Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Denver Broncos: We Don’t Rebuild, We Unload

It’s hard to believe that a mere eighteen months ago, I was looking forward to the Denver Broncos’ coming season. Granted, not everything was rosy—their defense was near the bottom of the league in points allowed, yard allowed, turnovers, and touchdowns given up to one-legged schoolgirls; owner Pat Bowlen had fired Mike Shanahan, the coach who had led the team to its only two Super Bowl wins; and the team lacked a running back durable enough to accumulate 400 rushing yards.

But there was reason to not just hope but even be downright giddy: the offense, despite the absurd rash of injuries at running back, was loaded. Jay Cutler—mobile, intelligent, and strong-armed—had passed for 25 touchdowns and a team-record 4,526 yards. Left tackle Ryan Clady was already, as a rookie, arguably the best offensive lineman in the game. In tight end Tony Scheffler and wide receivers Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall, the team had possibly the most talented receiving corps in its history (sorry, fans of Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson, and what’s-his-name). And Tatum Bell’s late-season success at tailback suggests that if a cell-phone salesman could put up decent yardage behind the experienced and skilled offensive line, a genuine NFL-caliber running back could have made the Denver offense the best in the league.

In short, all the Broncos really had to do after the 2008 season was draft or sign a top-tier running back and rebuild their struggling defense—not simple tasks, of course, but certainly doable ones, given that all the team had to do with the remainder of the offense was keep it together. Just leave it alone.

Now, two depressing offseasons later, with the petulant and immature but gifted Cutler having been traded to Chicago in an embarrassing PR debacle that left pretty much every grown man involved looking like a big fat baby, Ryan Clady is protecting the weaker-armed and hilariously less mobile Kyle Orton. Tony Scheffler, now minus not only a good friend but also a QB who’d likely have thrown him 50 to 80 passes every year, has seemingly struggled to get along with his new coach, as indicated by his diminished involvement in the offense—which struggled as well, in part because of Scheffler’s position in the doghouse instead of in the middle of the action.

And on the morning of Wednesday, April 14, 2010, Broncos fans awoke to learn that Brandon Marshall— “The Beast”—the most talented (if, admittedly, most frustrating) receiver in the team’s history (sorry, Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe) is gone. For three years, Marshall has stomped mercilessly through opposing secondaries as easily as you might smash through your crying little sister’s stuffed-animal tea party, and now he’s been traded to the Miami Dolphins for two draft picks. Not actual NFL players, mind you—not guys with track records in the league, guys who had shown they can succeed at the professional level—but draft picks.

I understand that draft picks often are used on good players, but they’re also often used on, say, Todd Marinovich or Ryan Leaf. The Broncos have swapped a dominant, exciting player—the kind that, assuming he’d gotten his head screwed on straight, could have been a fundamental part of a record-breaking offense for a decade—for two players that (1) the team may have not even identified yet, who (2) may or may not amount to anything even if they (3) still are available when it’s time to draft them, (4) end up signing with the Broncos, (5) actually make the team, (6) are good enough to touch the field sooner or later, and (7) don’t get traded away to make somebody else’s team much, much better after they piss off the coach for the first time.

The only good news I can see here—other than an exciting jump in activity on Facebook’s “Fire Josh McDaniels” page—is that eventually, if we’re lucky, the Denver Broncos will run out of either bullets or feet in which it can shoot itself. I just hope there’s something left of the team when that happens.


  1. They have TWO other things going for them right now that you overlooked - the sad-sack Raiders and Chiefs in the same division.

  2. Thanks for trying to cheer me up. If memory serves, though, the Broncos went 1-1 against both the Raiders and Chiefs last season, though, and even worse, the Chiefs and Raiders can't possibly be any worse than they already were, whereas the Broncos still have a ways to go before they hit bottom. So I think it's just going to get uglier.