Denver Broncos legend John Elway didn’t always have the reputation of a great ‘closer’ in the NFL. For the longest time, into the final years of his career, Elway couldn’t win the big game. Then the Broncos added pieces that they needed to in order to allow Elway to be the closer instead of the starting pitcher that had to do more than he was capable of doing.
Excuse the baseball references, but this past season, the Broncos relied way too much on the arm of Peyton Manning and didn’t focus on closing out games. They didn’t have the killer instinct to make the right play when they needed to most. Now, the Broncos enter the offseason with plenty of question marks, starting with whether or not Manning will even come back to play for another season.
The expectation is that Manning will return for another season, and if that’s the case, Elway’s comments at the end of the season about adding to the offensive line and patching up one of the worst units I’ve seen in Denver in a long time is of the utmost priority. The Broncos need to be able to close out games, not just by keeping Manning’s jersey clean, but by running the ball well and also making sure they can come up with a big sack or interception when the time comes.
The last three years have all been relatively the same, no matter what the score of the game — the Broncos have been out-played and/or out-coached in the final game of the season, and for a team as talented as the one currently in Denver, that’s unacceptable.
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It’s the main reason why John Fox was given the boot, and the main reason why Elway went out and hired coaches that care about the Broncos as an organization and want to see the team win multiple titles. They’ll do whatever it takes to get this team over the top, and hopefully — unlike what Pete Carroll did on the final play for his offense in the Super Bowl — the new coaching staff in Denver will make the right decisions.
The roster will see plenty of turnover this year with 17 free agents and six draft picks (and an additional four picks likely in compensatory selections) but what the Broncos need the most is the guts to make the biggest plays on the biggest stage.
No more going into New England (literally, this coming season) and losing just because it’s a road game against Belichick and Brady. No more dropping late season games to teams like the Bengals, who are good but are teams the Broncos are far more talented than.
No more settling for field goals when you push the ball down to the opponents’ two-yard line. No more letting the foot off the gas when you go up 31-10 in the first game of the season against the Indianapolis Colts, a playoff contender.
No more Mr. Nice Guy. The Broncos have to stop being so ‘nice’ to opposing teams coming in, and they have to start bringing a little bit of that arrogance to the field, not disrespecting opponents but letting it be known who is the better team.
That’s why this offseason starts with getting nasty on the offensive and defensive lines. The Broncos need a center and right tackle, and possibly a left guard if Orlando Franklin bolts in free agency. On the defensive line, there will be literally a huge hole if Terrance Knighton follows Jack Del Rio to the Oakland Raiders.
The Broncos can only rely on rookies to do so much, picking late in the first round. They have had success in the draft with guys like Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, and Bradley Roby as role players in their first seasons, but perhaps this year the Broncos will need a rookie to come in and do a little bit more, maybe even learning on the job.
John Elway has always maintained that you address needs in free agency and build through the draft so that you don’t have any pressing needs on draft weekend and can take the best player available. I fully expect that to be the case again this offseason, as the Broncos have nearly $30 million in projected cap space. There are some big name players that need re-signing, but Elway and the rest of the Broncos front office do a great job of managing the cap. I have no doubt they will be able to target some key players in free agency as well as keep their own happy in the process.
With Elway leading the charge in the front office, nothing would surprise me this offseason and Elway has made a habit of out-doing even himself on a yearly basis. From signing Peyton Manning to guys like Wes Welker and DeMarcus Ware, even the shocking Aqib Talib pickup this past offseason, Elway has always been able to put the Broncos in seemingly a better situation than they were before.
That killer instinct in free agency and the draft needs to translate to the field, and I fully expect to see a more intense group of players and coaches willing to take risks this next season so the Broncos don’t look like a wounded puppy at the end of the season, but a team that either wins or loses guns blazing.