Still basking in that Super Bowl glow in February 2016, John Elway decides to aggressively address his QB vacancy.
Peyton Manning isn’t coming back through that door, but now that the Houston Texans have poached Brock Osweiler, the Duke and Gary Kubiak pivot to the San Francisco Bay.
Their eyes find another quarterback with Super Bowl experience, one desperately in need of a fresh start. After some haggling over the details, a compromise is reached that leaves both sides begrudgingly satisfied and…voila! Colin Kaepernick is a Denver Bronco.
The 2016 draft
The move impacts the Broncos plans dramatically.
Quarterback is no longer a glaring need, at least in the short term. Instead, the reigning champions can pivot to defending their title. The upcoming draft becomes an exercise in patching remaining holes on the roster. This gives Elway flexibility, and while he sees a bit of himself in Paxton Lynch, the Broncos move on when Jerry Jones of the Cowboys trades up to grab the 6-foot-7 Memphis quarterback.
Denver sits pretty at No. 31 where Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard falls directly into its lap. Kubiak is happy as his offense would benefit from a complementary receiver behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
The second day of the draft sees Adam Gotsis of Georgia Tech and Justin Simmons of Boston College taken in the second and third rounds, but the team is surprised to find Ole Miss QB Dak Prescott available when they’re on the clock with their compensatory selection.
Kubiak sees a bit of himself in the Bulldog QB, and with Kaepernick recovering from offseason surgery on his right thumb and left knee, his short-term health is a question. Another arm to compete with Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez seems wise.
“We had a few teams call and offer to trade into that spot, but we had a first-round grade on Dak, so we’re elated,” Kubiak says (probably).
With Kaepernick a question mark to open training camp, the quarterback’s reps are split evenly between the other three signal callers on the roster. It isn’t long before Kubiak is handing the lion’s share to the rookie Prescott.
“He’s really showing something with this opportunity,” the coach says.
The Denver media is ablaze with anticipation, stirring excitement in Broncos Country that the rookie could win the starting job before the veteran ever plays a snap for the team - and possibly leading the team to another Super Bowl.
After a preseason opener where Prescott is sensational, Kaepernick becomes something of a distant memory - and No. 4 it seems has won over the fanbase and there’s little reason to pay attention to an injured backup.
Opening day comes with Brandon Marshall, Von Miller and the defense shutting down the reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton. Prescott has his share of highs and lows, but the Broncos win in a rout.
The opening month continues on much the same course. The No Fly Zone is stout, even if it isn’t quite the historic defense that helped Manning win a ring. Fortunately for Wade Phillips and the Broncos faithful, the offense does more to carry the load.
After his opening day performance, Prescott is electric in September, completing almost 70 percent of his passes. The Denver Post’s Oct. 3 front page has the headline, “Peyton Who?”
Enter Vic Beasely
The win streak comes to a screeching halt against the Atlanta Falcons. Donald Stephenson is completely undressed as second-year pass rusher Vic Beasley tees off on Denver’s rookie sensation.
Even with his mobility, Prescott is brought down multiple times and leaves the game near the end of the third quarter with an injured elbow. Kaepernick relieves him but the Broncos’ bid for an unbeaten season ends in a 24-14 loss.
The elbow isn’t serious, but a bigger flaw is exposed that day. The Denver Broncos have a huge liability on their offensive line. The problem crops up again against Khalil Mack and the resurgent Oakland Raiders, who sneak past the Broncos 30-27. The victory eventually provides enough cushion to stay atop the AFC West and earn a first-round bye, even with second-year star Derek Carr out for the season.
The Broncos finish with a 10-6 record, sneaking into the playoffs, even after losing Kubiak for a stretch of games due to health-related issues. Unfortunately Prescott’s magical season ends in a shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when James Harrison forces a strip sack fumble on a blitz around the right edge. Ryan Shazier scoops it up and scores.
The fat lady sings.
John Elway enters the 2017 spring with a huge number of options in front of him. With Gary Kubiak’s retirement the team has a leadership void. The choice is close - one between Vance Joseph, the defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, and Kyle Shanahan, fresh off a Super Bowl loss, to the New England Patriots.
