Ask Mase: With ownership settled, what comes next for the Broncos?
I don’t want to have a flowery introduction here. But first, I want to thank everyone who submitted questions … and I hope to field and answer many, many more in the weeks, months and years to come. I enjoy this format. I love reading your questions and learning what’s on the minds of Broncos fans. And inevitably, you get me thinking and reassessing my own perspective.
Let’s dive in:
Rashael from Craig, Colo.:
What are the advantages of having ownership finally settled? Having ownership playing a part? What are some disadvantages? The question comes as people are asking if it’s good to have such rich and powerful people (Walmart) now likely owning the Broncos, and what good they will do for us. Does it help our salary cap? More willing to pay more in luxury taxes?
Also how likely will we get a new stadium? Will it include maybe having a roof?
The benefits are great and small.
In the big picture, the clouds of uncertainty over the franchise can break. The Pat Bowlen Trust was never designed to be more than an interregnum between permanent owners — whether they came from within the Bowlen family or as a result of a sale. The ledger of trust stewardship included a Super Bowl win, two division titles and three winning seasons … but also five consecutive losing seasons.
That being said, how much of the recent struggles rest at the feet of ownership? Maybe a different decision in regards to head-coaching choices would have been made, but without a better quarterback, would that have moved the needle? In truth, a single decision made two years before Pat Bowlen stepped away had more to do with the 2017-21 failures than anything on the watch of the Trust: picking Brock Osweiler over Russell Wilson in Round 2 of the 2012 NFL Draft.
There will be some smaller items that now reach resolution.
For example, Champ Bailey’s No. 24 is effectively out of circulation, aside from Vance Joseph briefly bringing it back for Pacman Jones in 2018. It hasn’t been issued since. The philosophy of the Trust is that such a decision as a jersey retirement is the purview of a permanent owner, not a trust with temporary stewardship.
The same holds true for the uniforms. One way or another, the clunky 1990s side-swoosh look is dated and in need of a refresh to something sleeker and/or more timeless.
Contractually, the salary cap limits what the Walton-Penner group can do. The NFL has a “hard cap.” Thus, it lacks the myriad exemptions of the NBA — along with its luxury-tax structure that allows you to exceed the cap, at a cost. You can structure contracts to push some expenditures into the future, but eventually, as with a credit card, the bill comes due
But the Walton-Penner largesse will ensure that there are no issues with the guaranteed money for contracts. When players sign deals, the guaranteed money must be immediately put into escrow. For obvious reasons, players want to maximize their guaranteed outlay. Cash is king, and with these owners, the Broncos will have a greater cash reservoir than any team in not only the NFL, but perhaps all of North American professional sports.
As for the likelihood of a new stadium … that is the outcome that has the best chance of happening, although it is not a slam dunk. That being said, do not expect resolution in the next few weeks or months. The Walton-Penner group will make a thorough evaluation of Empower Field and a proper cost-vs.-benefit analysis before deciding whether to renovate, build in what is now the Empower Field parking lot or build something new, likely in the general direction of Denver International Airport.
And if they build anew, expect at least a retractable roof. The potential benefits — a Super Bowl, Men’s Final Fours, major soccer matches all over the calendar, increased flexibility in dates for attracting revenue-generating concerts — will likely be too great to ignore.
A Referee from Greeley, Colo.:
What is the status of the restoration work at Mile High Stadium and approximately how many Starbucks is there room for — both at the stadium and at Dove Valley?
As far as I hear, everything at Empower Field at Mile High is on schedule, with the goal of having full capacity on the damaged club level by the regular-season opener.
Now, the important part of your question: Starbucks. Future Broncos co-owner Mellody Hobson is the chairwoman of the coffee giant. I would appreciate the ability to grab a chai while on my pre-game obscure-jersey hunts.
I counted 174 points of sale for food or beverages on the lower, plaza, club and upper concourses of Empower Field at Mile High. At UCHealth Training Center, you figure that they could have one Starbucks in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse and one in the main building. So … 176? Maybe with an extra coffee cart on the plaza above the hillside where fans sit for training camp?
Mark from Colorado Springs:
In a world where the Broncos didn’t trade for Russell Wilson what do you think would have happened? Trade for Baker after the draft? Been part of the Watson lottery? Also who do you think they would have drafted at No. 9 if they still had their pick?
Ooh, I love these alternate-history questions!
Every indication is that Watson would have been off the Broncos’ radar because of the legal clouds that shroud him — the now-24 civil suits alleging inappropriate conduct during massages. The free-agent options weren’t appetizing. But the Broncos would have had a hole in their QB room and the cap space to take Baker Mayfield’s contract. Therefore, I believe the Broncos would have shipped a Day 2 pick to Cleveland.
Mayfield would have taken them out of the Round 1 QB derby. I suspect they would have entertained a trade down to accumulate more draft capital. But if they remained put, the guess here is that Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson would not have slid to No. 26, and would have been their call. Another possibility is the player who actually went at No. 9 to Seattle, Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross.
But the draft winds of QB would have impacted their eventual decision-making. With all QBs not named Kenny Pickett sliding, I suspect that they would have added either Liberty QB Malik Willis or North Carolina QB Sam Howell by no later than the fourth round. (Obviously, Willis would have been earlier than Howell.)
