I had been excited about the 2017 Denver Broncos. Perhaps more so than my colleagues at Mile High Sports or other members of the local media covering the Broncos.
With a revamped offensive line and an improved defensive line focused on stopping the run, I truly believed the Broncos had as good a chance as any team to make the playoffs.
However, with events that have transpired over the course of two weeks, it’s fair to question whether the Broncos are looking to compete immediately in 2017 or preparing for the future.
The first major event that put a halt to the Broncos’ momentum heading into 2017 was the quarterback competition that dragged on well into the preseason.
The presumed quarterback of the future, Paxton Lynch, again failed to win the starting quarterback job against former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian. Though the rest of the Broncos dominated the the the second-worst team in 2016, the 49ers, Lynch in his lone preseason start failed to make a statement that he was the best quarterback on the roster.
In wake of Lynch’s recent injury against the Green Bay Packers in the Broncos’ third preseason game, Denver also signed quarterback Brock Osweiler, who played for the team from 2012 through 2015.
Have the Broncos moved on from Lynch? Are they convinced that he will be ready to play at a high level in a few years? Either way, the signing of Osweiler does not bode well for the Broncos’ faith in Lynch nor does it bode well for their chances of success in 2017.
Lynch clearly isn’t ready to take the reins this season. Osweiler showed last year in Houston he’s not the kind of quarterback that can put a team on his back and win when it matters.
But, as I’ve said all along, as long as the Broncos retained their elite defense, anything was possible. There could be some hope for the Broncos in 2017 as they were able to match the Green Bay Packers’ level of play in their third preseason game.
Led by the Von Miller and the rest of the Broncos’ elite defense, the performance against Aaron Rogers was a reminder that the Broncos still have the talent to compete in the AFC West.
And then news struck the heart of that same defense when reports came out that not only had the Broncos been actively shopping safety T.J. Ward in hopes of trading him, but also that there was a chance that the Broncos would cut him before the regular season started.
Then, early Saturday morning, the Broncos released Ward.
Ward, who has been a leader and instrumental for the success of the “No Fly Zone” helped lead the Broncos to their Super Bowl victory in 2015. He ranked second in total tackles in 2016 (first in solo) and never ranked lower than third in solo tackles during his three seasons in Denver.
If the Broncos were dead-set on making the playoffs in 2017, why would they part ways with one of their most important players on the defensive side of the ball?
Moving on from Ward and promoting Justin Simmons to the starting position is sending a clear signal to prepare Simmons to lead the Broncos’ secondary well into the future. Simmons has played well in Ward’s absence this preseason, but promoting Simmons to the starting safety role does not give the team the same playoff chances that retaining Ward’s services would.
Everyone will be so quick to point out Ward’s age (30) and injury history (has not played in all 16 games once since joining the Broncos) as justifications for the Broncos releasing Ward.
Less than eight hours after being released by the Broncos, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers agreed to sign Ward to a one-year contract worth $4 million with $1 million in incentives.
Releasing Ward was clearly a move focused beyond 2017. Not only with moving on to younger talent with Simmons and Will Parks, but the Broncos clearing $4.5 million in cap space will be instrumental in retaining their younger talent.
I like both of those players and I agree they should be a part of the Broncos’ future.But there are other ways to save money than cutting a veteran leader like Ward – especially when his contract expired at the end of this season.
Unfortunately, I may have to retract my previously stubborn insistence that the Broncos were going to be AFC contenders in 2017.
Though I still have faith that the team possesses enough talent to remain in the mix for a playoff spot, I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. In light of the Broncos recent moves, it is clear they are focused on the future of the franchise with less hope for the present.
Featured Image Credit: Ryan Greene