At times, it takes someone who has been through similar experiences to help bring perspective to what you are experiencing or seeing. As the Broncos get ready to take on the Vikings this week, Minnesota provides some interesting parallels with the Broncos current trajectory as a team, as well as a look into some Broncos teams that might have been.
Broncos fans will see some familiar faces across the sidelines this week. The most notable is the head coach who brought Denver their most recent Super Bowl victory, Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak left his role as personnel adviser in Denver to get back into the coaching arena. Kubiak and most of his staff that coached in Denver are now calling the shots for an explosive running game featuring Dalvin Cook, and a passing game led by Kirk Cousins.
I’m told the #Broncos engaged in conversations with Kirk Cousins’ representation yesterday, but never made an actual offer. Moved with conviction on Case Keenum quickly. A guy the building universally was on the same page about. Went a long way.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) March 13, 2018
Cousins will be familiar to Denver fans as he was the apple of many player’s and fan’s eyes last off-season when he became a free agent. Denver definitely had interest in Cousins, but once it became clear that he would command north of $90M, all guaranteed, Elway and, at the time personnel adviser, Gary Kubiak set their sites on the Minnesota Vikings playoff hero, Case Keenum.
Now, Denver will take on their former head coach and his offensive staff, in an offense that looks very similar to the one Denver used to run and also the one it currently runs, led by a quarterback that Denver tried to acquire just a year and a half ago.
But that is only the beginning of the similarities between these teams. Further up the organizational chain, John Elway and Rick Spielman both have had similar journeys over the last decade as the head shot callers for their respective franchises.
I first noticed this during the off-season while researching this piece on who has excelled at finding franchise quarterbacks. We’ll start the conversation there.
Both Rick Spielman and John Elway took over their teams with young, raw QBs whom they didn’t draft. Spielman became the GM in 2006 right after the team had selected Tavaris Jackson, in an attempt to refresh the QB position after the Daunte Culpepper era.
Like Elway, Spielman would move on from that young QB when he had a chance to land a future Hall of Fame quarterback at the end of his career. Brett Favre joined the Vikings in 2009 and gave them an amazing season and playoff run, paired with young Adrian Peterson at running back. They would fall short in the NFC Championship and then fail to make the playoffs in 2010 after Favre had a downturn the next season.
2011 saw Rick Spielman planted firmly on the QB carousel. As John Elway was stewarding his first draft for the Broncos, grabbing cornerstone Von Miller, Spielman was trying to find the next franchise quarterback, drafting Christian Ponder.
Veteran bridge, Donovan McNabb, would start the first six games of the season before being benched for the rookie, Ponder. After discovering Ponder was not the guy, the Vikings cycled through Matt Cassell, Josh Freeman, and Teddy Bridgewater, who looked promising before suffering a gruesome injury.
They were then visited by the traveling minstrel, Sam Bradford, and after he was inevitably hurt in 2017, Case Keenum became their starter leading them to an unexpected playoff run to the NFC Championship game.
So Spielman knows a thing or two about the search for a franchise quarterback in today’s NFL. Between the two of them, Elway and Spielman have spent three first rounders and three second rounders (not counting the resources used on trade ups) on quarterbacks, with none of them panning out so far (Drew Lock is obviously still a wild card).
While trying to find their QBs of the future, both GMs recognized the need for stability, bringing in a hard-nosed defensive head coach to right their sinking ships. What Mike Zimmer has done with the Vikings team, is what the Broncos hope Vic Fangio can continue to do.
Zimmer has shown a knack for getting best out of his talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and both coaches regularly develop players from the late rounds and undrafted ranks.
Denver is a few years behind the Vikings on both the coaching front and the QB search, as it seems that the Vikings may have finally found their answer at quarterback with Kirk Cousins.
However, the Vikings do potentially provide a bit of a glimpse into what Denver is hoping to achieve with their coaching staff and offense.
These similarities obviously don’t tell the whole story and it doesn’t predict future results, but it is interesting to get a peek into journey of another NFL team that has been on a very similar path that the Broncos are currently on - Denver just came away with more playoff and Super Bowl appearances out of the deal.