MERILATT MONDAY

Broncos Country might regret buying into rebuilding plans

Mar 11, 2024, 4:00 AM


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This is what people said they wanted. Break it down. Tear it apart. Strip it to the studs. And rebuild.

That’s what frustrated Denver Broncos fans have clamored for during the team’s recent stretch of losing seasons. They’ve called for the team to blow things up and start over.

It’s why they applauded the franchise parting ways with Russell Wilson. Nevermind that the quarterback never played a down of the five-year, $245-million extension he signed with the franchise. Or that the team gave up two first-round picks, two seconds and three starters to acquire him. Or that they’d be saddled with an NFL-record $85 million in dead cap over the next two seasons.

Pull the plug. Rip off the Band-Aid. Turn the page.

That’s what everyone said. That’s what they wanted to see.

Well, that process is now underway. And based on the first few days since the Wilson announcement, it’s not going to be pretty.

First, the Broncos released Justin Simmons. After eight years in Denver, the All-Pro safety is gone, free to sign with whatever contender sees him as a missing piece.

Then, they traded away Jerry Jeudy. The highest-drafted wide receiver in franchise history was sent to the Browns for fifth- and sixth-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Broncos parted ways with a player who was destined for the Ring of Fame, as well as a player who was supposed to be the focal point of their offense for a decade. They said goodbye to a great member of the community, while also giving up on a player with a ton of potential.

For the most part, however, the fan base was on board. They’re all in on the destructive phase that the team is entering.

That’s an easy thing to say in March. That’s the result of eight years of frustration, a playoff-less stretch that has left Broncos Country longing for an answer. After nearly a decade of trying to patch holes to build a winner, the fans are ready to sign up for a total rebuild.

They should be careful what they wish for, however.

If the Broncos are 1-8 as the trade deadline approaches in ’24, they might not be singing such a happy tune. And given that they’ll only be 25 percent of the way through what promises to be a rough two-year stretch, it’ll be even harder to be on board with the plan.

And that’s just the beginning.

What happens if Wilson is leading the Steelers to a playoff berth? If Simmons is a key member of an elite defense? If Jeudy blossoms in Kevin Stefanski’s offense in Cleveland?

That’ll be salt in the wound. It’ll be even worse considering what the Broncos got in return for those three veterans.

They got absolutely nothing for Wilson or Simmons. Zero compensation for players of that caliber is borderline incompetence.

They got two day-three picks for Jeudy. Given that the wideout was selected at No. 15 overall, that’s a disappointing return on their investment.

The Broncos recent run of fifth- and sixth-round picks aren’t exactly a litany of future stars. It’s an ugly list:

Fifth Rounders
2022 – Delarrin Turner-Yell
2022 – Montrell Washington
2022 – Luke Wattenberg
2021 – Caden Sterns
2021 – Jamar Johson

Sixth Rounders
2023 – J.L. Skinner
2022 – Matt Henningsen
2021 – Seth Williams

Those are the eight players selected in those two rounds by George Paton. The Broncos general manager will be charged with turning the two picks received for Jeudy turn into something of note.

Don’t count on it. History suggests that the Broncos got nothing in return for their former first-round pick.

Still fine with saying goodbye to Wilson, Simmons and Jeudy? It’s an addition by subtraction situation?

Some will suggest that it’s okay. They’ll argue that being bad for two seasons is actually a good thing; they claim the high draft picks will help push the Broncos back to relevancy.

That sounds good. But there’s no historical evidence to suggest that it’s true.

Even getting the No. 1 overall pick in the draft doesn’t guarantee a franchise turnaround. The last 10 players to be taken first have combined to appear in a grand total of two Super Bowls.

Joe Burrow has transformed the Bengals, to some extent. The other nine players to go No. 1 haven’t had near the impact, however.

Jadeveon Clowney has bounced around the league. Jameis Winston is a journeyman backup. Jared Goff is on his second team. Myles Garrett is a great player, but the Browns haven’t sniffed a title. Baker Mayfield is on his third team. Kyler Murray is a teetering on becoming a bust. Trevor Lawrence has largely been a disappointment. Travon Walker is a bust. And Bryce Young doesn’t look like the answer in Carolina.

It’s hard to find an example of a team being bad for multiple years and then turning that futility into success. It’s much easier to find franchises that have languished near the top of the draft for years.

The Jets, Lions, Jaguars, Browns and others come to mind. Always picking in the top 10. Never reaching the Super Bowl.

So it’s naive to think that being bad for two years will be the tonic that the Broncos need. It’s silly to think Paton will be able to parlay high draft picks into a great roster.

It’s just as likely that the Broncos are voluntarily entering a long stretch of floundering near the bottom of the standings. They could be signing up to be on the QB carousel for years to come.

But that’s what Broncos Country seems to want. They believe stripping the franchise of talent is the best course of action.

It’s a dangerous proposition. It’s one that has no guarantee of success.

The most Super Bowl champions haven’t followed this type of path. The Chiefs had bad seasons before Andy Reid arrived, but that’s not what led to Patrick Mahomes and other cornerstones. They were a good team, drafted wisely and built a roster the right way.

Rebuilding sounds good. It’s really easy to sell in March.

Give it seven months. Give it a few years. It’ll be a much harder plan to buy into.

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