I want to stop speculating for a few minutes, well as much as one person can stop speculating during a time of so many unknowns like the Broncos face right now. The Broncos team that steps on the field next August is going to be fundamentally different, yet personnel wise very much the same. As much as some of us may want the Broncos to simply jettison half of their football team and start over fresh, with the reality that is in an uncapped year with a new CBA looming on the horizon, the Broncos are in a situation where it is a very real possibility that we simply will not be able to deal the players that we need to in order to get the players that we so much desire. What we need to do is try and peel away as much of the speculation as we can and lay some kind of factual foundation so that when our Broncos take the field later on this year we’ll have been better prepared for the type of football they will be playing.
I’ve been meaning to put together a post on different subjects for the past couple of weeks but every time I start to write, some kind of life event occurs and I’m stuck sitting on my ideas while dealing with “real world stuff” and other writers here eloquently say what I was thinking. There is, however, one major topic that I have considered since the moment John Fox was hired that hasn’t been heavily touched on yet and has weighed on me the past couple of weeks. Combined with a little more heartburn than normal I’ve had a steady late night diet of bad music, internet articles, writing, and Zantac. I even have these vague memories of Kelly Clarkson that I'm not sure where they came from… At any rate this post is the result of those things and it is a long one, so grab a winecooler or three, turn on some Ryan Star, and forget for a few moments everything you’ve assumed about the Broncos since January 13th, 2011.
The Broncos will, thankfully, be able to keep things in the factual realm a little interesting in that we will be drafting quite high, we will be making some coaching changes, and we will be making some fundamental changes to both our offense and our defense. We don’t have to speculate too much on these things, because we know that they will happen. Still, just take one look at the list of Fanposts over the past couple of weeks and you will see a ridiculous number of things like mock drafts. Drafts with Tebow, drafts without Tebow, drafts trading up, drafts trading down, drafts not trading, drafts with just CB’s, drafts with only defense, fantasy drafts with your mother, and the MUST-READ-DRAFTS OMG let’s trade Orton for three picks and Eddie Royal for a pro-bowler. It’s speculation at its finest and while I will admit some of them are fun to read, and most of them are extremely educational, they eventually get heaped on to the ever growing pile of speculation that by the end of this off-season will be vaporized in about three weeks of factual news reporting.
I’m not suggesting that speculation is a bad thing. In fact, I would suggest the exact opposite and I will be using a lot of it in this post. However, I do think that it tends to be a fast track to nowheresville when it derails from some kind of factual basis. With the amount of changes the Broncos have been through in the past 4 months it’s not hard to see how so much of what we’ve been able to count on as fans has simply vanished. Now all we have is a bunch of big unknowns. My goal with this post is to simply try and lay down some kind of foundation that we as fans can expect. It has little to do with drafting specific players and much more to do with the fundamentals of football. Sure, this is still speculation, but I think it’s not a far cry from the truth that has been presented to us.
The offseason is an 8-month torture period of almost pure speculation. I think there is a very large part of our population that develops some kind of depression between February and April, when baseball gets started. Why else do you think so many babies are conceived between February and April? Some people say it's because of the cold but no way, these are NFL babies (no speculation here). So if you were born between October and January you think about that for a minute.
I was and still am excited that we hired John Fox. I’m not so excited that he’s the one coach that did worse than McDaniel’s last season, but I’m easily sold on the fact his FO simply gave up on that team and asked him to do an impossible thing with a lousy team. It’s like bringing $20 bucks worth of chips to a poker table in Vegas. You may feel pretty badass sitting at the table with the big boys but you simply can’t compete and no matter how many different kinds of visors you wear you’ll never have the advantage (but this Bud's for you Mr. Low-Stack-Purple-Visor-With-Sunglasses dude because even though you have to look underneath your glasses to see your cards, you are still the most color coordinated man at the table). The Panthers were a $20 team in a high stakes game. They didn't have a chance. I can accept that the Broncos and John Fox are both better off in their respective situations.
However, after listening to the radio non-stop for the past couple of weeks and hearing our local talking heads and some of the national talking heads discuss the future of the Broncos I think that we are beginning to drift into the deep end of the pool of speculation. We are getting hung up on issues like draft number, whether or not Tebow will start, and what to do with Orton and other players that we might be able to deal for new talent. We are getting ahead of ourselves. We need to ask ourselves, what do we know?
We know that there will be a new coaching philosophy
John Fox likes to use the word fundamentals. But what exactly does that mean? If someone were to ask me what the “fundamentals” of football are I would have to say good defense, a strong ground game, and an offense that doesn’t make too many mistakes. If you do those fundamental things well you will win more than 4 games a season. It's what we were taught in high school football, a philosophy which I would know everything about had I not spent my highschool years ripping it up on the basketball court... and by basketball court I obviously mean chessboard.
