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Broncos offseason one for the ages

A global pandemic, a civil protest march and a flurry of roster moves made this an offseason the Denver Broncos will never again experience.

DENVER — There have been lockouts and strikes, but never a pandemic stay-at-home shutdown.

There have been civil rights protests but never before have the Broncos as a team participated in a protest march against police brutality and racial inequality.

Between these two mercurial events, Broncos general manager John Elway was so hyperactive in swinging trades, signing free agents and drafting rookies -- while also saying goodbye to such longtime stalwarts as Chris Harris Jr. and Derek Wolfe -- Denver fans will need a crash course in roster program 101 once the NFL season convenes.

Providing, of course, the season does convene and fans are allowed to gather inside stadiums.

Head coach Vic Fangio made his contributions to offseason change by firing offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney after their one year on the job and replaced them with mega-experienced Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula.

Through it all, the new coaches and players were not permitted to participate in any offseason practices at team headquarters, leaving them to get know each other through the virtual magic of Zoom video team meetings.

To be sure, it was an offseason like no other, one that has almost zero chance of ever repeating. The good news, from a football business standpoint, is the virus shutdown occurred during the NFL offseason. The professional leagues of baseball, basketball and hockey weren’t so lucky.

Miller did not have to miss games while recovering from his bout with COVID-19. Games were not cancelled because of the novel virus or civil protest riots that spread throughout the country.

With the team expected to report to team headquarters for training camp on July 28, here’s a look back at the Broncos’ 2020 offseason that was paralyzing, invigorating, tumultuous and unprecedented:

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos Vice President Brittany Bowlen looks on as the team warms up before an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Day 1, Monday, December 30, 2019: Brittany or Sell

Less than 24 hours after new young quarterback Drew Lock finished off a promising five-game audition that sent Broncos fans into the offseason feeling hopeful better days were ahead, team president and chief executive officer Joe Ellis held a press conference that summarized the state of the organization’s ownership plan.

One, Ellis made it clear Brittany Bowlen, the 30-year-old daughter of late owner Pat Bowlen, was the trustees choice to one day succeed her father as the Broncos’ controlling owner.

And two, if all of Pat Bowlen’s beneficiaries didn’t agree with the choice of Brittany Bowlen, then putting the Broncos up for sale would become a real possibility.

RELATED: NFL women's forum reminds Broncos' Brittany Bowlen she is not alone as future leader

Because another one of Pat Bowlen’s daughters, Beth Bowlen Wallace, had previously announced she wants to take charge of the Broncos and later filed suit in hopes of removing the trustees from her father’s trust, unanimous consent is in peril.

Elway and Fangio also provided a peak at their offseason plans by stating a need to upgrade their offense if the Broncos were to make a legitimate run at the high-powered, four-time defending division champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.

“No doubt,’’ Elway said in a sit-down interview with 9News. “I think offensively we’ve been stuck in a little rut the last couple years. There’s no doubt we’ve got to do a better job on the offensive side. We’ve got to score points. And for us to  be able to compete with the Chiefs, we’re going to have to outscore ‘em.’’

Fangio had also said during his season-ending press conference that he didn’t anticipate any changes on his coaching staff unless one of his assistants was offered a promotion by another team.

But that he was before he had digested the news from earlier in the day that Pat Shurmur had been fired as the New York Giants’ head coach.

This is a 2019 photo of Brandon Staley of the Denver Broncos NFL football team. This image reflects the Denver Broncos active roster as of Monday, June 3, 2019 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)

Day 13, Saturday, January 11: Staley leaves for Rams

Broncos outside linebackers Brandon Staley was surprisingly hired by the Los Angeles Rams to succeed Wade Phillips as their new defensive coordinator.

Surprising because Staley is young as defensive coordinators go at 37, and he has only three seasons of NFL experience, all as an outside linebacker position coach.

RELATED: Rams surprisingly hire Brandon Staley away from Broncos

But Rams’ head coach Sean McVay, who is still the NFL’s youngest head coach at 34, likes youthful energy in his coaches. More importantly, McVay wanted a disciple of the Fangio defense. McVay has struggled against Fangio defenses in recent years.

The Broncos eventually replaced Staley with longtime NFL defensive coach John Pagano, a Boulder native.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos offesnive coordinator Rich Scangarello takes part in drills during an NFL football training camp session Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Day 14, Sunday, January 12: Scangarello fired; Shurmur hired   

After battling to get the 49ers to allow their QB coach Rich Scangarello out of his contract so he could become the Broncos’ offensive coordinator last year, Elway and Fangio weren’t comfortable with the offense’s overall execution in 2019.

