I come to bury the 2009 Broncos, not to praise them.
Okay, I am being a wee bit too dramatic and overly pessimistic, but upon review of my comments on the Q you will know that I am All-World when it comes to being a pessimist, along with being a bit goofy. So I will try to present to you a preview of the 2010 season. I hope it is to your liking; now if this preview gets long-winded, perplexing, and too hysterical I would not hold it against you if you moved on.
So please keep your hands, arms, and free agent Wide Out inside the car at all times.
Well even if you have been living in a cave since December you know that there has been a shakeup in the Mile High City. A shakeup that went beyond Katherine Hepburn on an espresso bender. It appears to be more like putting a soda can in a paint mixer for a couple hours kind of shakeup. A seismic shift that began in December when the Broncos went from 8-5 and one game away from an AFC West Title to suffering a tire-iron beating from the Chargers, which ended the 2008 season in a incredibly disappointing fashion.
Not only did that drubbing end the season, but it ended the Shanahan Era in Denver. An ending that stunned Broncos fans and many across the NFL.
To understand the 2009 Broncos lets us look at consequences of the 2008 Denver Broncos wroth.
The End of Zombie Shanahan
When Mike Shanahan took the Broncos job in 1995 it looked like a match made in Heaven. Shanahan was coming back to an organization where he made his name and to the future Hall Of Fame QB he mentored. After the Broncos’ lack of direction the prior years it appeared to be a perfect match. From 1996 thru 1998 the Broncos went 39-9 with 2 Super Bowl wins. But after John Elway rode off into the sunset in 1999, the Broncos could not return to those lofty heights. From 1999 until 2008 Mike Shanahan only had two losing seasons, but having only 4 playoff appearances and just 1 playoff win to show for it definitely takes some of the shine off the Shanahan Era. The problem was not Mastermind the Coach, but it was Mastermind the GM. It seemed that Shanahan became too entrenched in his own ways. Stefan Fatsis of A Few Seconds of Panic puts it best, “Players and executives griped about Shanahan’s omnipotence, about his entrenched habits and routines, but I never once heard anyone question his abilities as an organizer and a coach.”
The 2008 season was a microcosm of what has been wrong with the Broncos since 1999. You saw Shanahan display some of his best game planning and in game coaching last season, all the while doing it at time with a depleted and underachieving roster. A roster built by Mike. Like his game planning, Shanahan never shied from being aggressive with trades and free agent signings, but too many of his “all-in” roster moves left the Broncos empty-handed. Now it is not that Shanahan was clueless when it came to building the roster. He found late-round talents, made good trades, uncovered great undrafted free agents, and also brought in quality free agents. However, nearly every positive addition he made had a negative to cancel it out. For every Rod Smith there was Wesley Duke. For every Al Wilson, D.J. Williams, Jay Cutler, and Ryan Clady there were Marcus Nash, Willie Middlebrooks, Jarvis Moss, and George Foster. Now do not get me started on the some of the free agent signings. Even today I still have to spit when I think about Dale Carter, Daryl Gardner, or any Cleveland Browns defensive lineman.
So last December after the Charger loss, Bowlen finally took off the orange-colored glasses and saw it was time for change. I know it has been reported that Bowlen approached Shanahan about firing then Defensive Coordinator Bob Swolik. Allegedly, Shanahan refused to do so, and that’s what led to his dismissal, but that just does not sound right. I feel that Bowlen asked Shanahan to step down as GM and Shanahan refused. Shanahan had gone through three defensive coordinators in the past three seasons so it seems improbable that he was going to take a bullet for a guy who ran the 29th ranked D, even if he had compromising photos. So the Mastermind’s firing began the winter of the Broncos’ discontent. This has lead to a Spring that sprung a trap, and then a Midsummer’s training camp comedy, a series of events that make me fear the coming of a Free Fall.
Meet the new boss, just like the old boss?