Let's Speculate For a Minute
I believe that the Broncos and a lot of NFL teams in general have begun to move past fundamental football and play a new kind of “glamour-ball”. These teams rely on a strong passing attack, a great QB, a ground game that can convert on 3rd and short, and a defense that blitzes like Travis Henry after a baby. Franchises that play this way don’t need a strong defense to keep them in a game, they simply need to score more points than their opponents. These teams aren’t fantastic time managers as they simply don’t have enough of a running game to chew up clock consistently. They take a significant amount of chances down field, they punt and score often (as opposed to grind and move the chains), and the ball changes possession multiple times every quarter. It’s exciting football and honestly it’s the kind of football I enjoy watching the most. Denver has been this kind of football team the past couple of years. Josh McDaniel’s is the extreme example of a glamour-ball style head coach.
Let’s be honest here for a second, if the Broncos had won more than 8 games this season, if we had a strong reason to believe that we’d be focusing on our defense in the next draft, if Spygate II never happened, and McDaniel’s made more of an effort to draw us as fans in, we’d be extremely excited in the direction our football team was heading under McD. That’s extreme conjecture I know, but I would be excited. The Broncos would be quickly moving along the yellow-brick-road to a record setting, touchdown throwing, deep ball threat team that featured a dynamic quarterback and blitz crazy 3-4 defense. THAT, my friends, is exciting football when done right.
John Fox is the anti-McDaniel’s. John Fox is everything glamour-ball is not. He is good defense, good ground game, and an offense that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Fundamentals. The question that we as Broncos fans need to really consider is are we ready to accept a team that is going to throw the ball considerably less, run the ball considerably more, and wear defenses down by keeping their offense off the field? This is, without a doubt, the Broncos we are going to be getting next season. Mike Klis of the DP put it this way:
To John Fox, third down and 8 is still a running play.
We should begin preparing ourselves now for the fact that the offense that is going to step on the field in August is not going to be the same offense that we sometimes enjoyed last year, regardless of our QB. I can safely say this isn’t speculation, this is simply fact. Broncos glamour-ball is over. It's who John Fox is, and it's why he was hired as our head coach.
We know that we are going to be a gritty team both offensively and defensively and we will be successful at it, or we will be bad at it. That is it.
When John Fox says the Bronco’s are in a similar situation as the Panther’s were before the 2002 season when he became their head coach, he isn’t kidding. Their defense was 31st overall, they had the second pick in the draft, and they were supposedly in an extreme rebuilding stage. Amazingly, John Fox didn’t blow up the entire team but simply added two rookie starters to the defense from the NFL draft that year. I think most of you can guess one of them already. They were Julius Peppers and Will Witherspoon, a DE and LB respectively. With the addition of those two players, under the supervision of John Fox, the Carolina Panthers went defensively went from 31st overall in the league to 2nd overall in the league in one offseason. This is like going from dating the second string cellist in high school to Fergie (because obviously Britney Spears is still #1, hollerback). Time for some real numbers for you stat guys out there. In his rookie year, J. Peppers accumulated this stat line:
Those are impressive numbers for a rookie, especially considering he played in only 12 games. Obviously Julius Peppers was an impact player from his rookie season. Considering that the Broncos are returning Elvis Dumervil next season, we are in a sense getting our Julius Peppers of the draft, without spending a draft pick. I would argue Doom will be more valuable than Peppers was in his rookie year but that is, again, simply conjecture. Still, we can expect that Dumervil will hopefully carry a line at least similar to Peppers during his rookie year.
Will Witherspoon had this stat line:
If we choose to utilize the #2 pick of the draft and get a Bowers or a Fairley type player, don’t you think that this kind of stat line is very possible? Not only is it very possibly isn’t it to a certain extent expected? I can already hear you smart naysayers warming up by saying that Doom is not a DE and Fairley and Bowers are not LB’s so the comparisons aren’t fair. My counter to that is… who cares? Two players and a coach made a 29 rank difference for the Panthers. We’ve already got one player and a coach and a 32nd ranked defense. We are just missing that last number and we've got Soduku up, down, sideways, and back across b*tches. On a different note how awesome would it be if the Broncos could pick up Julius Peppers? We could nickname him... wait for it... Orange Julius. Love that so much.
