New, massive NFL fines may force Broncos to be sold

Beth (left) and Brittany Bowlen (right) at Pat Bowlen's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Credit: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports.
Beth (left) and Brittany Bowlen (right) at Pat Bowlen's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Credit: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos have no owner.

For now, the three-person trust is in charge of running the franchise, and has been since 2014 due to Alzheimer’s Disease affecting the great Pat Bowlen and eventually taking his life in 2019.

One could argue the team has been fine without a strong leader in the ownership position. Hey, they won Super Bowl 50 in 2015 with Joe Ellis basically calling the shots.

However, since then, the Broncos have missed the playoffs four straight years and, as they sit at 3-6 currently, it’s likely that streak gets extended to five straight. A playoff drought that long has happened only one time since Bowlen bought the team in 1984, from 2006-2010 and the old, strong-willed owner couldn’t stand for all the losing; he fired Mike Shanahan and then Josh McDaniels, too.

In recent years, Bowlen’s seven children from two different marriages have been squabbling over the rights to become the team’s next owner, with Brittany Bowlen seemingly being the favorite. However, as Ellis explained last year, all the other children would have to sign off permanently and make Brittany the sole owner.

“The way I would answer that is, it is an option, and we’ve told the beneficiaries that, because if Brittany were to succeed and take over for her father, everybody else is going to have to sign off on that, most likely,’’ Ellis said at the end of last season per 9News. “That may not be a requirement, but it’s going to be necessary, I think, moving forward from a trustee viewpoint. That’s why a sale remains a possibility I think — given the circumstances we’re in.”

Now, it has become a requirement by the NFL.

Per Sports Business Daily and Pro Football Talk, the league has implemented a new rule forcing franchises to have one, sole owner. If they don’t, the franchise can be fined $10 million per year. And, the individual owners can be fined $2 million as well.

A similar situation is playing out for the Tennessee Titans as well, and the league needs each team to have a single person in charge so they can vote on future changes. Bengals owner Mike Brown offered that teams without a single owner should be stripped of their voting abilities but the rest of the owners decided on the steep fines instead.

Pro Football Talk’s source within the Broncos believes the team will end up being sold to a new owner because it’s unlikely all six other children sign off on allowing Brittany to be the sole owner of the team.

For Broncos fans who are desperate for a franchise quarterback as well as a winning team, getting a strong-willed owner like they had with Pat Bowlen seems to be the answer in terms of fixing things from the top-down.

John Elway rejoined the team in 2011 and has expanded his power within the organization since. He was instrumental in the hiring of John Fox, Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph and most recently, Vic Fangio. And Elway has been the one credited with the Broncos many successes and failures in the NFL Draft.

While Elway has done extremely well on the defensive side in the draft, the great irony is the all-time great quarterback can’t find a winning QB for Denver. Overall, Elway’s gambled in the draft many times, especially early on, and landed busts — like Paxton Lynch, Shane Ray, Ty Sambrailo, Adam Gotsis and Cody Latimer, to name a few. But the Broncos’ last three drafts have been superb, finding 2-3 starters each year.

He’s also made many great signings in free agency which outweigh the few head-scratching moves (Joe Flacco?).

Simply, John Elway the GM is a complicated tale. He’s been solid, but has he been good enough? And where would the Broncos be if he was held accountable by an involved owner?

If Brittany Bowlen doesn’t become the owner, there’s no telling who will come in and buy the successful franchise. According to Forbes, the Broncos are the 11th-most valuable franchise in the NFL, coming in at $3.2 billion.

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