“At the end of the day, I believe Kyle has a vision Dak’s development and for our football team that can lead us back to the Super Bowl. He is a leader of men,” Elway says.
Fans are left buzzing over the possibilities of their young franchise QB developing under a coach who led an offense that just set numerous records. The hire means Wade Phillips will continue to lead the No Fly Zone, as per Shanahan’s plan. Phillips wants a raise, but if a little money means the Denver can have another orange parade, Elway figures the cash is well spent.
With the coaching staff in place comes the next step in the puzzle - solving the roster questions.
First among them is the quarterback position. With Prescott on a very affordable rookie deal and starting, the money spent on Kaepernick is just too rich.
”We had a great conversation with him,” Elway says afterward. “We had a very honest discussion, and we both agreed that it was best for everyone if he considered other teams.”
The move frees up enough cap space to sign Ron Leary from the Dallas Cowboys, Domata Peko from the Cincinnati Bengals and Zach Kerr from the Indianapolis Colts. In a mildly surprising move, Elway also picks up Russell Okung’s contract March 9, locking in his roster bonus for the 2017 and ’18 seasons.
“He was hurt a bit last year, but we think Russell can be a foundational player for us moving forward,” Coach Shanahan says.
The moves leave Denver with just enough cap space to sign its rookie class, so the fan base is left watching replays of Prescott’s rookie season and dreaming of the future.
April 27 leaves Elway in a quandary between the roster’s most pressing need and a couple of tempting luxuries, but he eventually opts for Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk over Reuben Foster of Alabama.
After passing on Evan Ingram in the first round, Broncos Country is banging the table for Jake Butt to land in Denver and find themselves tickled pink when the former Michigan Wolverine gets a call from Shanahan.
The 2017 season
The Shanahan-Dak Broncos set the world afire in a way that reminds Broncos Country of the Peyton Era. The No Fly Zone has begun to show serious cracks, but Phillips fields a dominant run defense that makes it all but impossible to ice the clock and close out games. Prescott has his fair share of sophomore mistakes, but the team still finishes 11-5 and atop the AFC West.
In the opening round of the playoffs, Aqib Talib has an opening play pick-six, and the offense completely out-schemes Mike Mularkey’s Tennessee Titans.
The Denver Post’s front page reads, “Bring on the Patriots.” Unfortunately, the Broncos’ season ends in Foxboro after Tom Brady hits Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown with 12 seconds on the board. Phillips is speechless in the postgame locker room.
2018 free agency
“This is now on,” Elway says to open his press conference to introduce the new Denver Broncos.
Beaming from ear to ear behind him are Richard Sherman and Eric Reid.
The Mile High Report releases an article comparing the moment to the offseason when Elway signed Ward, Ware, Talib and Sanders.
The Denver Broncos are once again the talk of the NFL.
The Bizzaro Broncos Depth Chart
|Demaryius Thomas||Sterling Shepard|
|Emmanuel Sanders||Jordan Taylor|
|Russell Okung||Cyrus Kouandijo|
|Ronald Leary||Billy Turner|
|Matt Paradis||Connor McGovern|
|Max Garcia||JJ Dielman|
|Ryan Ramczyk||Elijah Wilkinson|
|Jeff Heuerman||Jake Butt|
|Dak Prescott||Trevor Siemian|
|CJ Anderson||Devontae Booker|
|Derek Wolfe||Zach Kerr|
|Domata Peko||Kyle Peko|
|Adam Gotsis||Shelby Harris|
|Shane Ray||Shaquil Barrett|
|Brandon Marshall||Jerrol Garcia-Williams|
|Rueben Foster||Zaire Anderson|
|Von Miller||DeMarcus Walker|
|Richard Sherman||Bradley Roby|
|Justin Simmons||Jamal Carter|
|Eric Reid||Darian Stewart|
|Chris Harris||Brendan Langley|
While all of this is just fantasizing about the alternate universe, had the Broncos gone after the former 49er QB, a lot of things could be different right now.