I like, no, I love this about Mr. Fox. If he can take a defense from being 31st in the league all the way up to number 2 in the league by just adding two important players I can only imagine what he can do with our staff of Broncos. I have always believed that the Broncos defense isn’t quite as bad as the numbers suggest. Maybe I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses but the problem with the Broncos defense of 2010 to me has always been run protection and the big play. We give up huge chunks of yards at a time, and seemingly always at the most un-opportune time. Consider this. Darren McFadden was a legitimate stud only when he played the Broncos. Yet, McFadden gained little yards and then huge chunks of yards at a time. We couldn’t stop the big play. We literally made his year. Sam Bradford has a shot at rookie of the year because of his performance versus the Broncos, not because his game was especially great, but because he threw his longest passes of the year on us. We couldn’t stop the big play and it killed us all season long.
I don’t think that we will necessarily be the #2 defense next season. I definitely don’t expect it. I also don’t care if we are a 3-4 or a 4-3. I think this is a ridiculous argument that gets blown way out of proportion by people that really have zero clue what the difference is outside of what talking heads say and Madden. So what if we switch to a 4-3? What’s the worst that could happen? We could be the #33 defense next year? That said I do expect that our defense will be tougher, will pressure the passer, and not give up the big play nearly as often, either as a 3-4 or a 4-3. I’m definitely looking forward to that aspect of the Denver Broncos. All speculation aside, we can count on the Broncos being more conservative offensively and more brutal defensively. It’s a tradeoff and one that hasn’t been emphasized enough. I do not think that John Fox plans on “rebuilding the Broncos from the ground up” as Ari “Avid Sports Fan” Shapiro of the Huffington Posts suggests. He plans on doing most of the work with the talent we already have here.
We know that John Fox is not monogamous when it comes to Runningbacks
Let’s talk some Knowshon Moreno. I still believe that Moreno is a stud. I watched some of his film in college and I’ve seen what he can do when he is healthy for the Broncos. I will speculate this though, 2011 is a make-it or break-it year for Moreno. He must remain healthy for a significant number of games and he must prove that he can be a consistent contributor. Moreno needs to be conditioning right now. He simply cannot afford another season where he is injured to the point that he carries 10 times or less a game.
Even if Moreno does all these things and comes out next year and busts out a 1K yard season he can still expect to share carries to some degree with another RB. Whether that is Bucky, Ball, or someone else is yet to be determined and I’ll leave that decision up to you mock draft experts. That said, I would be willing to speculate that none of them, Moreno, Bucky, or Ball is the keystone back that D Will was for the Panthers. I do think that Lance Ball is a one-cut back that will be very attractive to Coach Fox but I would not be surprised in the least if the Broncos looked into the FA market for one or more veteran RB’s to accentuate our ballerina types that McDaniel’s offense featured (and I use the word ballerina with all respect. There’s nothing wrong with a Chris Johnson type runner, it simply depends on the system).
Does that mean we can expect DWill to be a Bronco in the future? Who knows. Runningbacks are a tricky bunch and thousand yard rushers are often the product of a system and less the unique skill of an individual. Obviously there are exceptions to this idea, and they are the truly elite runningbacks in our league.
Bottom line, the Broncos must have at least one, one-thousand yard rusher to be successful next season under John Fox.
I’d argue if we have only one exceptional rusher he must be in the top 5 or better rushers in the league for us to be a competitive. The Broncos have only one debatably exceptional rusher right now. Do you see a breakout 1500 yard season for Moreno next year? Me neither. John Fox’s relationship with runningbacks is a polygamous one. We will get help at the RB slot. Count on it. Mock draft artists, get to work!
In my estimation, this is what we know. This is what I am counting on when I am introduced to the final 2011 Denver Broncos later on this year. Anything can happen in the offseason, including a lockout, so perhaps none of this happens. But if I had to put my money on it, I'd bet that Tiger Woods falls off the bandwagon again, Katy Perry comes out of the closet, the NFL reaches an agreement with the players, and we've got football in the fall.
On Speculation, the CBA, and our QB situation
I'm going to turn to speculation now. I honestly don't have much idea where the talks are at between the players and the NFL in regards to the new CBA, but the word I am hearing is that the owners are in a position of bargaining power and the players are, to an extent, at their mercy. Mike Klis wrote a great article on the future of the CBA. I recommend that you read it if you haven't as it is very telling when we talk about the QB situation in Denver.
The CBA, like the stock market, marriage, and checkers is all about economics. It's the science of scarcity and choice where you give and get and the "winner" is normally the person who gave less and got more. Sounds like the American dream right? In terms of the NFL CBA, the power of negotiation lies in the hands of the owners, and it doesn't sound like they are going to be the ones on the losing side of the getting or the giving. We do know at least one thing about both the players and the owners and that is
Neither the players nor the owners want to see a lockout happen next year.
