The Denver Broncos and general manager John Elway appear to be gearing up for a run at Kirk Cousins. It’s the wrong approach for a team in need of a rebuild.
John Elway is not used to losing. Since being drafted by the Baltimore Colts — and subsequently dealt to the Denver Broncos — in the spring of 1983, the Stanford product has been involved in 23 NFL seasons.
In his 16 years as a Hall of Fame quarterback, Elway endured only two losing campaigns. In seven years as an executive in Denver, the Broncos have had one such year, going 5-11 in 2017.
Going into this offseason, Elway has talked about looking at all options. He’s mentioned the desire to reload the roster with talent, hoping to make a charge at the AFC West title. The prevailing wisdom says the division is wide open, with two-time defending champion Kansas City going young on defense and inserting Patrick Mahomes into the lineup.
Yet for Denver, the wisdom is fool’s gold. The Broncos and Elway must accept that the long road is the right road, painful as it may be.
Elway has cap space to work with, projected at $26.8 million. More could open up with the trade or releases of Emmanuel Sanders and Aqib Talib, both widely reported to be happening soon. The temptation is to spend aggressively in free agency, perhaps on Kirk Cousins and some offensive line help. Unfortunately, the Broncos don’t have enough money to fix all their deficiencies, leaving them in purgatory.
By signing Cousins, Denver would likely have to commit $30 million per year to a quarterback without a playoff win. He would be surrounded by Demaryius Thomas and little else, with cap space tight and the defense aging.
Additionally, the Broncos hold the fifth-overall pick in April’s draft. Instead of splurging on Cousins, Elway would be wise to get his franchise quarterback then. A rookie deal would cost a fraction of the price and give Denver options across the rest of the roster with increased financial flexibility.
The AFC landscape also suggests a rebuild would be wise. The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers have a few years left with their legendary quarterbacks before likely embarking on a dark road. The AFC West will see the departure of Philip Rivers. Denver would be wise to clear salary, hoard draft picks and load up for 2020 and beyond.
In that vein, Elway should make calls to gauge interest on Von Miller. The All-Pro will be 29 years old in March, and remains an elite pass-rusher. While the idea is blasphemy to those in the Rocky Mountains, it’s the easiest way to jumpstart the franchise.
For Denver, Miller could bring multiple first-round picks back along with cap space. The former Texas A&M standout is due $45 million over the next two years, along with $39.4 million in club options in the subsequent two seasons.
Lastly, Elway must draft better. The 57-year-old has not drafted a Pro Bowl player since 2012 in Malik Jackson, and Jackson’s trip came with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last year, Elway selected two wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. They amassed a total of 82 offensive yards and one touchdown. Isaiah McKenzie had two more fumbles than receptions.
In 2016, Elway traded up in the first round for Paxton Lynch, a strong-armed quarterback out of Memphis. To date, Lynch has thrown for 792 yards and four interceptions. It appears his career as a starter is already over in Denver.
Because of these failures in the draft, the Broncos are left with an old, crumbling roster. Elway needs to atone for those sins by purging himself of big contracts and bad mistakes.
The long road is often the correct one, even with the pain along the way.