DENVER — If the Broncos are going to make their football team great again, there’s an easy catchphrase to screenprint on their next batch of motivational T-shirts, right next to “Iron Sharpens Iron” and “Truth.”
Start with Vance Joseph, who so far has done nothing to show John Elway made a smart decision to hire him as coach. Year 2 of the “VJ” era is ground zero for the Prove It era. It doesn’t end there. You must look no further than the bottom line to see the new proving ground is Dove Valley.
Case No. 1: The Broncos reportedly won’t select the fifth-year option on Shane Ray’s rookie contract. Oof. That has to tickle. But look at it this way: now the former first-round pick can prove he’s worth more than the $9.2 million he would’ve received from the Broncos. Who in the American workforce wouldn't jump at the chance to name their price on the open market?
Case No. 2: The Broncos drafted two wide receivers — one huge (Courtland Sutton), one swift (DaeSean Hamilton) — just a year after they drafted two other wide receivers. Hey, Demaryius Thomas (huge) and Emmanuel Sanders (swift) didn’t become gazillionaires by the ages of 30 and 31, respectively, without recognizing the profession they chose is a business.
“I thought I was going to be gone,” Sanders said Wednesday with a laugh, and he wasn’t joking.
Starting with head honcho John Elway, the Broncos have made it crystal clear what remains of the Super Bowl 50 champs must prove themselves all over again. Produce, and there's a juicy reward at the end of the rainbow: star cornerback Chris Harris Jr., possibly the most competitive dude I've covered in Denver sports, scored a sweet payday simply by kicking butt and taking names. Even though Harris was already under team control through the 2019 season, the Broncos dangled $3 million in incentives in front of his nose. That's sending a message to the rest of the roster if I've ever seen one.
Once you get past the old guard, there’s a whole lotta provin’ goin’ on.
One of the more endearing qualities of the Peyton Manning era was how the neck-fused quarterback trained, practiced and performed like a guy who had just been fired. Come to think of it, one of those snazzy Super Bowl rings should’ve gone to the Colts. Manning wrote the Prove It plan.
Which brings us to Case (No. 4): With a new orange jersey, Keenum has all the makings of a sweet story. You don’t throw 3,500 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and only seven picks by chance, or score a 98.3 QB rating that exceeds Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and, ahem, Kirk Cousins, just because. Toss in the added motivation of a two-year contract, and the new quarterback of the Broncos seems plenty equipped to prove it. Shoot, his old team chose a more expensive guy with zero playoff wins over Keenum, who led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game in January.
“He’s one of those guys that when he steps into the huddle, he’s that leader,” said Sanders, who is halfway through his first week of 11-on-11 workouts with Colorado's newest quarterback. “You don’t have to second-guess what his thought process is: We’re going to complete this ball. We’re going to keep the ball moving. I’m liking what I’m seeing from him so far.”
Any time I write something nice about the Broncos, my inbox is filled with haters and doubters who say they'll believe what the Broncos say when they see it with their own eyes. And you know what? The Broncos went 5-11. You guys are right on.
To his credit, Sanders is self-aware enough to know wide receivers on rookie contracts come cheap, and his next big payday is totally up to him. Still, the 31-year-old pledged to teach Sutton and Hamilton "everything I know," even as he explained that times have changed in the NFL and athletes play longer.
"Now, 30 is the new 27," Sanders said.
Wish I'd known that a few years ago. Could've helped on the dating scene. Oh, well. After seeing the Broncos last season, we can all agree 2017 wasn't the new 2015.
At the center of the Prove It revolution is the proud-and-loud "No Fly Zone." Or does the "No Fly Zone" even exist anymore?
"Quick question," ex-Bronco Aqib Talib wrote on Twitter. "If Quavo and Takeoff leave the Migos, are they still the Migos?"
Here's a handy translation, since millions of young Americans have been deprived of MTV music videos and "TRL" is no longer a thing: if Talib and T.J. Ward are no longer in Colorado, is it still the "No Fly Zone?"
"It's still a 'No Fly Zone,'" starting cornerback Bradley Roby said earlier.
Notice he said "a," not "the."
"No more Talib questions!" Roby hollered as he left the media room Wednesday.
There's only one way — two words — to make sure of it.