That said, the owners will find that the longer they wait until next season begins, the more leverage they will be able to use against the players. Why come to an agreement right now when in another 6 months the situation will be completely different and many players will be much more willing to sign an agreement so long as they get a paycheck? Remember, professional athletes in general live an extremely high income, high consumption lifestyle. You may be shocked to hear that in Major League Baseball if the average player lost his income and attempted to keep his current lifestyle, he would last, on average, only two years before declaring bankruptcy. I'm not suggesting many professional athletes aren't money smart and don't have a nestegg to fall back on, but we must realize that there are a significant number of players that would find themselves in an extremely precarious situation. Remember this song? That will be the story of many NFL players without a consistent paycheck.
The owners and the NFL understand this. Thus, at this point in time I cannot see a new CBA being agreed on until the season is much closer to being underway, and this has incredible implications from the Denver Broncos when it comes to our QB situation.
The QB Question: Orton or Tebow?
Let's assume for now that a CBA is not reached in time and the Broncos are unable to deal Orton for draft picks. After the draft there is really little incentive for the NFL to reach an agreement with the Players Association until much closer to the beginning of the 2011 season and we are looking at the very real possibility that we will be unable to deal Orton at all. Thus, we are kind of stuck.
Here are some numbers to keep in mind. If we keep both Tebow and Orton on our payroll, we are looking at spending 16.5 million dollars on the QB position next season. To put that into perspective Peyton Manning made 14.5 million last year. If we are unable to deal Orton and his contract I would be willing to speculate that we are going to be in for another QB competition for the starting role next season. If we are paying him, we've got to at least consider playing him, even in this new run-heavy offense.
Orton has made it very clear he doesn't want to be Tebow's backup, but if he loses out to Tebow in training camp he may not have any choice. Don't forget, he no longer has a year on Tebow in an offensive system. All QB's are starting on the same level this time. He may not have any choice as it is if the Broncos decide that right now is the time to start developing Tebow and building an offense around his skillsets. That decision comes down to Mr. John Fox and his staff.
Here’s where things get sticky. Everything that John Fox is about is everything but the QB, which is almost exactly opposite of everything the Broncos have been about for the past few years. Let’s get real here. John Fox wants a team that can win with an average to below average QB. Can you see this? It is simply the truth. If John Fox had everything he wanted… and an explosive offense his teams would probably never lose a game and cost as much as the Yankee payroll or a Kardashian wedding. They’d also be a fantasy. Football is also all about economics. No team can have it all at once. No team has a budget that stretches to infinity and the perfect season is always a Disney movie starring Denzel Washington or Emilio Estevez. Trade-offs must be made in every real-life decision. Hell, even our head coach decision was a trade-off. MHR and Bronco fans, when it comes down to economics, considering the pedigree of John Fox and why the Broncos hired him where do you think our money is going next season? Defense and runners. It’s simple. It’s money. It’s economics. It’s John Fox.
So what does that mean for Tebow? If you are an Orton fan reading, you should know that I respect your opinion and I respect the work that Orton has put into this team but I think the cards are stacked against him in this case. A conservative offense is exactly the kind of offense that Tebow needs to develop his skills. Orton needs to be in a pass-happy offense to reach the next step in his career. Under John Fox, Orton cannot hope to have the opportunity to have a season like he did this year. Whereas Tim Tebow needs to have a relatively mistake free year to be successful, Kyle Orton needs an All-Star year to move his career forward. I am a believer that Tim Tebow has been our guy from the moment he stepped onto the field at the Coliseum. Remember remember the 19th of December.
Now it is up to John Fox. Does he stick with the veteran or does he play the rookie? If I thought that Orton would outwork Tebow in the offseason I might be concerned about the starting QB next year, but if there is one thing I can feel confident in saying, it's that there is not a single Bronco that is going to work harder to be successful under John Fox's new system than Tim Tebow.
Fox could literally say that the starting QB is going to be decided on the winner of a Mortal Kombat match and does anyone doubt that Tebow would get so good he'd button smash a Johnny Cage fatality on Orton's Kano in about thirty seconds? KO, anyone?
Does that make me a fanatic for respecting a guy for his work ethic? Am I an anti-Orton guy because I simply don't think he can rise to the work level Tebow is going to set? If so, well then so be it. I have a lot of respect for Orton and what he did for this Broncos organization, but the team is moving forward and in a direction that is counter-productive for his particular skillset.
So what do we know? We know that the Broncos are going to be big D. They are going to run. They are going back to fundamental football.
When we welcome the starting roster of the 2011 Denver Broncos to Mile High, they will be a familiar team playing a football style we won't always recognize. They will be Broncos 2.0. I say bring it on.