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5 lessons John Elway needs to learn from this season

John Elway as much as anyone in the Denver Bronco organization needs to learn some things from this season

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Losing seasons are an anomaly for Broncos Country to witness. Since Pat Bowlen took over ownership of the Broncos, he’s had the fewest losing seasons in the NFL. After this year it will number 6 losing seasons since 1984.

This franchise has a storied history of being a winning organization and in this 2017 NFL season, the Broncos have fallen far from anything resembling the “Broncos standard” we all know who have been fans of this team for years.

There are some serious lessons to be learned, and they need to be learned by the teams #1 shot caller: the legendary John Elway.

This is the deal: everything about this losing season in many ways deserves to be laid at his feet.

This is his coach. He could have picked a guy in Kyle Shanahan who would have needed more of the power than what Elway was wanting to give up. It would have been a season where Elway had to deal with friction from a young, bright, talented coach with an ego to boot who currently has the 49ers on the track back to good football.

This is his defensive coordinator. He could have kept the best defensive coordinator in football in Wade Phillips. It was just a matter of money.

This is his team. He’s been crafting this team for years and every facet of it at this point is due to his leadership and decision making. It isn’t all bad, but the team needs to get very real about who they are and where they are at. For 2 years Elway has let the team slide after the glow of Super Bowl 50. They need help in several really big ways.

One of John Elway’s best traits has always been his ego. That matched with his extreme levels of competitiveness has led to a man who embodies everything that means “winning” in the NFL. But ego can be a two edged sword. It can lead a GM to thinking he has it all figured out when he’s actually lost in the wilderness.

It is time to get out of the brambles and tread back towards the promised land, John. The Denver Broncos and John Elway need desperately to learn some important lessons from this season and get this ship righted.

Lesson #1: It is all about the QB and the cupboard is friggin bare

I don’t want to hear any more yammering or bullshittery from the Broncos PR, Denver media, or the Broncos fanbase about any quarterback still on this team. The all suck. Every. Last. One. Of. Them.

Brock Osweiler was the best quarterback to play football for the Broncos in 2017. At this point, I’m with many in that he’s a veteran backup I’d love to see stay, but shouldn’t be in the running to start. We don’t need another competition between mediocre talents...if he stays, he needs to stay as a clear backup option.

Paxton Lynch was atrocious. His QBR was under 40. I’m not even going to spend time on this guy as reports all point toward him not wanting to spend his time to turn himself into a good NFL QB.

And Captain Sucks-A-Lot who is getting to start at this point because our offensive coaches love them a guy who understands the pro style playbook completely fell into shambles this year even with an improved offensive line and the support of a much improved run game. Heck, I bet they’d trot this cell phone salesman right back out there this week if he just wouldn’t have gotten injured yet again from getting tackled to the ground (cause Pro Tip: that happens to every QB in the NFL every season).

All of these guys are JAGS.

The Broncos and especially John Elway have been trying to play moneyball at the QB position with these young guys for 2 years straight and now the team is largely in the tank because of it.

The NFL is a QB driven league. That one position makes a world of difference. Yes, Super Bowl 50 proves to us that you can get it done without a dominant QB, but wouldn’t you agree that that seems to be a very rough trail to climb through?

For the Broncos to turn this thing around, Elway has to knock off all this silliness about QB competitions, cheap late draft picks, and old tired offensive schemes that harken back to yesteryear and get with the program in today’s NFL.

I don’t care if we draft a stud in 2018. I don’t care if we chase a high end free agent QB like Kirk Cousins. What I care about is that this team gets very serious about having a strong offense again that includes quarterback play far better than the fuming product they trotted out on the field over the past two seasons.

Lesson #2: Stop trying to be everything

John Elway needs to look back at the coaching career of Mike Shanahan and realize that there are a lot of similarities between the two of them and that isn’t a good thing.

Mike Shanahan lost his job in Denver because he needed to be in charge of coaching, personnel, and everything in between. Well, Elway is having the same problem now.

All the hires being made are “yes” men, not innovators. Sure, they all act like a team, but there’s always the long, tall shadow of John Elway looming above them day to day. I’d love to hear anyone tell me that this year’s coaching staff were all hand picked by Vance Joseph...that’s completely laughable.

The organization will work a lot better with Elway being the best GM he can be and letting the coaches being the best coaches they can be. That means letting your head coach have his nuts back instead of carrying them around in your purse all day long, John.

See, if the coaches coach, the players play, and the front office manage the personnel and money, good things happen. But right now, that’s not the reality in the Broncos organization.

Lesson #3: Your scouting / drafting needs to get a LOT better

Seriously though. I don’t expect any GM to bat a thousand. But I expect a lot more than maybe 2 decent players a year every once in awhile.

Let’s review the past 5 years just make sure we’re all on the same page with how many decent NFL players came out of each class:


Kayvon Webster was probably the best player from this draft and is a decent #3 corner when healthy. Sylvester Williams is was a fairly poor use of a pick in hindsight. We’ll subjectively call this draft 2 rotational players out of 7 picks.


Bradley Roby looks like a competent #2 man coverage corner. Matt Paradis is definitely a decent player from this draft as well. Nice job landing 2 solid players out of 6 picks, Elway.


The gem of this draft has to be Shane Ray. Be still, my heart. This is a guy who’s maybe a useful rotation pass rusher. He’s not a starter. The rest of the draft was a smouldering pile of offal. Someone should do a post on this was an abomination with us maybe getting 1 rotational guy out of 9 friggin picks!


