DENVER — I know, I know. I let the Broncos’ mailbag pile up.
It was one of the seasons where you had to wait until it was finished before you got a true reading on Broncoland. Up until December, there was anger. Let’s just say some of the enormous popularity John Elway had built in this town had begun to erode.
Vic Fangio had his doubters, too. But then came Drew Lock and four wins in the final five games and jeers have been modified to cautious cheers.
We picked nine of the most recent letters in the Broncos’ ‘bag to address:
I'm not going to overreact but Lock certainly has some type of skill. I pray he gives all Elway's bozo critics, when it comes to franchise QB-hunting, the Lock-jaw.
Hope has a pulse again...
--Art Mensing, San Antonio, TX
Art – I give you credit. You sent this after Drew Lock’s NFL debut against the Chargers and before his 309-yard, 3-touchdown second game performance at Houston.
No doubt, Lock has singlehandedly brought hope to the Broncos and all their followers for the 2020 season. Now we’ll see if the switch out of the offensive staff from Rich Scangarello-T.C. McCartney to Pat Shurmur and perhaps Mike Shula aids Lock’s development -- or he takes a step back because of a new system and terminology he must learn.
The contradiction about playing quarterback is it’s a cerebral position but you don’t want to over-think while you’re playing.
Hey Mike, any chance CU’s Laviska Shenault Jr. is on the Broncos’ radar as a possible WR selection in this year’s draft?
Tom – You bet he is. Shenault is currently the No. 28 overall prospect in this year’s draft as rated by NFL Draft Scout and the No. 2 receiver as rated by WalterFootball.
It is a deep receiver group in the 2020 NFL Draft and the Broncos with the No. 15 overall pick figure to look at a deep-threat receiver prospect to pair with their physical No. 1 target Courtland Sutton and give Lock a much-needed speed weapon.
The Broncos could also look at a cornerback or offensive tackle with their No. 15 selection.
Thing is, Shenault is similar to Sutton in that he is a physical receiver at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. Shenault is extremely quick and has good speed, but he won’t be a burner against NFL defensive backs.
If for some reason Shenault slides to the Broncos’ No. 46 overall selection in the second round and the team didn’t take a receiver at No. 15, they probably wouldn’t pass him up.
But at No. 15? TCU’s Jalen Raeger, a burner who can return, or Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III might be the speed types who would better fit the Broncos.
This assumes Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb are gone by No. 15, as my Mystery Mocker projects.
Do you think Elway can get a deal done with Justin Simmons before March whenever the free agency opens? There are about six players I'd like to keep aside from Justin. Also Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Jeremiah Attaochu, Will Parks & Connor McGovern. The others can go.
Nick – The Broncos will try to get a multiyear contract done with Simmons somewhere around Feb. 25, when the franchise tag window opens, and March 10, the deadline to designate a franchise tag.
But as Simmons’ agent may command more than the $14.6 million annual salary the Bears just gave their top young safety Eddie Jackson, my guess is the Broncos will wind up designating Simmons with the franchise tag that for safeties has been estimated at a salary between $11.545 million and $12.735 million.
And then a new deal would be worked out by the July 15 multiyear contract deadline. That’s the way it’s gone with all the Broncos’ franchise-tagged players in the Elway era, anyway.
The Broncos want the same list of their own free agent players back as you do, Nick, but they can’t afford to bring them all back and upgrade their team at other positions.
The second such player on the Broncos’ wish list is defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
Although the reasons they want Shelby back – production and age – are the reasons why he should command an $9 million to $11 million average salary in free agency. Will the Broncos go there?
The Broncos would like both Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe to return along their defensive front but I wouldn’t think they can afford both.
Tell everyone how you really feel, Mike. You pulled no punches in your utter disgust at Randy Gradishar not being selected to the HOF. Hard to believe and you questioning whether there is a Bronco bias is very appropriate, as it certainly does appear as such.
But your piece the day before was a build up to what should have been a selection into the HOF.
And one could tell Gradishar was expecting to be named. What a severe disappointment.
--Terry “Golden Pen of the Fox Valley” Coley, Plainfield, Ill.