The Broncos ranked 28th or worse in the four major offensive categories of points, yards, third-down percentage and red-zone percentage.

RELATED: New Broncos OC Pat Shurmur: 'I believe in everything we all know about the Broncos'

Although Scangarello noticeably improved as a play caller in the second half of the season, Fangio made a change. Scangarello and the quarterbacks coach he brought along with him from San Francisco, T.C. McCartney, were dismissed and replaced with Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula, who have a combined 49 years of NFL coaching experience.

Day 23, Tuesday, January 21: Cap guy switch

After four consecutive seasons of the Broncos missing the playoffs, Elway made a significant shakeup in his personnel department, firing Mike Sullivan, who had been his salary cap manager and contract negotiator the previous eight years.

Sullivan was a former agent when he took the job in 2012. He was replaced by another former agent, Rich Hurtado, who had also worked previously as a cap administrator with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Day 33, Saturday, February 1: Atwater elected to HOF

On the eve of Super Bowl 54, safety Steve Atwater became the eighth Bronco elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, following John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Champ Bailey and owner Pat Bowlen.

RELATED: Klis' Mike Drop podcast: Steve Atwater's Hall of Fame election, 1-on-1 with Atwater and John Elway, plus Super Bowl recap and Broncos' offseason plan

Day 34, Sunday, February 2 

The Chiefs stamped their AFC West superiority by scoring 21 points off three consecutive fourth quarter possessions to erase a 10-point deficit and beat the 49ers, 31-20 to win Super Bowl LIV.

The Chiefs scored 51, 35 and 31 points in three postseason games, a 39.0-point average. The Broncos averaged 17.6 points during the regular season.

Trying to make up that three touchdown difference became the theme of the Elway-directed Broncos offseason.

Credit: AP
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Day 65, Tuesday, March 3: Bouye in; Harris out

Fred Lyles had been Chris Harris Jr.’s agent since the star Broncos cornerback overcame the odds to make the team’s roster as an undrafted rookie in 2011.

Harris surprisingly fired Lyles in December but the agent was not through with the Broncos as he helped facilitate a trade that sent his client and Jacksonville starting cornerback A.J. Bouye to Denver in exchange for a mid-round draft pick.

RELATED: Broncos positional look: Cornerbacks

Bouye’s addition meant the Broncos would not try to re-sign the free-agent Harris after nine seasons. Harris wound up signing a relatively modest two-year, $17 million contract with the Chargers.

The Broncos will pay Bouye $13.44 million this year and he has another $13.5 million non-guaranteed dollars due in 2021. Bouye was the first significant move Elway made in the offseason, but it was hardly his last.

Day 74, Thursday, March 12: Coronavirus shutdown

With the exception of the first round of the PGA’s Players Championship in Florida and a Post Malone concert at the Pepsi Center, the world was essentially shut down on this day because of the rapidly spreading and fatal coronavirus.

The Broncos announced they would give all employees the option of working at home, although two weeks later, the NFL ordered all teams to shut down their facilities. The league’s buildings remained shut for two months.

Day 77, Sunday, March 15: Players begrudgingly approve 17-game schedule 

By a slim margin of 1,109 to 959, the players approved a new collective bargaining agreement that had been negotiated between union reps and the owners’ labor committee.

Had it not been for the virus outbreak and the projected loss of NFL revenues, the CBA players vote probably wouldn’t have passed.

The new CBA will add a 17th regular season game beginning in 2021. It will also add two more playoff teams beginning in 2020. It gave the players an extra 1.5 percent of the league’s revenues and increased the minimum salaries, pensions and roster spots while again reducing the number of practices and contact.

Good as all that sounds, the medical risks associated with playing one more game nearly killed the agreement.

Credit: AP
Detroit Lions center Graham Glasgow (60) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Day 78, Monday, March 16: Glasgow opens free-agent frenzy

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided to go forward with free agency despite the coronavirus pandemic that prevented players from visiting and taking physical exams with their new teams.

The Broncos had seven football employees who were allowed to work at team headquarters during the free agency period: Elway, his top assistant Matt Russell, Fangio, Hurtado, pro personnel director A.J. Durso, vice president of football operations and compliance Mark Thewes and chief communications officer Patrick Smyth.

The Elway 7, as they became known during free agency, wound up signing right guard Graham Glasgow to a four-year, $44 million contract on the first day, Then came running back Melvin Gordon on a two-year, $18 million deal, tight end Nick Vannett for two years and $5.7 million, backup quarterback Jeff Driskel for $5 million over two years and punter Sam Martin for three years and $7.05 million.

