MILE HIGH MONDAY

What can the Broncos learn from their biggest miss of last offseason?

Jan 23, 2023, 6:00 AM

The Denver Broncos are going to enter the second round of coaching interviews this week. They’ll go through the candidates and pick the best ones to have a second look at. The Walton-Penner group, specifically team CEO Greg Penner, will be making this call and general manager George Paton will not be involved in the second round of interviews.

I like how the Broncos are approaching this coaching search. Unlike last year, the team has ownership that is focused on making the right decision – not for QB Russell Wilson but for the Denver Broncos as a whole.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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Tough As Nails

Broncos Country may not like Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, but you have to respect the hell out of him. The Chiefs have a superstar quarterback, and he’ll be a thorn in the side of the Broncos for about the next decade or so. Mahomes has all the skill of a modern quarterback, and in the Divisional Round against the Jacksonville Jaguars he also proved he had some throwback skill as well.

Mahomes was injured in the second quarter against the Jaguars with a gruesome-looking ankle injury. He was getting beat up by the Jaguars defense early and often in that contest, but Mahomes stood tall against the rush. Mahomes was using jump passes, off-platform throws, and his legs as a scrambler before that injury. He missed some time, but Mahomes returned in the second half and continued to use all those features to his game to secure the win.

It was truly a heroic performance from Mahomes. After the game, Mahomes was diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain. That’s basically a small fracture in your leg, and it’s certainly not a traditional ankle sprain which can mostly be played through with better tape or a brace. Mahomes should miss about a month with this injury, but he was able to continue playing against the Jaguars and he’s already said he will be ready for the AFC Championship Game.

Mahomes is fantastic, and I think from a skill/will standpoint he’s the closest we’ve seen to John Elway. For years, I’ve thought Elway was the greatest quarterback of all time from a skill perspective. Tom Brady is likely everyone’s GOAT because of his Super Bowl rings, but I think Elway had it all as a quarterback – arm strength, intelligence, athleticism. Those skills are now matched by Mahomes, a truly rare talent indeed. I can’t stand the Chiefs, but I love watching Mahomes play football.

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Center of Attention

The Broncos need as much offensive line help as they can find this offseason. Of the five starters up front, Denver may only have two guys (LT Garett Bolles, RG Quinn Meinerz) from the 2022 season entrenched ahead of the 2023 season. I think right tackle should be the Broncos target in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. I also would like LG Dalton Risner to return with a new contract as the draft and free-agent class don’t provide many upgrade options. That still leaves the center position as a question mark.

Could the answer come from the Indianapolis Colts? There are recent reports that suggest the Colts may be moving on from C Ryan Kelly in a salary cap saving move. Kelly has a $12.3 million cap hit in 2023, but he only has $4.5 million in dead money remaining on his deal. A first-round pick out of Alabama in the 2016 NFL Draft, Kelly has been a Pro Bowl and All-Pro player during his pro career, and he’s generally considered one of the best centers in the game. You have to play 5-as-1 football on the offensive line, and Kelly is known as a leader who treats his teammates like family. Simply put, he’s exactly the type of guy you want on your team.

The salary cap is a myth. Teams almost always have the money to pay guys, but they brandish the salary cap like a sword when it comes to making somewhat tough decisions. Kelly’s play slipped in 2022, although he is still a Pro Bowl-caliber player. The move would give the Colts savings on the cap, but they also could get Danny Pinter (a player who has thrived when filling in for an injured Kelly) into their starting lineup if they move on from Kelly. While Kelly has a $12 million cap hit in 2023, Pinter is on the books (in the final year of his contract) for around $1.1 million.

The Broncos need to consider all options when it comes to the offensive line. I like Lloyd Cushenberry, but heading into the final season of his rookie contract he might not be in the future plans for the Broncos. Adding a starter like Kelly immediately upgrades the offensive line in both pass blocking and run blocking.

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Paton’s Biggest Miss

I’m not a “fire George Paton” guy. I do think he could be out of a job after the draft in late April, but I do believe in Paton as the general manager of the Broncos. I like Paton’s eye for talent, but on Saturday watching the Divisional Round Game against the Chiefs and the Jaguars showcased his biggest miss.

I know most of you are thinking I’ll be writing (again) about how the Broncos missed on seventh-round RB Isiah Pacheco. While Pacheco had over 100 all-purpose yards against the Jaguars as the Chiefs’ starter, he’s not who I’m writing about today. Paton had a bad Day 3 of the draft last year. I know many will think “big deal” but that’s a lame response. Finding gems like Pacheco (or Seahawks CB Tariq Woolen) is arguably the biggest job for a GM behind finding a franchise quarterback. Everyone can see the superstar talent (like Patrick Surtain), but finding sleeper prospects who can be starters and stars in this league is what the best scouts do.

Before I get too off track complaining about the pick of WR Montrell Washington, I want to tell you that Paton’s biggest miss was on head coach Doug Pederson. The Jaguars have a true leader with Pederson running the show. They fired Urban Meyer last year, and he might go down as one of the worst and most embarrassing head coaches in NFL history. Last year, the Jaguars did their due diligence and thought Pederson was the best man for the job.

The Broncos didn’t even interview Pederson – a Super Bowl-winning coach – and instead hired the laughingstock of the league known as Nathaniel Hackett. Some want to blame Joe Ellis for ignoring Pederson, but it still comes back to Paton. Pederson is a known “quarterback whisperer” and would have worked well with Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. Hell, if you kept Drew Lock then Pederson would have gotten the best out of him.

It’s a good thing Greg Penner is heading up this coaching search. I’m sure if he was in charge of things last year, a veteran coach like Pederson would have been on the list. With everything that Pederson brings to the table, the Broncos might have hired him last year – had Paton not had his biggest miss.

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A Heartfelt Thank You

We all create the life we want to live. That’s a rule in life I wish I had learned earlier, but I’m here now and I’m ready to make more dreams come true. That’s how I felt when I got into radio back in 2003. I was working in a machine shop in Arvada (shoutout S&H Products!) but was able to jump on with Mark Schlereth once a week talking fantasy football on 760 The Zone. My dream was to be on the radio, because I love the medium and have a gift for gab. I followed my heart and have covered football full time since 2007.

I want to write about football and talk about football until I retire. However, I do have a new dream that was an old dream that I never let die. If you read Mile High Monday, then you know how much I love comic books and comic book movies. If you’re a regular reader, then you also know that I’ve started my own independent comic book company – Smokin Gun Comics. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be a comic book artist. I don’t have much time to draw anymore, but I do write – a lot – and have stories I want to tell in comic book form.

On Friday, I did a soft launch of my first of eight intellectual properties “Fake Boos” on Kickstarter. It’s a story about friendship and the lengths you’d go to for your best friend. It’s a personal story, and a fun tale that’s been in my head for at least a few years. After just a few days on crowdfunding, I’ve already been blown away by the response. I appreciate all who have liked and shared my posts about the launch, and I certainly appreciate those who have backed the project. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to chase your dream, but I’m creating the life I want to live and as a creative person that means covering football and writing about comics – with an occasional drawing from time to time! My nerves are frayed, but I’m happy and I’m so humbled by the love and support for everything I do.

What do you think of my IP “Fake Boos” on Kickstarter? Hit me up on social media and let me know!

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