I just got through watching your segment on Randy Gradishar and the snubbing of his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
More like the “Hall of Shame,” as far as I’m concerned. I’m very (ticked) about this (excuse my French) as Gradishar was flat out dominant with the Orange Crush Defense. And, a superb person, too.
Also - - remember how well he timed 3rd down and 4th down short running plays? Hurtling his body that was perfectly timed, square to the shoulders of the running back and over the line of scrimmage. Nobody, absolutely nobody, has done it better – before or after Gradishar.
If you happen to talk with Randy, please let him know how much the Denver fans love him and his contributions to the Denver Broncos and community.
--Rick Moretti, Aurora
Golden Pen and Rick – I’ve wracked my cerebrum over Gradishar’s Hall of Fame omission for several days now and one overlooked cause I came up with was how he’s been a victim of unfortunate timing.
Starting with his first year of eligibility in 1989.
The Steelers had two linebackers -- Jack Ham in 1988 and Jack Lambert in 1990 -- get elected in their first year of eligibility. Gradishar should have been a first-ballot inductee in 1989, too, but the Hall of Fame voting committee was still groveling over the ’70 Steelers. That same year of 1989, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw and cornerback Mel Blount were elected.
Ham nor Lambert was better than Gradishar. But because they played on a better overall team – if not a better defense -- just about every year but 1977, they played in far more nationally televised games, particularly in late-December and early January. People vote for who they see.
The difference between those great Steelers teams of the 70s and the Broncos of the same period of offense. The Steelers had Bradshaw, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris. The Broncos’ offense couldn’t match up although Haven Moses and Riley Odoms were overlooked stars.
Gradishar’s HOF candidacy also began at a time in the late-80s/early 90s when the overreaching narrative was the Broncos were nothing until John Elway came along. Elway became the Broncos’ first Hall of Famer in 2004 and the only one until Gary Zimmerman – who played more years with the Vikings – was elected in 2007.
And then when Gradishar should have been a slam dunk for inclusion among the 10 senior player class for 2020, he may have been hurt that seven Broncos were elected in the previous 12 years, including two the previous year in Champ Bailey and owner Pat Bowlen.
The blue-ribbon panel vote also came at a time when the Broncos were 5-11, 6-10 and 7-9 the past three years – the franchise’s worst three-year stretch since 1970-72. The Broncos simply aren’t currently relevant and I do think that has an impact on today’s voting, even if it shouldn’t.
Yes, it is a shame about Randy Gradishar. In one of your stories, could you please explain the selection process in a little more detail. Does someone make a pitch on his behalf, and is there a fact sheet on each nominee with the ballot, or something else?
Kerry – Yes, ESPN’s Jeff Legwold is the Broncos’ Hall of Fame voting representative who pitched Gradishar’s case to the blue-ribbon panel.
And there was a book with fact sheets on all 20 senior HOF candidates that was given to each blue-ribbon voter.
Here’s a fact the HOF blue-ribbon panel missed: The 10 senior players who were elected AVERAGED 4.6 Pro Bowl/All-Star team selections. Gradishar had seven.
Only Jets’ offensive tackle Winston Hill, a longtime Denver resident going back to before his best New York playing days, had more with eight All-AFL/Pro Bowl selections.
No one else had more than six Pro Bowls. Bears’ offensive tackle Jimbo Covert had two.
The straight facts were right in front of the blue-ribbon voters and they still chose to overlook the obvious.
Mike, do you know if Joe Ellis and John Elway differed on hiring Vance Joseph? I have always understood that Vance was both of their choices!!! Thank you for your great work!!!!!
Todd – Going back to the Jan. 11, 2017 hire to replace Gary Kubiak, who resigned as head coach for health reasons, it came down to Vance Joseph and Kyle Shanahan. Dave Toub, the Chiefs’ special teams coordinator, was impressive, but was not part of the final decision.
Ellis was involved during the head coach interview process but Elway ran the proceedings, as he should have. As the team’s general manager, Elway works directly with the head coach on every team decision.
