs with this new offensive crew? Who knows–but it will suffer losses. It’s how you learn. You stumble when you learn to walk. You walk before you run. Elway is building this team for a marathon, not a sprint. As such, it takes a different kind of conditioning and longer to master–but the rewards are far greater.

In the end, the goal is to always be in a championship window, to keep replenishing the old players with the new. We will have to learn how to suffer through the pain and agony of some defeats. It took Elway four tries before he hoisted a Lombardi trophy, but we fans supported him and the team every step of the way.  Building a franchise QB and repeated Super Bowl contender takes the investment in developing players and the system. It takes patience. The window isn’t closing, it’s been given a shove, up. Fresh air is flowing. Time to be excited at the possibilities that await. Not just now, but from now on.

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