“Uh, yeah, I guess I just can’t give that simple answer. I can’t say that. I could not say that.” – Peyton Manning
It was an interesting comment at the time. Manning was responding to a question about whether or not he would return for another season with the Broncos. It felt like the emotion of a tough loss talking. Now, it seems like Peyton Manning was knocking down the first domino in what will be a series of events causing massive change in Denver.
On Monday, the team and head coach John Fox agreed to part ways. The rest of the coaching staff has been retained, but granted permission to look for employment elsewhere, which is more or less standard procedure in these situations. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is already interviewing for head coaching jobs, as is defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Fox, who could very well end up with another head coaching job before the month is over, led the team to four straight division titles and a Super Bowl appearance, but General Manager John Elway built this team to win NOW. Divisional playoff losses are not good enough, especially when you consider the Broncos, in their current state, will not exist much longer.
Elway went all in with the defensive signings of Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. Those additions gave Denver a championship-caliber defense, but it came a year too late. Manning did not look like the same guy we’ve seen his entire career, especially not in December or January. I know, it’s crazy to say a guy who threw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns is on the slide, but for Manning those numbers represent a decline. He still has two years left on his $96 million. Even if he comes back, the offense around him that was breaking records in 2013 is very likely about to get dismantled.
Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, tight end Julius Thomas and guard Orlando Franklin are all offensive starters who are now unrestricted free agents. The first three combined for 203 catches, 2,572 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, and the last one is one of the Broncos’ most reliable offensive linemen.
On defense, tackle Terrance Knighton and safety Rahim Moore are also unrestricted. The Broncos cannot possibly bring back all of them with their current cap situation. Plus, linebacker Von Miller is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so he’ll command big bucks in 2016.
Now, the Broncos could save about $38 million against the cap their next two seasons. But that would mean they have to cut ties with Manning. But if they cut ties with Manning, all they have at quarterback is Brock Osweiler, and no real marquis free agent signal callers available.
All of this means the Chargers are suddenly in a prime position to re-claim dominance in the AFC West. General Manager Tom Telesco has put the Bolts in a fantastic position with their cap situation. They will have the flexibility to sign multiple players (Franklin would be a monster upgrade at guard and Moore would look great next to Eric Weddle in the secondary … just sayin’) while Elway is trying to find replacements almost exclusively through the Draft. Granted, he has done well in that are in recent years.
Plus, the Bolts will have stability in their coaching staff and a stable of good, young players on the rise. I tip my hat to Elway for gambling and trying to win a Super Bowl in the limited time he had with his Hall of Fame quarterback. But the problem with gambling is, sometimes you roll snake eyes.