After the Broncos finished second in the derby for Houston defensive lineman D.J. Reader, they acquired Jurrell Casey from the Titans in exchange for a 7th round pick. The Broncos will pay Casey, a Pro Bowl selection in each of the previous five seasons, $11.79 million this year and $12.28 million in 2021.

The Broncos also re-signed starting defensive end Shelby Harris to a one-year, $3.1 million deal and placed an $11.44 million franchise tag on second-team All Pro safety Justin Simmons, who remains unsigned. The team later added signed free-agent defensive lineman Christian Covington on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.

RELATED: Broncos positional outlook: Offensive line

The Broncos and Simmons have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, otherwise the safety would have to play this season on the $11.44 million tag.

The Broncos also signed back defensive tackle Mike Purcell of Highlands Ranch and offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson to second-round tender salaries of $3.259 million each.

During free agency, the Broncos also didn’t make offers to Harris or Wolfe, who wound up signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Ravens. Wolfe played eight seasons with the Broncos and like Harris was a key defensive player on their Super Bowl 50 team in 2015.

Credit: AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller takes a breath of oxygen during an NFL football game between the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Denver.

Day 109, Thursday, April 16: Von diagnosed with COVID-19

To date, only one Broncos employee has tested positive for coronavirus and it happened to be their biggest star, Von Miller. After announcing his diagnosis, Miller quarantined at his Denver-area home for two weeks. He revealed on May 1 he tested negative for the virus and he has since resumed his offseason workouts in San Francisco.

Day 116-118, Thursday, April 23-Saturday, April 25: Elway drafts weapons for Lock  

Not only did Elway take highly-rated receiver Jerry Jeudy with the No. 15 overall pick in the first round, he doubled down on offensive firepower in the second round by taking speed-demon receiver KJ Hamler.

RELATED: Broncos all up to Lock — and he says he's ready

On the third day, the Broncos selected Lock’s favorite college red zone target in speedy, pass-catching tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in round 4.

With Gordon added to Phillip Lindsay at running back, Jeudy and Hamler added to Courtland Sutton at receiver, and Okwuegbunam and Vannett added to Noah Fant at tight end, Lock will have a better chance at matching points with Patrick Mahomes II in a week 7 game against the Chiefs at Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High.

Monday, April 27: Zoom meetings

In absence of conditioning and offseason practices, the Broncos began holding virtual team meetings via Zoom. The virtual meetings were divided into position groups and lasted roughly 90 minutes each day, four days a week. Thursday will finish up their seventh consecutive week.

Day 130, Thursday, May 7: One more 16-game schedule

The NFL announced preseason and regular-season schedules for its 32 teams. The Broncos will open their preseason at home, August 15 against the 49ers and regular season at home, September 13 against the Tennessee Titans.

At the moment, the league is operating as if all games will be played as scheduled with fans in the stands. However, there have been reports the league and players union are also beginning to discuss contingencies in case the preseason is shortened.

Day 156, Tuesday, June 2

With violent riots breaking out across the country following the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the suffocating knee of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, Broncos chief executive officer Joe Ellis held virtual meetings with his coaches and players to discuss the civil unrest.

It was during and after these meetings that some players decided they should do more than talk about racial inequality and police brutality.

RELATED: Broncos' protest march draws thousands to downtown Denver

Veteran safety Kareem Jackson had his marketing people reach out to local protesters and a Broncos protest march came together.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller pulls up the hood on his sweater to take part in a rally with teammates in the Greek Amphitheatre in Civic Center Park over the death of George Floyd Saturday, June 6, 2020, in downtown Denver.

Day 160, Saturday, June 6

Approximately 75 Broncos players and coaches participated in a civil rights protest march that drew thousands to downtown Denver. Six Broncos gave speeches at Civic Center Park, then led the 90-minute march through the city’s streets.

At the outset of the march, Fangio walked alongside civil rights activist Alvertis Simmons, who questioned the coach about his “no racism” in the NFL comments from earlier in the week. Fangio had apologized the next day, Wednesday, but he also satisfied Simmons on Saturday.

"There was nothing racist intended about his statements," Simmons said. "When he said there was no racism in the NFL he was talking about coaches he interacts with, and he wasn’t talking about culture. Culturally, he believes there’s racism and it needs to stop."

RELATED: Von Miller writes powerful essay on racism and protests for TIME


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