That being said, Howell would have been a particularly intriguing fit, as his most-often cited stylistic comp is … Mayfield. And one wonders how Mayfield would have handled such a scenario.
Speaking of Mayfield, Watson and the Browns …
Andres from El Paso, Texas:
If Deshaun Watson is suspended indefinitely (or any long-term suspension), do the Browns get back the picks they traded away?? Do they even deserve that?
Thank you Mase. I’ve been enjoying your work since the Vance Joseph era. Keep it up. 🤙
First, thank you for the kind words. Second, unless there was some kind of clause in the trade of which we are unaware, there is no way the Browns can recover what they surrendered unless the NFL intervenes. Two assets — first- and fourth-round picks this year — have already been used.
Risk is part of the game — whether it’s injury risk or a player falling afoul of league discipline. And the NFL has the collectively-bargained right to impose its own discipline even without a criminal conviction. So, I would argue that the Browns don’t deserve any benefit of the doubt. Now, if Watson was less than forthcoming with them, then that would have been on the Browns to structure a contract with some kind of escape clauses for deception or further incidents similar to the ones alleged by 24 separate defendants with civil cases against him. If they didn’t … they shouldn’t get or expect any relief from the NFL.
David Kromelow, via Twitter:
#AskMase What are some of the most plausible ways you see the Broncos adding more 2023 draft capital between now and next April?
— David Kromelow 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@dkrom59) June 10, 2022
Trades before the 53-man roster deadline at the end of the preseason, likely from positions of surplus. Wide receiver and offensive line could be areas worth monitoring in this regard. Edge rusher could join those spots if Randy Gregory proves that he is healthy after shoulder surgery.
That being said, don’t expect a windfall of high picks. Expect sixth0 and seventh-round choices coming back in deals, per George Paton’s “more darts” philosophy of pick accumulation. Currently, he has five choices: the Broncos’ own third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks, along with a third-rounder from Indianapolis and a Round 7 pick from Minnesota.
The Broncos traded their 2023 sixth-rounder to Detroit as part of the Trinity Benson trade in August 2021. Their seventh-rounder went to San Francisco as part of last year’s trade for Griffith. According to the calculations from Nick Korte of OvertheCap.com, the Broncos will not add any compensatory picks next year.
So, those five picks are it … for now.
“We’ll have a lot more than that — I guarantee it — by the time the draft comes around,” Paton said April 30.
It’s just a question of whether the Broncos can add any high choices. That would require surrendering player capital of value. We probably won’t have an idea on that until the 2023 offseason, when they begin wrapping their arms around Russell Wilson’s future contract while assessing where they stand in terms of potential contracts for players such as Bradley Chubb.
Regarding Chubb, I’ve spitballed the notion of a tag-and-trade deal involving Chubb if he flourishes — and stays healthy — in 2022. However, if he has the kind of season that warrants a massive contract, expect the Broncos to find a way to squeeze him under their cap.
A quick detour to the other football and the state of the U.S. men’s national soccer team
Mike DeCicco, via Twitter:
#AskMase who starts at a) No. 9, b) GK and C) ILB
— Mike DeCicco (@MikeDeCicco) June 10, 2022
Everything is trending toward Josey Jewell and Jonas Griffith being the ILB tandem. The Broncos bringing them out to meet with media back-to-back on June 3 is a subtle indication of where the duo stands. Jewell is the unquestioned No. 1 inside linebacker, but Griffith has improved his play recognition and appears to be more settled in coverage. The latter is particularly important for his chances.
(Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t care about soccer.)
In goal, I’d have to go with Matt Turner, even though it’s about hope … specifically, hope that he can beat out Aaron Ramsdale to be Arsenal’s first choice. Ramsdale wasn’t the same after coming back from a hip injury — no clean sheets in 10 club appearances. (He did have one for England against Italy on Saturday.) There is an opening for Turner. If he claims the job, he should be in a groove and top form by November. But that’s a massive “if,” and should Ramsdale close the door and consolidate his position, Turner will be rusty for the World Cup Finals. Which means he’ll have the same problem as Zach Steffen, Man City’s second-choice goalkeeper and starter of six U.S. games in qualifying.
I don’t envy any of Gregg Berhalter’s striker options without Jordan Pefok available due to a leg injury. Should we be prisoners of the moment, Jesus Ferreira would be the choice after the four-goal outburst Friday against Grenada … but, it’s Grenada. No offense, but you could probably put together a comparable side comprised solely of players from Douglas County. I need to see more before I get on board. I think I’d re-install Ricardo Pepi when available, hoping he recaptures his magical fall 2021 form. But I don’t feel well about the options.
Still, it’s nice to have these problems for our national team after missing the Finals entirely in 2018.
Daisy Bennett, via Twitter:
#AskMase When do you think the Team will have their first face to face with Walton?
— Daisy Bennett (@DaisyBe19269324) June 10, 2022
I have not heard an indication as of yet as to when the new owners would meet with the players. However, if it doesn’t happen on the spur of the moment this week, one would expect that to come sometime during training camp or the preseason. By that time, the group should have approval from at least 24 other NFL team owners. After that approval, the sale should be finalized shortly thereafter.
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