For the past three seasons, the Denver Broncos have had the services of quarterback Peyton Manning. With the quarterback came the expectations that the Broncos were destined to win a third Super Bowl. Entering the fourth year of Manning's tenure with the team, the Broncos have fallen far short of their expectations, following two one-and-done playoff exits and an embarrassing display in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Following the latest disappointing exit at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts in January, the team and John Fox 'mutually' decided to part ways, with Fox curiously landing a new head coaching gig within a week of his dismissal. With the exit of the previous coaching staff, much of the blame for the previous three seasons went with them, as many considered John Fox to be the main perpetrator. The players have, by and large, been free of blame for the failures of the past three seasons, which isn't completely fair to the previous coaching staff.
So what role did they play? Manning is considered to be one of the most meticulous athletes of all time when it comes to preparation, yet against the Seahawks and the Colts, he and his team were completely unprepared. In both games, as John Elway put it, the team failed to go down "kicking and screaming," seemingly going down without a fight.
As professionals my question is this--why are teammates not holding each other accountable? Why is Manning playing on a torn quad? Why is Demaryius Thomas dropping easy passes? Why won't Julius Thomas improve as a blocker? Where is the will to get back up and fight, after getting punched in the mouth? Where is that intangible will to win, no matter the cost?
All these questions have the same answer--accountability. Teammates need to hold each other accountable. When, as a team, the Broncos have come out flat in playoff games, who was there to get in Demaryius' face for dropping a pass, or to yell at Julius for missing a block? It can't always be Peyton Manning.
My conclusion is that the Broncos have seriously lacked accountability and leadership over the past three seasons--at the player level. Just last season, the team had two returning captains in Peyton Manning and David Bruton. DeMarcus Ware, who was signed as a free agent last March, was elected as another team captain, to go along with Demaryius Thomas and Terrance Knighton.
Of that group, Manning and Ware are the only ones who are unquestionably leaders. Knighton is a free agent and it seems unlikely he will be back in Denver. Thomas and Bruton are both young players, who lack that veteran fire and no-nonsense attitude.
This team, as it is currently composed, is sorely lacking leadership. A team full of veterans does not translate to a team full of leaders. If you need an example of that, look no further than than the Seattle Seahawks, a team with an ultra-young and talented defense, to go along with a fourth-year QB, who also happens to be the face of the franchise.
Look no further than the New England Patriots, who have established the Patriot way with head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. It doesn't matter who is on that team as long as Belichick is in town because the Patriot way will stick.
This brings me back to the Broncos. The question at hand is what needs to change? It starts with a culture change. Is Gary Kubiak the guy, along with John Elway, to set the tone for this franchise? Both are former QBs and teammates. Elway is the son of a former scout and coach. Kubiak has been a head coach in this league before. Wade Phillips has been a head coach in this league. Rick Dennison is as close to a lifelong Bronco as they come. With the coaching staff as currently constructed, the team is on the right track.
Now we turn our attention to the roster. Currently, outside of Manning and Ware, there are a lot of questions as to who the leaders are on this team. Guys like T.J. Ward, Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders are players who fit the bill, but that isn't enough. Veteran guys who are available in free agency, like Vince Wilfork, Andre Johnson, Devin McCourty, Owen Daniels and Chris Myers, have all been voted as captains at one time or another in their careers and would certainly help. But where this needs to be addressed is through the draft.
Recently, John Elway's draft record has been the subject of heated debate. While we can argue the merits of each pick, one area where I believe Elway has fallen short is in drafting players who can be leaders. Where is the Al Wilson that the team drafts and becomes the unquestioned leader of the defense? When I look at guys like Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams, of the group, I don't see a player that stands out as a leader.
To get over the hump, the Broncos, as an organization, need to focus on a culture change--a culture with a collective will to win and when they do lose, goes down "kicking and screaming". Broncos fans need a team they can be assured will give their all to bring a championship back to Denver. A veteran free agent or two, to go along with a solid draft, should point Denver in the right direction, but only time will tell what type of culture Elway and the Broncos will cultivate moving forward.