So after 14 years Pat Bowlen was again looking for a new head coach, and a new GM to run the Broncos. The Broncos looked at the likes of Steve Spagnola, Jason Garrett, Rahem Morris, Bob Stoops, and Leslie Frazier. The Broncos may have also sent a spiral-cut ham to Cowher to see if he would bite. So what was the the result of the search? The Broncos tapped the young hotshot offensive coordinator from New England, a man who has a lot of Shanahan-like qualities. In his tenure at New England he went from coaching assistant to position coach to offensive coordinator. He called the plays for the most prolific offense in NFL history. Now many can look at the squad and say, well it is easy to put up points when you have the likes of Brady, Moss, Welker, and the rest. Remember, however, that last season McDaniels effectively handled the potential crippling loss of Tom Brady, all the while using a player who had not had a meaningful snap at QB since high school. So by the end of the 2008 season he had gone from hot potential coaching commodity to a white hot prospect.
When the newest sapling of the Belichick coaching tree was hired I know some of the Broncos fan base was non-plused. Some felt this team, because of the woes on the defensive side of the ball, needed a defensive mind to be at the rudder. Some were not happy to see the team handed over to a first-time coach. Many had fears of Lane Kiffin redux (those fears may unfortunately prove to be true). There was a portion of the fan base that was excited since here is a young offensive-minded coach from a winning organization coming to a team that was on the cusp of the playoffs with a loaded offense. Along with Bowlen filling the head coaching position, he elevated Assistant GM Brian Xander to GM. Xander should be a good fit in trying to establish the “Patriot Way” in Dove Valley since he has also spent time in New England. However, in making this selection, Bowlen removed Jim and Jeff Goodman, who were looking to stay on with the organization. These two were the architects behind the Broncos 2008 draft, which was the kind of draft Shanahan needed more of during his tenure. With the old swept out and the new brought in you would expect that new coaches and front offices get a honeymoon period, right? As has been well documented, the honeymoon went by faster than Usain Bolt in the 100.
Where Did the Love Go?
When the Broncos made a break from Shanahan and brought in a new man who looked like a good fit to work with their All-Pro QB, little did we know what was going to come next. Well even at the start there were some storm clouds. Jay was not happy that Shanahan was fired and that he was not contacted about it until after the fact (Rocky Mountain News). It appeared to me to be smoothed over until the outbreak of McJaygate when the free agent window was opened. I think there have been a couple of articles here on the Q and elsewhere but here is a quick timeline of events (Denver Post). These events led to a trade of a QB with a Million Dollar Arm and $2 haircut for some draft picks and a QB with a Thousand Dollar Arm and bad facial hair.
Here are this bitter Broncos fan’s opinions on this matter:
• Thanks to the bungling of McDaniels and the Broncos front office, the new administration picked the wrong time to fall down on the job. In retrospect, the Broncos could have and should have done a little more ass kissing, even more than I would have been willing for them to do at the time. They let Cook and the “Man from a Town Without a Santa Claus, Indiana” get out in front of the story. Even when Cook and his minion looked dumb, they still held the higher ground. It moved to the point where the owner felt that they needed to send Number 666 elsewhere. Here the brain trust did recover to some degree with the trade, since the Bears did come and offer them a potentially great deal. However, they may have squandered that, but I will get into that later.
• The infamous trade phone call - The incident that was the flashpoint to start McJaygate. Now I could be wrong, but the Broncos were approached about Mr. Nutler. They were not actively shopping “the man who was wearing Bubby Brister’s number”. They did not trade him, so how could “the number 6 who would never greater than Number 7” be so bent out of shape about this and that this was disrespectful and that the Broncos should never, ever consider even the thought of trading? Just like it is not wrong for a player to get paid, a team should not be faulted for trying to look at everything and anything that could help improve the organization. Yes, franchise QBs are rare, but until you hear every offer and look at every possible scenario a team would be doing itself a disservice by not looking to improve itself short term and long term.
