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Sanders-Sutton fisticuffs should be no laughing matter to Broncos

(Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The fracas. The fisticuffs. The fight. Whatever people want to call it, the Broncos had themselves a dustup at practice on Monday.

As almost everyone knows by now, the team saw a drill come to an abrupt end when Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton started throwing punches at each other. They had to be separated by teammates. Words were exchanged. Water bottles were thrown at each other. The entire ordeal carried on for a couple of minutes, even after other players had moved onto the next drill of the day.

Afterward, the response was pretty predictable. It was almost as though everyone was reading off of a carefully crafted script.

The head coach wasn’t happy.

“Obviously, it’s not good,” Vic Fangio told the media after practice. “(It) can’t happen, shouldn’t happen, but you have to be able to react to these things and handle them the right way.”

While teammates were more understanding.

“(Do) you have a brother? Do all of you have brothers?” Bradley Chubb asked rhetorically. “I have an older brother (that) I use to bug the hell out of. He used to hit me. I use to hit him. We used to fight back and forth. It’s just what brothers do.”

Maybe as kids. But as grown men? At a job that pays millions of dollars? In front of everyone?

“We’ve been around each other for what, 15, 20 days now?” Chubb continued. “You probably get tired of seeing somebody’s face. It’s all that brotherhood. But at the end of the day, we still love each other. We’re still going to come together and do things for the (good) of the team.”

On Tuesday, that’s exactly what the Broncos tried to do. After practice, Sanders and Sutton briefly met with the media, trying to make light of the situation and show that they were back on speaking terms.

“First of all, I just want all the media and the fans to know that me and Courtland are selling pay-per-view tickets for our next bout, starting at $69.99,” Sanders said. “Tickets will go on sale tomorrow.”

It was a funny approach to the situation, certainly appearing to diffuse things.

“Obviously, we’re family,” Sanders continued, in a more serious tone. “We went to the same school and grew up in the same area. It was a miscommunication. But at the end of the day, we’re back on the same page, trying to be the best receivers in the world. Sometimes through failure is growth and I feel like me and him have grown through this, in terms of bringing that dog out of us even more and just ready to win and ready to tear it up.”

His sparring partner agreed.

“What Emmanuel said is right on point,” Sutton added. “We’re brothers at the end of the day. That’s all that matters. Like he said, we went to the same school. This is a dude I look up to, a dude I’ve been watching for a long time, chasing his records and getting here and following in his footsteps. All of that stuff is swept under the rug. We’re moving on to bigger and better things. We’re ready to win and take what we have here and keep growing.”

And that’s it, right? Time to put the whole thing to bed, forget about it and move on with the season, correct?

That’s what the Broncos would like everyone to do, after their well-choreographed response to the situation. Like Sutton said, they’d like it to be swept under the rug.

“It’s been put to bed and it’s a dead issue,” Fangio said yesterday.

But that seems a little too convenient, easy and clean. What transpired on the field between Sanders and Sutton was more complex and messier; there was more at play than just brothers being brothers, guys being sick of practicing against each other and the other explanations put forth in the past couple of days.

This wasn’t a typical training camp brouhaha. It wasn’t two guys in the trenches, on opposite sides of the ball, finally getting sick and tired of banging against each other in practice, only to see their frustration come out in a quick exchange of head slaps.

This was two guys on the same side of the ball, who play the same position, getting into it on the sideline after a play. While no one knows for certain what was said, media members did hear Sanders repeatedly telling Sutton that the second-year wide receiver hadn’t accomplished anything in the NFL yet; the veteran’s “mentoring” of the youngster didn’t go over well.

Yesterday, Joe Flacco admitted that he’d never seen anything like it. Not once during his 11-year career has the Broncos starting quarterback witnessed two players from the same position group get into an altercation during practice.

But everyone is supposed to believe this is nothing? It’s just two brothers getting on each other’s nerves?

It would stand to reason that at some point during Flacco’s decade-plus in Baltimore he had teammates who were sick of seeing one another after three weeks of training camp. And it would seem likely that during that same time, not every player in the Ravens building saw eye to eye on every matter.

Yet they didn’t come to blows. Why? Because they weren’t a dysfunctional group.

That’s not to say that the 2019 Broncos are right now. But there is reason to be concerned that they’re heading in that direction.

Back in 2016, everyone was told not to worry about the altercation between Aqib Talib and Russell Okung in the locker room after a loss to the Patriots. It was just tempers running hot in the heat of battle.

In reality, it was a sign that the Broncos were coming apart at the seams. That iteration of the team was suffering from an offense vs. defense divide that widened on a weekly basis, eventually causing the defending Super Bowl champions to miss the playoffs.

So there should be some worry that everything isn’t as peachy in Denver as the coaches and players want everyone to believe. Something is brewing. Something is amiss.

Perhaps it’s the weird way in which the team is constructed, where it’s partially built to win this year and equally crafted as a rebuild. Sanders and Flacco, as well as Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe, are here for 2019; nothing else is guaranteed. Sutton and Drew Lock, as well as other young players, are part of the future; the sense of urgency might not be the same for them.

There’s an obvious crack between old and new, one that separates the guys who won Super Bowl 50 and those who weren’t a part of the organization back then. The first sign of this was Harris demanding to make a few more dollars than Kareem Jackson; the old guard wasn’t exactly welcoming the new regime.

It’s an interesting dynamic, to be sure. And it’s not necessarily one that can’t be successful.

But Monday’s fracas, fight or fisticuffs showed that there’s tension between the two factions of Broncos. If not carefully controlled, that strain could lead to all sorts of problems during the 2019; Sanders vs. Sutton might’ve only been round one.