There’s obviously ample player-oriented news (read: speculation) surrounding Peyton Manning signing with the Denver Broncos as this talk has appeared to be more than just an apparition. Who could have seen anything like this coming?
What seemed impossible a month ago has come to fruition. The Indianapolis Colts released their surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback after injury concerns mounted and the salary cap realities pressed into the finances.
“I just think that as a franchise, where we are right now, with the salary cap, we’re rebuilding, we’re definitely a few years away,” said Colts owner Jim Irsay at the Manning farewell press conference.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are trending upward, fresh of a playoff appearance, and are well under way in the rebuilding process that the Colts will be slogging through for maybe years to come. Teams like the Broncos can look at this situation and learn what went so wrong in Indianapolis that the Colts had to part ways with the finest quarterback of this generation.
The draft is the single most important non-gameday event that a team participates in. Successfully scouting, interviewing, and properly evaluating players entering the league has become the absolute way to ensure perennial success in this league. When the Broncos slipped out of relevance from 2007-2010, poor draft day decisions were at the core of that fall. High draft picks (first and second rounders) like Jay Culter, Tony Scheffler, Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder, Richard Quinn, Darcel McBath, and Alphoso Smith are no longer with the team. This directly paralleled to the Broncos’ struggles.
Think that’s tough to look at, Broncos fans? During the same time span, the Indianapolis Colts have had ZERO Pro Bowl appearances from any player they have drafted. How can you expect to build a young, affordable team when not a single player drafted is Pro Bowl quality?
The Broncos, by the way, have had seven appearances by 2007-2011 draft picks.
When a team is unable to draft well, they are forced into high-dollar transactions with free agents. These by themselves aren’t a negative. The Broncos have seen some excellent free agent signings in John Lynch, Brian Dawkins, and Willis McGahee in recent history. In fact, this off season for the Broncos is going to be like back to school shopping on mom and dad’s credit card. Hopefully they’ll be more responsible than a fashion crazed teenager/NFL owner.
One player doesn’t make or break a team no matter what the opinion of an owner/agent/player may be on that matter.
“Well, look at the Manning situation,” you say. “They devolved to a 2-14 club without Manning as the signal caller.”
Not the full picture. Manning was a HUGE part of the Colts, but when your team doesn’t draft well and gets into signing the few parts you’ve got to monster contracts (5-year, $90 million with $26.4 being paid out in a 2011 season he didn’t take the field) you set yourself up to mirror the most prominent mitigating circumstance in the decision to cut Manning: accounting. This whole situation would have left the Colts with two quarterbacks (including assumed number one draft pick Andrew Luck) at a jaw-dropping $51 million in 2012 according to Andrew Brant of ESPN. That’s absurd when there are 51 other paychecks to divvy out, and is in no way beneficial to the long term success of an organization.
The Broncos have around $50 million in cap space when free agency starts on March 13, but sensible spending isn’t just for small business. It applies to football teams as well. Going back to the 2007-2011 Broncos, and you’ll find waste everywhere to its abysmal peak of $29.5 million owned to players not on the roster in 2009. With no real buying power, simply bringing in new players was a challenge.
With a look at the recent past and the Colts present reality, the Broncos could learn quite a lot about avoiding the path to “rebuilding years”