As mad and vengeful as I feel toward Bad Comb Forward QB I know that he has a million dollar arm and still has a ton of upside. He is not a dumb guy, Vanderbilt is not for intellectually challenged, but Jay’s problem is that he has no filter on his mouth. He will tell you what he thinks no matter how his words will be taken. He is honest to a fault, well expect when it came to trying to communicate with the Broncos during the whole mess. Jay loves being a QB and to be a good one you have to have an a-hole gland. A glad that makes one have to bruise some egos for the greater good. Sadly Jay has a hyperactive a-hole gland and does not realize when it is best to use a little more tact. That hyperactive gland also leads in my opinion--and I am not doctor but I saw a documentary about the medical students in Grenada during the Cuban Invasion in the 80s--to very thin skin. The last issue I see with the Mutler is his blind faith in his abilities, to the point of arrogance. He has a cannon for an arm, but too many times he tries to force things that are not there. If the newest Bear can grow up and they can give him some weapons the Bears will be extremely pleased.
Well, the McJaygate drama ended as we all know with a trade. The Chicago Bears, who have been desperately seeking a top flight QB since Sid Luckam, stepped in and played the role of willing trade partner. The Broncos traded the Vandy Villain and their 2009 fifth rounder to Chicago for the 18th and 84th picks in 2009, Chicago’s first-round pick for 2010, and the infamous Neckbeard. It’s a trade that I was okay with since I saw this team had so many holes that these picks would help fill. Since the draft that has changed. So let us look at the comings, goings, and 2009 draft for the Broncos.
Arrivals and Departures
QB – Kyle Orton – (Trade) Old Neckbeard--the effective game manager (21-12 in 33 starts) without spectacular measurables and bad facial hair, but a good locker room guy--now gets thrown into the fire. We will see how much of an offensive guru McDaniels is by how much he can get out of Orton.
QB – Chris Simms – (FA) Simms was brought in before the trade. He’s QB that intrigues many and has potential, but has never lived up to that potential and has been saddled with the label of not being a good big game QB.
RBs – Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan (FA) Last year the Broncos went through 394 running backs, so they went out and gathered up a couple more with the hopes they will fit into McDaniels system, as the Broncos are shifting away from their Zone run game scheme.
WR – Jabbar Gaffney (FA) A New England castoff who was brought in because of his familiarity with the system and was expected to contribute especially with issues with Brandon Marshall, but is currently on the shelf due to injury.
WR – Brandon Lloyd (FA) This signing does not fill me with great excitement. Has the appearance of skills, but those skills can not be confirmed. OL – Ross Hochstein (Trade) Another ex-Pat acquired to provide line depth.
S – Brain Dawkins (FA) This was a great pickup, if it was 2000. The guy can still play, but has a lot of mileage on the odometer. However, Dawkins could provide some leadership that has been missing.
S – Renaldo Hill (FA) He will not make me forget the likes of Steve Smith, Steve Atwater, Billy Thompson, Tyrone Braxton, or even Steve Foley. However he will help me forget Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree.
CB – André Goodman (FA) Another Miami castoff who will start the season opposite Champ Bailey.
LB – Andra Davis (FA) I thought we were done with Cleveland castoffs? Andra does fill a need at the LB spot, especially with his experience in the 3-4.
DT – Ronald Fields (FA) Any team that wants to run a 3-4 needs a great nose tackle; Fields is not one of those, but is better than what the Broncos had on hand.
DE – Darrell Reid (FA) Another body to help with the defense change.
DE – Le Kevin Smith (Trade) A 3-4 end who is not a star but was a decent wave player in New England. Currently he is dealing with an injury that is keeping him sidelined. We will see if he can handle the expanded role. Also I loved his film Le Clerks.
DE – Vonnie Holiday (FA) A very late addition, the 38-year-old 3-4 vet was snatched up at roster cut down. The Broncos feel they need an experienced hand to help with the transition, but like the signing of Dawkins this is a great pick-up if it was 2000.