ENGLEWOOD — There were options. When it comes to ridiculous things that were said and done during the most ridiculous Broncos season in a lifetime?
Oh, goodness. So many options.
That’s why the collective-but-separate messages delivered by team president Joe Ellis and vice president of football operations John Elway were so necessary, spirited and, yes, reassuring. Tuesday at Dove Valley wasn't just a warm bear hug telling Broncos Country it's all going to be OK; Tuesday was a humbled presentation on the what (went wrong), the why (it did) and the how (the big-wigs are going to fix it).
Oops, almost forgot. What was the ridiculousness? In a nutshell, the idea being floated around that the Broncos should move on from John Elway as general manager. It’s an idea so ridiculous that I keep misspelling ridiculous, but thank goodness for spellcheck. Come on, people. Has Colorado been so overrun with newcomers that anything prior to 2016 has been forgotten?
Elway might fail. But three Super Bowl rings as a quarterback/executive and 78 wins in seven seasons as the general manager — still the third-most in the NFL, despite the slog that was '16 and '17 — more than earn the benefit of the doubt.
Did Elway’s scouting department whiff on quarterbacks Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch with lofty draft picks? Yes. Are there valid concerns about Vance Joseph, an Elway hire who on Monday admitted he failed in the most important duty leveled on a head coach? No doubt about it.
“I wasn’t very good at coaching the coaches,” Joseph said, and now six assistants are gone.
But just when folks are peeping over the ledge to see how far this thing can fall, here comes No. 7 to remind folks why it has placed its faith in him for 23 seasons, 12 division titles and seven — count 'em, seven — Super Bowl appearances. Then here comes Ellis, a good man with a deep understanding of what the Broncos mean to millions, to remind us why the franchise still shows fewer losing seasons (six) than Super Bowls (seven) in the Pat Bowlen era.
"I've never forgotten 2010 (when the Broncos went 4-12)," Ellis said.
"John came in and, in many ways, rescued us from that," he said.
They haven’t saved this day. Not yet. But after a season with more silly drama than common sense, the Broncos braintrust did the most important thing it could have done: owned it with humility. And they offered concrete examples of the mess that's been made and how they will clean it up.
The best example they shared is something I’ve seen in all kinds of sports, at all kinds of levels, just never with this team with this leadership: the new Broncos saw three championship banners waving in the breeze at Mile High Stadium but ignored what it took to hang them there. There's a word for that: entitlement. Owning the uniform doesn't mean you own the history.
“A characteristic kind of seeped into our building,” Ellis said, and then he continued, “Expectations are fine. We should always have them. But we shouldn’t make assumptions (that winning is a given).”
The Broncos got cocky. They believed the powerhouse defense that won Super Bowl 50 was so damn powerful it didn’t matter if it was you, me or Paxton Lynch at quarterback, although it seems the results might've been the same.
“The No. 1 goal is we have to get better at that position,” Elway said.
It wasn’t that Elway and Ellis identified quarterback as the No. 1 priority of the offseason — water is wet, all that — that should reassure the masses. It’s the characteristics that Elway seeks in the next quarterback that should help you sleep. In the search for a franchise quarterback, the choices suggest Elway’s been trying to find himself — physically, I mean, with the big arm and mobile feet. But a big arm and mobile feet aren’t the traits that separated Elway from every other quarterback. It was a competitive streak that turned the Cleveland Browns into a "30 for 30," told the great Peyton Manning to take a paycut and, after seeing how he attacked his doubters Tuesday, burns as hot as ever.
“If it is a young guy, what’s his personality?” Elway said.
Translation: enough with the quarterbacks who win the scouting combine but lose their minds after a pick-6. The same pride and fire that elevated Denver's defense? Elway said the Broncos are out to find the quarterback equivalent.
“You have to figure out how strong they are,” Elway said, and he added the critical trait for the long-term quarterback of the Broncos: “The heart and what they have inside.”
Other housekeeping news from the most telling Broncos press conference in over a year? Sure thing: Gary Kubiak will return with a larger role in choosing players (“In free agency and in the draft,” Elway said), the signage at Sports Authority Field is coming down in the next week (naming rights are still up in the air) and the team will not raise ticket prices for the 2018 season, a sharp move at a time when the interest of NFL fans is no longer a given.
“It’s sort of the least we can do,” said Ellis, who requested the company of a security guard as he toured the tailgate lots prior to the Jets game to gauge the temperature of fans near the end of a shabby season.
Hey, when the Broncos get blanked by the Chargers and blown out by the Patriots, no one involved is above criticism. Lord knows I’ve dished out plenty. And there’s no guarantee that Elway, Ellis and Joseph will return the Broncos to a sensible operation and championship contention in short order.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Elway said, and there’s that humility I was talking about. “I want to search and find all the answers, because I want this team to be as good as it possibly can be.”
Really, only one guarantee springs to mind: there’s no one on this football-loving planet I’d rather lead a comeback. Give me No. 7. You take the field.