The Broncos are “rebuilding,” but they still have tickets to sell
“No, we’re not. We’re not approaching a rebuild. We’re just trying to do it the right way. Sometimes, you have to make tough decisions; we want to build a foundation here. We have a lot of good players here. That’s not fair to Justin Simmons; that’s not fair to Teddy Bridgewater; that’s not fair to some of our core guys to rebuild. I think we have enough players here. Now, do we need to continue to build the foundation to get where we need to go? Certainly. We will continue to do that, and that’s what we’ve done with some of these trades.”
Broncos general manager George Paton conducted a masterclass in semantics during Tuesday’s post-trade deadline press conference. After sending future Hall-of-Famer Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams in a seismic trade that all but officially ended an era of championship football in Denver, Paton said with a straight face that the team wouldn’t enter a rebuilding phase… and then detailed exactly how the Broncos would undertake their multi-year rebuild.
Of course the Broncos are rebuilding.
They have been for nearly six years, but unfortunately, under Paton’s predecessor John Elway, they rarely seemed to realize it. Year after year, the Broncos seemed genuinely surprised that their team underachieved, despite the fact that savvy observers constantly told their radio, television, print and online audiences that they would do exactly that. The insular culture at Dove Valley couldn’t seem to fathom that they could possibly take the franchise in the wrong direction.
Paton does, and he knows what the Broncos need; even if he steadfastly refuses to use the word itself.
“In regard to our team, we’re going to get some great capital from the Rams. It allows us to build a foundation that we’ve already started to build; just add to that foundation and build this thing the right way. That’s what we’re going to do,” Paton said, once again explaining the rebuild’s first steps. “Moving forward with this team, I believe in the players here. I believe in the coaches here. We’re 4-4. It hasn’t been perfect. We’ve had some ebbs; we’ve had some flows. We have a long way to go, but I do believe in the players. We’re 4-4 and everything is in front of us. We’re still in the thick of it, but yes, we do have a long way to go.”
Teams that are in “the thick of it” don’t trade their most significant player with most of the season remaining and a chance to go over the .500 mark in a matter of days.
Paton knows this team isn’t going anywhere, and he’s acting accordingly, arming himself with as much salary-cap space as possible and as many draft picks as he can possibly gobble up. After failing to find a suitor for out-of-favor cornerback Kyle Fuller, Paton shipped cornerback Kary Vincent Jr. — a 2021 seventh-round pick who hasn’t been active even once this season — for a 2022 sixth-rounder from the Philadelphia Eagles just prior to the deadline on Tuesday.
“We want flexibility. When you have 11 picks, you have a lot of flexibility to do whatever you want, whether that’s a quarterback, whether that’s a linebacker or a pass rusher — we do have flexibility now,” Paton explained. “That’s what you want. You don’t want your hands cuffed, and we won’t. We’ll be aggressive.”
That aggressiveness will certainly extend to his coaching staff, as well — after the season ends. During Sunday’s profoundly underwhelming victory over the Washington Football Team, the Broncos announced that 11,755 tickets went unused — a full 15 percent of their stadium — despite tickets being available on game day at prices as low as $25.
Fans aren’t buying what the Broncos are selling anymore, so Paton can’t afford to admit the obvious reality that this season’s final nine games amount to little more than playing out the string with a lame-duck head coach and his staff.
“I just want to say one of the reasons I took this job was because of Vic Fangio. It hasn’t been easy this year with Vic. We’ve had a lot of adversity to overcome,” Paton demurred.
There’s a bit of plausible deniability at work. Technically, Paton’s correct — Elway insisted that Fangio play a role in the interview process for the general manager job that Paton won in January — but it strains credulity to believe that a first-time general manager was thrilled to be forced to keep the existing head coach; not to mention one that had gone 12-20 in his first two seasons.
Lest any doubt remain as to Fangio’s impending fate, Paton all but negated the Broncos’ (and Fangio’s) current record; rightly discounting their victories over the NFL’s dregs. “We are 4-4. It feels like we’re 1-7, but we are 4-4, and we’re right in the thick of it.”
Paton doubled down on the notion that the Broncos were still, somehow, playoff contenders; a notion only supported by that 4-4 record that still has them in 11th place in the AFC’s playoff chase.
“This is not a fire sale. We believe in all these guys,” Paton explained, before once again hinting that his belief in his team’s chances may have reached its limits. “We traded one player. He’s a great player, but we believe in the guys behind him. We believe in this roster. We do need to play better; everyone needs to know that. There is an urgency; we haven’t played great.”
In the end, Paton’s decision to trade Miller to Los Angeles signaled a necessary transition; one where the Broncos finally stopped pretending that they’re a contender — like the Rams — to one where they realize that to actually be one, they may need to act more like the Rams first.
“We’re still trying to get to where they’re at. We’re a younger team,” Paton suggested. “I think we’re going to get there. It may take a little more time.”
Make no mistake: The rebuild is on, no matter what Paton and the Broncos choose to call it. It’s long overdue.
Shawn Drotar (@sdrotar) is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn;” weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.