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Like running backs before him, Phillip Lindsay’s time in Denver could be short

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

This offseason, the Broncos bolstered their running back room by signing Melvin Gordon. Instead of creating excitement in Broncos Country, this signing has become divisive. Many have wondered why the Broncos would pay free-agency money for Gordon when they already had back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Phillip Lindsay already on the roster.

Lindsay is one of the most popular Broncos. He’s from Colorado, was a stand out at the University of Colorado, has been exciting on the field and has the underdog story that people seem to love so much. Fans and media both seem to be taking the signing of Gordon as disrespectful to Lindsay.

To his credit, Lindsay has mostly responded to the signing be taking it as another opportunity to prove he’s the best player on the roster. But he still seems frustrated by the move.

Lindsay’s situation is not unique to the Broncos. If history is any indication, his time as a Bronco may not last very much longer.

In 1989, the Broncos drafted Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey in the first round of the supplemental draft. Humphrey made an immediate impact. As a rookie, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, caught one touchdown and actually threw a touchdown pass.

The Broncos reached the Super Bowl that season, with Humphrey playing a major role in the team’s success. In his second season, Humphrey would again rush for 1,000 yards. With the hot start, Humphrey was starting to show he could one day have his name in the Ring of Fame. Then, it ended.

Following his successful first two seasons in the NFL, Humphrey engaged in a contract dispute with the Broncos prior to the 1991 season. He didn’t report to the team and held out until Week 14.

The hold out backfired. By that time Week 14 rolled around, Gaston Green had emerged as a 1,000-yard Pro Bowl running back. There was no drop off at running back. The team’s success didn’t decline either, as the Broncos reached the AFC Championship Game that season.

Humphrey was not awarded a new contract and was traded to the Dolphins in the 1992 offseason.

The 2002 and 2003 Broncos will forever be known for the play of Clinton Portis. The running back exploded on the scene as a rookie in ’03, rushing for 1,508 yards and 15 touchdowns. Portis continued his dominance in ’04, rushing for 1,591 yards and 14 touchdowns.

With the unbelievable success of his first two seasons, Portis was looking for a new deal that Mike Shanahan wasn’t willing to pay. The result was a rare superstar-for-superstar trade with Washington. Prior to the 2004 season, the Broncos traded Portis to Washington in exchange for future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey.

Portis would have a decent career in Washington but was never able to truly replicate the success he had in Denver. Bailey would retire not only as one of the greatest Broncos but one of the greatest players in NFL history. In 2005, two seasons after trading Portis, the Broncos were back in the AFC Championship Game.

Like Humphrey and Portis, Lindsay has enjoyed a very successful start to his career with the Broncos. All three running backs produced more than 1,000 yards in each of their first two seasons and made the Pro Bowl. Lindsay seems to be following the same trajectory in Denver as Humphrey and Portis.

That is bad news for Broncos fans that want Lindsay in Denver long term.

The Broncos and Lindsay are likely not on the same page when it comes to future for the running back. Lindsay sees himself as a No. 1 running back, while the Broncos seem to view him as a complimentary back.

If there’s one thing the last 25 years have shown us in Broncos Country it’s that the Broncos will move on from highly productive running backs and the team’s success will not suffer. The Broncos reached the AFC Championship Game the season Humphrey held out and were back in the conference title game two years after Portis was traded.

Bobby Humphrey was on the verge of becoming the first true star to compliment John Elway in Denver. He was the first Broncos running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Clinton Portis may have been the most dynamic running back we’ve ever seen in orange and blue. Portis may have the most impressive highlight reel in team history.

As great as both players were, none of it mattered. Neither player lasted in Denver.

The organization was perfectly fine going in another direction in both scenarios. The Broncos will not bend over backwards to keep a running back, especially when they’ve had an unbelievably easy time replacing them for the last three decades.

Similar to Humphrey and Portis, Lindsay appears to have a disagreement with the organization over his perceived future value to the team. Humphrey and Portis looked like the future of the Broncos during their time in Denver. In the end, their time in Denver was over as quickly as it came. A disgruntled Lindsay could very well be looking at the same situation.

There are plenty of teams that would love to have Phillip Lindsay as their No. 1 running back and would be willing to pay him as such. Which, if you’re Lindsay and feel disrespected, starting over with another team could seem enticing.

Having one or two successful seasons as a running back in Denver doesn’t guarantee a future with the team. If a running back is unhappy, the Broncos have no problem moving on. Lindsay has been very exciting to watch and fans should enjoy watching him this season because his career as a Bronco is likely on borrowed time.


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