This draft was your one big win. Adam Gotsis has a long future ahead of him as a solid run stopping defensive lineman (and that’s his floor...he’s still learning). Justin Simmons was a stud pick who has a long, bright future. Let’s be generous and call the punter a hit as well...Riley Dixon is likely to play football a long time at a high level. And finally, Will Parks looks like he has a future as a solid #3 safety. (Sidenote: sorry MHR Andy Janovich fans. This is 2017 and until we get a coaching staff that knows how to use a guy like this, he’s not something you crow about. The ROI on the guy just isn’t good enough to call him a win.) 4 hits out of 8.


Garrett Bolles has shown some really good potential this year. Most of the rest of the guys either are recovering from injury or never earned the right to get on the field this year. That’s 1 out of 8.

Grand total from the past 5 years of Elway’s drafts:

10 out of 38 picks look like winners (break it down into starting quality play and you have to rule a few out in my books).

At this point, the Broncos under John Elway have to look at what they are doing these past 5 years and try to change something in order to improve the team. There’s a lot of picks in there that are total head-scratchers (Ty Sambrailo, Cody Latimer, Montee Ball, and Paxton Lynch off the top of my head). Whatever system led you to make those choices needs to be reviewed and revised because it is a bad friggin system that is leading to more than a fair share of whiffs in the NFL draft especially at the top of the draft (where it should be much easier to find talent).

Lesson #4: The team needs stability and development from its coaching staff

This is a lesson that I’m frankly disappointed that Elway needs to learn at all in the first place. When he took over, we needed a better path than that of Josh McDaniels. The team needed solid coaching and stability and an infusion of talent and development. Enter John Fox. Yeah, he didn’t get the job done, but I will point out that he was exactly what the team needed: solid leadership and player development.

Yet here we are changing head coaches like we change underwear. The offense especially can’t keep going through system changes if you expect them to get any better. Much like Lesson #1, we need to pick a guy / system and stick with it. Who are the Denver Broncos? The coaches should answer that question and the team should be built in a way that compliments that vision.

I’m not sure if staying with Vance Joseph is right or not. I’m not sure if Bill Musgrave should stay to help keep continuity either. What I know is that the offense has gone through 3 offenses in the past 3 years (the first year was an amalgamation of the Manning offense and the Kubiak offense, then Kubiak’s, then McCoy’s). We’re in the tank, so it is okay to change right now, but pick something you can dedicate the team toward and stick with it.

Along with that though, find coaches that know what they are doing and can get the best out of their players. Find more Bill Kollars mainly. That’s the shining example from this team of what a great coach is. He makes guys better. He makes them play hard. He gets them all to buy in. I love me some Bill Kollar. I do not love me some 1st year wunderkids who spend half their time sniffing stinky pinkies while their specific units look lost on the field of play.

Lesson #5: Find this team a leader

Since DeMarcus Ware and Peyton Manning retired, the team has lost a huge amount of leadership value that has never been replaced.

Don’t get me wrong. There are strong leaders in the locker room. Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Domata Peko, and Chris Harris Jr. come to mind. But none of those guys are the kind of players that have that aura about them meshed with the “commander” attitude that is going to hold the other guys accountable and help them become better players by both example and words with weight.

I’d argue that one of those guys needs to be your QB. The offense has lacked that kind of leadership since Manning retired and there aren’t many real leaders on that side of the ball. I’d count C.J. Anderson as one of those guys, but only just. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders both talk a good game, but neither has a lot of weight behind what they say. DT’s play is long past dominant and Sanders seems more of a mercenary than a true orange and blue blooded Bronco.

But either way, the team needs a leader or two to really get back to the kind of locker room they had in 2015. You could hear it all the time from that team about how they had each other’s backs and believed in each other. The same kind of words are spoken in 2017, but they seem more like words of a PR script than from the heart in my opinion.

Closing No Bull Thoughts

Here’s the deal. John Elway is the man. I know it. You know it. But as it stands today he’s the shot caller for one of sport’s most storied and winningest franchises. He’s fully responsible for the team as it stands and today that team is a loser. Let’s connect the logic dots. That makes John Elway a loser and he needs to hear it. Yes, John, you should be embarrassed. The product you spent years on resulted in one of the most terrible fan experiences I’ve had in decades of being a Broncos fan.

We don’t need to slap more lipstick on this pig. What we need to do is have the team adjust accordingly to this terrible season just like how Pat Bowlen used to do when he was capable of running the team. Protip: Bowlen would also take responsibility as well. You might want to try that on for a change too as it would go a long way with your team’s fan base and your players.

Hopefully we’ll see the Broncos make some of these course corrections. If we keep trotting along with water boys for quarterbacks, dumping strong coaches because our GM wants “Yes” men, and throwing darts at draft boards to make picks, we’ll be at this very same place this time next year.


Which lesson is the most important one for John Elway to learn after this awful Broncos season?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    #1 It is all about the QB and the cupboard is friggin bare
    (673 votes)
  • 18%
    #2: Stop trying to be everything
    (347 votes)
  • 31%
    #3: Your scouting / drafting needs to get a LOT better
    (587 votes)
  • 7%
    #4: The team needs stability and development from its coaching staff
    (147 votes)
  • 3%
    #5: The locker room has a leadership void that needs to be filled
    (56 votes)
  • 2%
    F: I’ve got a better idea and will drop it in the comments below
    (42 votes)
1852 votes total Vote Now