MERILATT MONDAY

The Broncos aren’t doing anything to end the Chiefs dynasty

Feb 11, 2024, 10:43 PM


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The Chiefs are a dynasty. After winning Super Bowl LVIII in thrilling fashion, with a walk-off touchdown in overtime, Kansas City has put that debate to bed.

They’ve won three Super Bowls in the last five years, including back-to-back titles. They’ve played in six-straight AFC Championship Games, winning four. And they’ve won the AFC West eight consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the history of a division that dates back to 1960.

It’s an unprecedented run. And even though it’s not a popular opinion, it’s unlike anything the Broncos have ever put together.

Sure, the three Super Bowls in four years during the 1980s was great. But John Elway and company never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Yes, the back-to-back titles in the late 1990s were great. But the Chiefs have matched that, gone to another two Super Bowls and won another championship.

And granted, the Peyton Manning era was amazing. But that four-year run only featured two Super Bowl appearances and one parade through the streets of Denver.

Game. Set. Match.

The Chiefs are the best team to ever play in the AFC West. Andy Reid is the best head coach. And Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback.

There really isn’t any argument against those statements. The Broncos, Chargers, Raiders and Seahawks (back in the day) have no run of success quite like what Kansas City has put together during the last six years.

That’s why every other team in the division should be fed up. They should be sick and tired of watching their rivals get all the glory. They should convulse at another shot of Reid and Mahomes on a postgame podium, Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift embracing on the field, and the Hunt family adding more hardware to their trophy case.

Is that the case in Las Vegas? It’s hard to tell, but who cares what Mark Davis is thinking.

Is that the feeling in Los Angeles? No one knows for sure, but the Spanos family luring Jim Harbaugh away from Michigan offers a strong indication.

Is that the mood in Denver? That’s open for discussion.

Since taking over the team prior to the start of the 2022 season, the Walton-Penner Family Ownership Group certainly has been willing to spend money. They signed Russell Wilson to a contract totaling $242.6 million, the paid Nathaniel Hackett to go away after just 15 games, the inked Sean Payton to a five-year deal worth a reported $80-90 million and they shelled out $235.1 million in contracts during their first foray into free agency.

The riches owners in the NFL have deep pockets. And they’re more than willing to dig into them.

That suggests a commitment. That offers hope that the right mindset exists in Denver.

But will it last? Is that something that Greg Penner is willing to keep doing?

Those are two questions that are hard to answer. But the signs aren’t encouraging.

During his end-of-the-season press conference, George Paton suggested that the Broncos wouldn’t be big spenders in 2024. The Broncos general manager set expectations for the upcoming offseason.

“We won’t be in on the first wave of free agency like we were last year,” Paton said. “You can’t do that every year.”

He’s not wrong. In a salary-capped sport, the spending has to be curtailed at some point. But after one year? That seems a bit premature.

Of course, the Broncos are going to be dealing with salary cap issues. If they decide to part ways with Russell Wilson, they’ll be absorbing $85 million in dead cap from the quarterback’s contract. That’ll tie their hands to a large degree.

But Denver is voluntarily putting themselves in that position. They could choose to pay Wilson to play the next two seasons in Denver, a move that would cost them more in cash during the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but would avoid huge cap hits for a player not on the roster.

Instead, they seemingly are willing to put themselves in salary cap purgatory for two seasons. It’s all but waving the white flag on trying to dethrone the Chiefs this season or next.

And the two people most-responsible for this mess are still employed. They’re still in charge of everything football-related in Denver.

Paton is still the GM, even though he made the trade for Wilson and gave the quarterback a five-year contract extension before he ever played a down in a Broncos uniform. And that’s just the first of his many mistakes. Hackett was another, Randy Gregory makes the list, so too do the contracts given to Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick.

The Broncos cap issues are Paton’s fault. But he’s still around.

His power has been curtailed a bit, as Sean Payton now has final say in personnel matters. But that might not be a good thing. The head coach seems to be infatuated with anyone who has ever eaten a beignet at Cafe Du Monde. He also refuses to make it work with a quarterback who has played in two Super Bowls and was in the HOV lane to Canton before he got to Denver.

Instead, Payton is going to try to prove what an offensive genius he is by winning with a system quarterback. It’s the same mistake Mike Shanahan made in 1999 with Brian Griese and Gary Kubiak made in 2016 with Trevor Siemian. The head coach thinks his X’s and O’s are more important that the Jimmys and the Joes.

Yet, Penner is letting it all happen. The Broncos owner is allowing Payton and Paton to put the Broncos further and further behind the Chiefs, as evidenced by their woeful Super Bowl odds next season.

Perhaps he’s taking the long view. After all, Denver probably isn’t going to be catching the Chiefs in the next two seasons anyway. Their light years behind the back-to-back champs, so a total rebuild might be a good idea.

But if that’s the plan, why hire Payton? Why bring in a win-now coach with a Super Bowl title on his resume?

It doesn’t add up. In fact, it suggests that there isn’t much of a plan in place.

That’s why Penner’s words ring a little hollow. His comments in early January fail to hit the mark.

“We’re just as impatient as you are to win,” he said to Broncos Country.

Is that true? Are Penner and the rest of the ownership group really as anxious and fed up as the fans who’ve watched the worst stretch of NFL football ever played in the Mile High City?

It doesn’t seem so. Otherwise, he’d be making bold moves to make sure the dynastic run of the Chiefs comes to a close as quickly as possible.

Build around Russ, the only Broncos quarterback to beat Kansas City since Peyton Manning was behind center. Force Payton to make it work with a QB that has won a lot of games in the NFL. Tell Paton that he’s made one too many mistakes to still be in charge.

Do something. Otherwise, Penner is the opposite of impatient. He’s passively watching as his team’s rival runs circles around his franchise.

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