A look back at path Broncos took to make Super Bowl
The 2013 and now 2014 season has been wonderful for the Denver Broncos. They are going to finish first (cheers) or second (tears) out of 32 teams.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has had a record-setting season and would certainly add an exclamation point with a Super win Feb. 2 over the Seattle Seahawks.
We have enjoyed every minute, with only a few blips. While we’re sitting around waiting impatiently for the be-all, end all, let’s think back to where the Denver Broncos have been — and where they might be heading:
It’s 2009 and 33-year-old Josh McDaniels is tearing the team apart, getting rid of quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, among others, and trading up in the first round of the draft to grab an engaging quarterback who can’t pass in Tim Tebow.
One year later, Kyle Orton, hand-picked by McDaniels to be the next Bronco savior and quarterback until Tebow can take over, has failed to the tune of a 3-9 start. McDaniels is involved in an embarrassing videotape incident. It’s all too much for Bronco owner Pat Bowlen, who fires McDaniels on Dec. 6, 2010.
Bowlen shortly after convinces the team’s iconic former QB John Elway to jump aboard and fix the mess. Only one week after his hiring in January 2011, Elway hires veteran head coach John Fox.
After one year of Tebowing, an 8-8 record, a playoff win and loss, Elway and Fox decide to head in another direction.
Do they ever.
Denver’s new brain trust decides to go after a free-agent quarterback who hasn’t played football in a year, has had four surgeries on his neck — a 6-foot-5, 235-pound question mark.
It’s now 2012, Manning’s first season in Denver.
It’s wildly successful — to a point. They go 13-3, but lose their first playoff game thanks to repeated late blunders. They lose to the Baltimore Ravens, who go on to win the Super Bowl.
Could’a been, should’a been.
And now, after another 13-3, two playoff wins and an AFC title, they are in the running for a Super Bowl trophy in Year Two of the Great Manning Experiment.
And, if Manning indeed decides to come back for the third year of a five-year contract, meaning he is still hungry to play and gets the OK from a variety of physicians in another few weeks, the Broncos would certainly be one of the favorites to win it all again next season.
That would be three years of competing for Super Bowl titles in succession. That, my friends, doesn’t happen very often.
Sit back, take a deep breath and suck in all you can about this incredible ride.
And briefly, let’s consider next season with Manning on board and healthy.
The team’s think tank, Elway, Director of Player Personnel Matt Russell and Fox, have some serious decisions to make.
First, the team has 14 free agents to deal with.
Wide receiver Eric Decker is the headliner, but certainly not the only vital cog.
Starting left guard Zane Beadles and running back Knowshon Moreno are free to ply their trades elsewhere.
Defensively, ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips, linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon, tackle Mitch Unrein and safety Mike Adams are among those at the end of their contract. All have been big parts of Denver’s success this season.
Luckily, or by design, the Broncos will have plenty of salary cap space to work with next season, with several sources who keep track of such things saying they will have between $17 and $21 million in cap space to re-sign any or all of the above or find replacements.
Items of import on the Bronco agenda will include addressing the contract status of several “elderly” players.
According to Spotrac, which tracks and reports contracts in professional sports, cornerback Champ Bailey is due $9 million next season. Guard Chris Kuper, relegated to a backup role after several surgeries on an ankle, is due $5 million (he restructured his contract downward last season). And there are two tight ends who didn’t play much thanks to the emergence of Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme ($3 million) and Joel Dreessen ($2.5 million).
Another thing to consider will be the status of starting offensive left tackle Ryan Clady, who is to make $8 million next season after missing virtually all of this season with a foot injury. His replacement, Chris Clark, is set to make a relatively paltry $1.4 million and graded out as one of the top-rated left tackles in the league this season.
Might there be movement afoot?
Yes, there will be plenty of movement — after, of course, a bit of unfinished business.
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.