Some context is needed here as there was some history regarding Kyle Shanahan. Ellis was Pat Bowlen’s right-hand man when Mr. B fired Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father, after 14 seasons as head coach. The Broncos went 9-7, 8-8, 7-9 and 8-8 in Shanahan’s last four seasons. Bowlen, remember, had set a standard well above a four-year mark of 32-32.
As Ellis was alongside Bowlen when Mike Shanahan was fired at the end of the 2008 season, it was speculated Ellis would pause at hiring Kyle Shanahan nine years later. On the contrary, Ellis told Elway to hire whoever he wanted, the context of the message being he would green-light Kyle.
Elway wrestled with the decision – Kyle Shanahan blew away the search committee during his interview in Atlanta, where he was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator and preparing for a run at the Super Bowl. Elway picked Joseph, though, in large part because he believed his temperament and personality were a better fit to lead a locker room that at the time was full of large personalities such as Aqib Talib, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, Brandon Marshall, Von Miller, and C.J. Anderson.
Kyle Shanahan, remember, had clashed with Donovan McNabb in Washington where he served as his dad’s offensive coordinator.
Bypassed by the Broncos, Kyle Shanahan was quickly hired by San Francisco – where he went 6-10 and 4-12, by the way, in 2017-18 before turning it around in a big way this year.
It would have been difficult for Kyle Shanahan to win with the Broncos in 2017-18, in my opinion. It did get so bad for Joseph in 2017 that Elway wanted to fire him and bring back Mike Shanahan as head coach.
This is where Ellis interceded and told Elway he couldn’t hire Mike Shanahan without a thorough head coaching search process. Ellis didn’t want a blast from the past without first checking if there were other coaches who would better fit the Broncos as they looked ahead.
Given this, Elway reconsidered and gave Joseph one more year. After Joseph’s second year of 2018, Elway decided to “go in a different direction” and wound up with Vic Fangio. As we look at the Broncos’ 2019 season and prospects for the future, it appears Fangio was a move in the right direction. But we’ll be able to make a more thorough evaluation of the head coach and quarterback after 2020.
Hello Mike, Ed again. Do assistant coaches that get fired continue to get paid like fired head coaches do, or until they find another football job? If Scangerello gets let's say a QB coach job that would pay less, would the Broncos have to make up his pay difference for the length of his contract Thanks again,
Ed – Yes, they would. A contract is a contract whether it’s between a punch-press operator at a steel mill or a staff member at the Broncos’ UCHealth Training Center. (Good lawyers from time to time have been able to successfully challenge a contract because of a “cause” provision. But it’s rare.)
In Scangarello’s case, the Broncos have a chance to get full financial relief from the final year remaining on his two-year deal as he’s interviewing for the Browns’ offensive coordinator position this week. Scangarello is part of the Kyle Shanahan tree and Kyle Shanahan served under Gary Kubiak. Kubiak mentored new Browns’ head coach Kevin Stefanski this past season with the Minnesota Vikings.
So Scangarello would be a natural match with Stefanski. So far, though, no one has shown they can operate the same offensive system as effectively as Kyle Shanahan has with the 49ers this season.
Why doesn't Elway hire Mike Shanahan as an offensive consultant? Say what you want, but he lives in Denver, knows Elway and has a great track record for offense. They need to do something on the offensive front either way and they need a different offensive evaluator as right now I personally think they have maybe 4 or 5 guys worth of starting in the NFL on offense (Sutton, Lindsay, Risner, Fant (who has flashed, but has played like a rookie)).
Jon – A parenthesis inside a parenthesis! I thought I was the only one who did that.
Anyway, Jon, the Broncos hierarchy have thought about your idea. In the NFL, you’re not doing your job if you don’t think of everything. It never got to the serious discussion stage, though, primarily because Mike Shanahan is all in with Kyle’s 49ers.
Maybe if Kyle didn’t have a prominent coaching position in the NFL, bringing Mike Shanahan back as an offensive consultant would become a possibility. But it appears Kyle Shanahan will be leading the 49ers for several years to come.
Besides, Fangio hired Pat Shurmur to consult (and coordinate) the offense.
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