BRONCOS

Should the Denver Broncos expand their Ring of Fame?

Jun 21, 2023, 11:02 PM | Updated: Jun 22, 2023, 1:15 am

Another Broncos season will pass without an addition to the team’s Ring of Fame.

This isn’t completely unusual. Denver didn’t have a Ring of Fame induction last season, either. Ditto for 2018. The club took a five-year pause from 1994-98. And from 1999 through 2009, inductions were an every-other-year happening, with another pause in back-to-back years.

But given the apparent backlog of qualified names, it was still a mild surprise to see the Broncos take a year.

But that leads to another question: With 35 inductees, is the Broncos’ Ring of Fame too large, too small, or just right?

The answer depends on how you perceive its membership.

WHERE THE BRONCOS STACK UP

Twenty-nine NFL teams have some sort of mechanism for honoring the best of their club’s history. For some teams, it’s a Ring of Honor or a Ring of Fame. Others, such as the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers, have an actual Hall of Fame of their own.

It is not a coincidence that two members of that trio — the Saints and Packers — are among the NFL’s top three teams in number of players honored. The Saints have 58 players in their Hall of Fame; the Packers — whose history predates that of the NFL itself — have 166 members, more than double the tally of anyone else.

Denver has 35 Ring of Famers for its 63-season history — an average of one inductee per 1.8 seasons. The league average for teams is one member per 1.95 seasons. So, if the Broncos met that, they’d have 32 Ring of Famers.

Denver isn’t unusually selective. Right now, Houston is the NFL’s most selective team for its internal honor, with just two members from 21 seasons in the NFL.

But among the eight teams established in 1960 to have some form of mechanism to honor its best — all but the Raiders in the Class of 1960 have something — the Broncos rank third. Their AFC West rivals, the Chiefs and Chargers, each have more honorees than the Broncos — 51 and 40, respectively.

So, think about the Chargers for a moment. No Super Bowl wins. Just one appearance. By any conceivable measure, the Broncos are the superior franchise over the long haul. And that superiority rests in the roster quality over many years. But the Chargers have, to date, honored five more players than the Broncos. And the Chiefs, with as many Lombardi Trophies as Denver, have 51 inductees — 16 more than the Broncos.

Are the Chiefs getting it right? Or are the Broncos justifiably more selective? I won’t claim to choose a correct answer. But every team must evaluate its candidates based on what it has established as a worthy standard.

And for the Broncos, that’s where this gets interesting.

DO PREVIOUS STANDARDS MATTER IN FUTURE CONSIDERATION?

It’s a question worth asking. Because by the standards of some early inductees, one could believe that the pool could be expanded. Take the cases of Paul Smith and Rulon Jones as an example.

The two never crossed over as Broncos — Jones joined the team in 1980, a year after Smith moved on to Washington. But both played on the defensive line; in 3-4 alignments, each played defensive end.

Smith is a Ring of Famer, and deservedly so. But in a shorter time frame, Jones had just as many Pro Bowls, a first-team All-Pro nod and more sacks, according to pro-football-reference.com’s evaluation of sacks before the stat became official in 1982. Both had four double-digit sack seasons. But Jones had 9.1 sacks per 16 games in nine Broncos seasons; Smith had 6.7 in 11 years in orange and blue.

This is part of the conundrum that befalls the Broncos. Jones received his due as part of the Broncos’ 60th-season team in 2009 — which, it must be noted, I played a role in helping select. But his work probably merits more recognition than he’s received, especially when it compares favorably with another Ring of Famer at a similar spot.

In the next few weeks, I’ll spotlight some other Ring of Fame cases. What is common to most of them is this: By standards established in previous inductions, each of them stacks up as at least the equal of someone in the Ring of Fame.

And that should be enough, no matter where the Broncos stack up in terms of honoring players compared to their 31 NFL brethren.

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