BRONCOS

Players aren’t “cool with” coming to town, as Broncos have become a joke

Oct 28, 2021, 6:32 AM
Kenny Young...
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The last five seasons have been transformative for the Denver Broncos. The previous four saw the team win a total of 23 games; the lowest four-season total since the 1969 Broncos — as a member of the AFL at the time — started a four-season slog that produced only 19 wins through the 1972 season. By then, Denver was a member of the NFL. In the following season of 1973, the Broncos broke through with a winning record of 7-5-2.

Whether this version of the Broncos can do the same thing 48 years later remains to be seen, but on Halloween, if they lose to a visiting Washington club that still hasn’t even bothered to name their team, their fate will likely be sealed. The team will be consigned to irrelevance on the NFL’s landscape once again. Two coaches, five different primary quarterbacks, and 41 losses in five seasons will do that for you.

“I’m not cool with it,” linebacker Kenny Young said of his trade to Denver on Saturday, one driven by the cap-strapped Los Angeles Rams’ financial needs more than anything. “It had nothing to do with my on-the-field ability or anything like that.”

His honesty was refreshing. But a bit jolting.

“I was playing well, but the way the cap was structured, they needed to take some money off my deal to really get some guys off other areas up and ready to go,” Young added. “That’s what it was about. It was about finances. It’s something weird for me. I’ve never heard or experienced that, but it makes sense what they did. I’m not cool with it, but I have to respect it, because they had no other choice.”

Young, who started all seven games for the Rams this season to the tune of 46 combined tackles, handled his introductory press conference professionally, focusing on the job that the Broncos need done. There’s little doubt that the UCLA product will work hard, based on how dutifully he tossed the expected platitudes the Broncos’ way alone.

“This is a great organization. They’ve been known for playing some phenomenal defense and some phenomenal linebackers,” Young said. “You guys just won a Super Bowl not too long ago, so it’s a lot of good things going over here. I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s a place where I also can fit in, and that’s good enough.”

He’s not wrong on any of those points, of course, but his sentiments are woefully out of date. The Broncos defense has yet to even approach “phenomenal” under longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who still makes the defensive calls from a head coach’s seat that gets hotter with every consecutive loss. The highest-paid part of that defense — the secondary, which boasts the league’s biggest payroll by roughly $20 million — has been gashed with big play after big play during the Broncos’ four-game losing streak.

Whether it’s Baltimore’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Pittsburgh’s Chase Claypool or Las Vegas’ Henry Ruggs III, opposing quarterbacks have been free to fling the ball downfield with abandon and watch their receivers reel in huge gains and touchdowns. The most recent loss to Cleveland was even more damning, as the Broncos were beaten by backup quarterback Case Keenum, third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson, and a Browns offense that resembled the lineup that one used to see (when they had four) in a third preseason game.

As far as the “not too long ago” Super Bowl championship following the 2015 season goes, the honeymoon period in Denver has long since ended in a city where competing in the playoffs has long been considered all but a birthright. The franchise is preparing to hit the reset button once again in the offseason with a new owner, an almost-certainly new coaching staff, and a likely sixth new primary quarterback in six seasons; none of those things are part of any recipe for immediate success, nor are they the hallmarks of a “great organization.” The Broncos look to be trapped in this hell of their own making for a while longer, at least.

“It’s the business of football and my obligation is to do my job, always. I just keep it at that.” Young, a free agent at the end of the season, said all the right things on Wednesday, but his body language and tight-lipped visage told another story entirely — he would clearly, obviously, rather be with the Rams than in the NFL purgatory that Denver’s become.

Who could blame him? The trade had nothing to do with Young’s play, which is frustrating enough, but it has to be doubly difficult to go from starting for one of the league’s few Super Bowl contenders to… whatever this is.

“The human side of is that I am feeling mixed emotions, but I feel like there’s light at the end of this tunnel,” Young said.

He’s right. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

***

Shawn Drotar is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn,” airing weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.

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