Compare today to exactly seven days ago. Then, the Broncos were amidst a firestorm of bad press. Last Monday, Broncos fans learned that the team’s director of player personnel, Matt Russell, had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. The very next day, the public found out that Broncos director of pro personnel Tom Heckert had gotten into similar trouble. The fact that Heckert’s arrest had taken place on June 11 – more than a month earlier – gave the impression that the story had been covered up. All told, the organization had a major, and unexpected mess on its hands.
For the better part of five days, the Broncos endured a public outcry of harsh discussions, questions and anger: How would they be dealing with these men who are supposed to be leaders? Why hadn’t the news on Heckert come out when it happened? What in the heck is going on down there?
By the end of today, though, nearly all of that will be forgotten.
The Broncos wisely did what they had to do to make the situation disappear. The team announced yesterday that both Russell and Heckert will be placed on suspension. Heckert will be suspended without pay for one month; Russell is out “indefinitely.”
“Although they have expressed great remorse, this in no way excuses their conduct. The decisions they made away from the workplace undermined the integrity of our organization and the NFL as well as the values instilled by Pat Bowlen during his ownership,” Broncos president Joe Ellis offered in a statement yesterday. “There is no place for drinking and driving, and we certainly expect better from those in leadership positions. The resources we make available within our organization are critically important, but there is nothing more vital than individual responsibility.”
Executive vice president of football operations John Elway wisely touched upon the topic of help.
“While Matt and Tom have apologized and taken accountability,” Elway stated, “it’s most important they take advantage of whatever help they need.”
If one had to speculate, it’s likely that both execs will complete whatever rehabilitation and legal punishment they’re given and return to work. With regard to Russell, who was given the more harsh, “indefinite” punishment, the team will monitor his progress and then – more than likely – welcome a changed man back into the fold at some point during the season.
In the meantime, fans will happily accept the manner in which the Broncos have handled the situation, and get back to thinking about the only thing that truly matters to them (let’s be honest) – the Broncos on the field.
An important dilemma in that respect has been resolved, too. On Sunday, the team finally came to terms with left tackle Ryan Clady. With an aging Peyton Manning – the ultimate lynchpin in the Broncos success – under center, Clady, a reliable, Pro Bowl-caliber player, is arguably the “next most important” player in the organization. The Broncos ponied up, giving Clady a five-year, $57 million deal with $33 million guaranteed in the first three years.
The collective sigh of relief that followed the Clady signing nearly drowned out the background noise still humming from the previous week’s bad news. By taking care of the organization’s “biggest” issue, its “ugliest” issue was immediately bumped from the headlines. And on the heels of the announcement regarding Clady, the Broncos wisely put the Russell and Heckert situations to bed.
In the blink of an eye, the two problems were solved. The fact that the Broncos effectively addressed each of these matters, and perhaps the timing in which they addressed them, says a lot. The team’s actions indicate that the opinion of the fanbase is valued; the Broncos listened to their fans and acted accordingly.
By swiftly dealing with Russell and Heckert, a potential distraction was taken off the table. By opening up Pat Bowlen’s checkbook for Clady (in a major way), that distraction was removed as well. By the time training camp comes along, all of those situations will be old news. There will be no annoying questions for everyone to dance around.
The bad press from just a week ago is already dead and gone. But more importantly, the manner in which these prickly situations were handled says that Broncos are only concerned about one thing this season – winning.
They’ll tend to that matter – with no distractions – next week, when camp officially commences.
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