Peyton Manning 11-01-15

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning stands in the tunnel before a Nov. 1, 2015, game vs. the Packers in Denver.

DENVER — Fixing the Broncos requires a visionary.

Only a Gerald Phipps, Mike Shanahan or John Elway will do. Only a Pat Bowlen, Edgar Kaiser Jr. or Peyton Manning can return the Broncos to their former state of competence and prominence. It took visionaries before, and it will take one again.

Good news is, as much of Colorado knows, the Broncos come from a long line of visionaries.

For now, the Broncos are puttering and pretending along as if the team’s glorious history has something to do with them. Unless his name is Von, they’ve likely had nothing to do with it.

“The ultimate visionary,” as one longtime Broncos staffer once described Peyton Manning, will be honored Sunday when the Broncos host the Washington Football Team at Mile High. Manning is going into the Ring of Fame because he had a vision of what the Broncos had achieved in the past and could be in the future. And another visionary, Elway, recruited him.

As great as Manning was here, and goodness he was spectacular, he doesn’t win Super Bowl 50 without the defense Elway cultivated through the draft, free agency and into a perfect storm.

It took visionaries, plural. The Broncos these days counter without a stable owner, head coach or quarterback — the Big 3 for a franchise that reaches and remains near the top of the NFL.

These Broncos are 0-fer. For now they are losers — in four straight seasons and in four straight games. If these Broncos have a vision, I have no idea what it is, and no desire to learn.

Maybe general manager George Paton is the visionary this franchise desperately craves. But for now he’s the new guy, and not a whole lot is known about the most important man or woman in the building at UCHealth Training Center. The early returns suggest Paton definitely spent 14 years with the Minnesota Vikings, a team that’s often competitive but never at the very top. His Vikings made the playoffs six times with six quarterbacks. That’s a statement to solid scouting.

And not good enough here. Paton’s first draft pick was a really good cornerback, not a really good quarterback. Sorry, you’re not getting it done with one Patrick Surtain II at a time.

Well, maybe in 22 years you will.

Greatness here has favored the bold.

Manning saw a Broncos offense that ranked 31st (out of 32) in passing yards the season before and envisioned, “Cool, that’ll be a sure winner.” Two years after Tebow Time, Manning's Broncos fielded the greatest offense in NFL history. He goes into the Broncos Ring of Fame after throwing 140 touchdowns and for 17,117 yards in only four seasons. Every Sunday, Monday, Thursday and the days in between waiting for Sunday, Monday or Thursday were so much fun.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished among visionaries.

There has been an amazing number of Broncos visionaries. They include the likes of Phipps, who saved the team from being moved to Atlanta. Season tickets went from 8,000 one season to almost 23,000 the next, and since then, a home sellout streak of 51 seasons.

The Broncos debuted a waiting list in the Club seating level in 2012 — when Manning arrived. Visionaries change everything.

The state of Colorado sure could use one. My beloved home has managed to fail on both pandemic fronts — failing the economy and failing to stop COVID-19. The leadership here is made up of cowardly, comfortable followers, not bold visionaries. Stop following their failed lead. See what has worked elsewhere. Demand that.

The Broncos’ visionary can be a coach, like Shanahan, the son of an electrician, who decided the acceptable standard was winning the Super Bowl. He surprised even the man who hired him, Bowlen, with two. Those Broncos had visionaries positioned at all three prerequisites — owner (Bowlen), coach (Shanahan), quarterback (Elway).

Watch how the NFL’s elite operate, and you see how predicable and pedestrian the Broncos have become. Thursday night the Cardinals and Packers battled in a fantastic matchup of risk-takers. Arizona had the vision to hire a 30-something college football coach, Kliff Kingsbury, and toss aside first-round quarterback Josh Rosen in favor of first-round quarterback Kyler Murray. The Cardinals had a vision and now show all arrows pointing up.

Visionaries take on career-defining risks. That was Kaiser going all-in for John Elway in 1983.

“It was a power move,” then-personnel director John Beake told me last summer.

These Broncos make panic moves.

“It’s not time to panic,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said, “but it almost is, because this thing can go in the wrong direction fast.”

“It’s time to sound the alarm,” Von Miller added.

It’s time to identify the next Broncos visionary.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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