Following the Broncos embarrassing loss to the Chiefs, where does Denver go next? Here’s five ideas, in chronological order, for getting the franchise back on track:
1. Trade assets before the Oct. 29 deadline
Chris Harris, Emmanuel Sanders and Derek Wolfe have been tremendous players in Denver, forever immortalized as members of the Super Bowl 50 champions. But with all three headed towards free agency this offseason, making trades would be mutually beneficial. Harris, Sanders and Wolfe would be given the opportunity to join a contender, while the Broncos get back draft capital now without having to wait for 2021 compensatory picks.
Von Miller’s name obviously comes up in these discussions, but it’s hard to believe the Broncos would get fair value for him in a midseason deal. With Miller still under contract beyond this season, there’s no reason to make a rushed decision on one of the greatest players in franchise history.
2. Name Brittany Bowlen the team’s next controlling owner, beginning her apprenticeship
Obviously, there are significant legal proceedings taking place surrounding the Broncos ownership situation. But despite all of the legalese, Brittany Bowlen has been established as the front runner to take over for some time now. Naming her the team’s next controlling owner would add clarity to an incredibly murky situation.
For a blueprint of how to transition, look to one of the league’s better ran franchises: the Baltimore Ravens. In 2000, then minority-owner Steve Bisciotti began a four-year apprenticeship under majority-owner Art Modell. Bisciotti was able to learn the ins and outs of the job from Modell, before a smooth transition to becoming a majority owner took place in 2004.
Similarly, Joe Ellis could mentor an “owner-elect” Brittany Bowlen for a handful of years until turning over the reigns completely.
3. Request John Elway’s resignation
Heartbreaking, but necessary. The Broncos are now 13-26 during the past two-and-a-half seasons. Perhaps more troubling than the win-loss record has been the turnover in coaches and quarterbacks.
Since walking off the field champions in Santa Clara less than four years ago, Elway has employed three head coaches and four offensive coordinators, while five different quarterbacks have started games. It’s nearly impossible to win in the NFL with that amount of impatience.
Meanwhile, there’s been little success shoring up the offensive line, arguably the team’s weakest area during the past few seasons. Significant contract guarantees were given to Ja’Wuan James, Ronald Leary, Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson, while a first-round pick hasn’t paid dividends in Garett Bolles.
Throw in the overall inconsistency of high draft picks, headlined by trading up for Paxton Lynch, and there’s enough evidence to suggest the time for change has come. Clearly making a change would be extremely sensitive considering Elway’s incredible legacy with the franchise, but with the team headed towards a third-consecutive losing season, the uncomfortable move is appropriately justified.
4. Fire Vic Fangio
This one is tricky, especially factoring in all of the different coaches the Broncos have cycled through this decade. Fangio is the fifth.
In his first year, with a weak roster, does he deserve to be fired? No, he doesn’t. But in the spirit of shifting the culture of the entire club, it just may be best for all parties involved to get a clean start.
Fangio’s short time as head coach has shown despite all of his experience as an assistant, there’s still a learning curve to sitting in the big chair. And while he’s by no means appeared incompetent, Fangio also hasn’t given any reason to believe that he’s so impressive that he should be protected during a franchise overhaul. Call it being caught in the unfortunate crosshairs.
5. Hire Jim Harbaugh as head coach, with organizational control over personnel
Before looking at Harbaugh specifically, consider the proposed bureaucratic paradigm shift. Since Elway rejoined the team in 2011, they’ve gone with a top-down model in football operations that a majority of NFL teams currently employ. However, some of the most successful years the Broncos have experienced did not follow that formula.
Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan enjoyed long runs overseeing the entire football operation. And in case you were wondering, those two have won more games as Broncos head coaches than any of their contemporaries. By a mile.
Now before shouting that was a different era, consider some of the names that currently hold this type of power: Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Pete Carroll and Sean Payton. That’s a pretty good list. Throw in Kyle Shanahan and Jon Gruden whose teams appear on the uptick, and there’s reason to believe the all-powerful coach may be a model the Broncos want to revisit.
But as Uncle Ben once told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s why it has to be the right guy. With their organization in turmoil, the Broncos can’t afford to hand the reigns over to another rookie.
Enter Harbaugh, whose exit from the 49ers was surrounded by rumors he desired more control over personnel. His record as an NFL head coach is a tremendous 44-19. In his first year at the helm in San Francisco, Harbaugh flipped a 6-10 team to 13-3 and made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The following year, his 49ers made it to the Super Bowl, only to lose on the final play of the game.
In his four years as head coach, he never suffered a losing record with his worst mark 8-8. How’s that sound after the last few seasons Broncos Country?
And if you wanted another reason to consider Harbaugh, take a look at his work with quarterbacks. He inherited Alex Smith, considered a bust at that time, and helped guide him to a 19-5-1 record plus a playoff victory. He then modified his offense to get the best out of Colin Kaepernick, who won multiple playoff games and posted impressive passing numbers under Harbaugh. No matter what quarterback Harbaugh would choose to go under center for the Broncos, history says he’d get the best out of that passer.
Now getting Harbaugh away from the college game may not be easy, he’s pulling down more than $7.5 million per year from Michigan. And despite his inability to beat rival Ohio State, Harbaugh’s record at his alma mater is 43-15, including 5-1 this season.
That said, his name does come up annually when NFL jobs are open, and the opportunity to rebuild the Broncos with total control could be very appealing. Instead of looking for a new general manager, likely a first timer, why not bring in a bonafide NFL winner with a proven track record of turning around a franchise?
There you have it, five ideas to jumpstart a full rebuild for the Broncos. Certain not to happen now of course.
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