The 20 biggest what-ifs in Denver Broncos history

  • Blockbuster trade for Calvin Johnson?
  • Missing out on Kyle Shanahan
  • Steve Young the Denver Broncos QB?

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5. What if Mike Shanahan was never fired?

After the 2008 season, the Denver Broncos and late Hall of Fame owner Pat Bowlen made the decision to part ways with longtime head coach Mike Shanahan.

The decision to fire Shanahan was a necessary one from Bowlen, but it was understandably the hardest decision he really ever had to make as the owner of the team. Firing Shanahan would have been similar to cutting John Elway if that would have ever happened. There were understandably tears at the press conference as this parting of ways went down, the end of an era and a brilliant one at that.

Shanahan had delivered two Super Bowls to the Denver Broncos. He and the team came very close to getting to another in 2005. The simple fact of it is, Shanahan took some risks in 2006-08, primarily putting QB Jay Cutler in the lineup over Jake Plummer, and it resulted in the team collapsing in the second half of the 2006 and 2008 seasons, missing the playoffs three years in a row.

That lack of success wasn't tolerable for Bowlen, who had already stuck with Shanahan through the post-John Elway years and some brutal playoff losses in the early/mid-2000s.

But what if Bowlen wouldn't have fired Shanahan? What if he kept Shanahan on board? Picture the future we all imagined with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Ryan Clady, Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler, Peyton Hillis, etc. and amplify it. I like to think that if Shanahan had never been fired, the Broncos would have eventually figured things out.

The Broncos would have done the right thing and taken Brian Orakpo with the 12th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Shanahan would have taken a shot in round two on a playmaker at running back by drafting LeSean McCoy instead of safety Darcel McBath.

The Broncos wouldn't have traded their 2010 first-round pick for Alphonso Smith, and they would have used that 2010 first-round pick to trade down and pick up Demaryius Thomas to pair with Brandon Marshall, using the extra draft capital in 2011 to move up for Von Miller.

That's pretty much exactly how it would have gone, right?

All kidding aside, it's hard not to wonder what it could have looked like if Shanahan had been able to see his vision for that young core of offensive players through to the end.