I want to make a comparison between the 2015 Denver Broncos and this year’s Green Bay Packers.
The Broncos had just concluded the 2014 season by going one-and-out in the playoffs, losing to the Colts. This was the same exit the team took in 2011 and 2012. Their high point was in 2013, when they made it to the Super Bowl, but got embarrassed by the Seahawks, 43-8.
The Broncos had an all-time great quarterback in Peyton Manning (sound familiar?), acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Colts in 2012. The 2015 season would be his fourth – and it turned out final – season in the Mile High City and the NFL.
After falling short in the playoffs for four straight years (ring a bell?), the Broncos front office, led by Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, decided to go all-in for a Super Bowl win before their aging quarterback retired.
Building the 2015 Broncos’ Roster
First, Denver discarded several players to make room for new signings (rookie year in parentheses):
- Orlando Franklin, guard (2011)
- Nate Irving, linebacker (2011)
- Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle (2009)
- Will Montgomery, center (2006)
- Rahim Moore, safety (2011)
- Jacob Tamme, tight end (2008)
- Julius Thomas, tight end (2011)
- Mitch Unrein, defensive tackle (2010)
Next, they re-signed key players from the 2014 Broncos’ roster:
- Aaron Brewer, long snapper
- Tony Carter, cornerback
- Paul Cornick, offensive tackle
- Ben Garland, guard
- Virgil Green, tight end
- Steven Johnson, linebacker
- Brandon Marshall, linebacker
- Demaryius Thomas, receiver
Finally, they made a number of free agent signings of veteran NFL players (rookie year in parentheses):
- Owen Daniels, tight end from Ravens (2006)
- Ryan Harris, offensive tackle from Chiefs (2007)
- Antonio Smith, defensive end from Raiders (2004)
- Shelley Smith, guard from Dolphins (2010)
- Darian Stewart, safety from the Ravens (2010)
- Reggie Walker, linebacker from the Chargers (2009)
- Vance Walker, defensive end from Chiefs (2009)
When the dust settled, the Broncos had loaded up on mid-range veteran players – mostly backups – for the Super Bowl run. In keeping with the Super Bowl master plan, several of the newcomers had just one- or two-year contracts.
Perhaps the most important 2015 signing, however, was that of Demaryius Thomas, on whom Denver had placed the franchise tag. Thomas, knowing he was indispensable to the team’s Super Bowl hopes, held out until July 15, when he agreed to a five-year $70 million contract hours before the franchise player deadline.
The Great Irony
Yes the strategy worked, but not according to plan. After a 12-4 regular season, Denver narrowly prevailed over the Steelers (23-16) and Patriots (20-18), then handily beat the Panthers, 24-10, in the Super Bowl.
The great irony regarding Denver’s plan is that the Broncos beat Cam Newton and the Panthers in the Super Bowl despite Peyton Manning. Manning’s stat line: 13-of-23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, two fumbles (one lost) and five sacks. His quarterback rating: 56.6. Not only had the 38-year-old run out of gas, there were some who thought Brock Osweiler, who went 5-2 during the regular season, should have remained the starter.
Denver acquired so much talent in support of Manning’s final Super Bowl run that they were a dominating team even though Manning had faded into mediocrity.
As you might expect, in 2016 the Broncos finished at 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. I suspect that Broncos fans are happy with the tradeoff over the last two years: a Lombardi Trophy and narrowly missing the playoffs. Whether the all-in effort will result in a playoff drought in future years remains to be seen.
Comparison to the Packers
What does all this have to do with the 2017 Packers? Tomorrow I’ll complete the comparison by analyzing the moves the Packers made this spring. I’ll consider a number of pertinent questions. Did the Packers go all-in this spring in pursuit of winning it all? If not, should they have done so? Have the Packers positioned themselves for a Super Bowl run this season?
One thing is for sure. Just 14 months ago, John Elway and the Broncos proved the all-in approach can work!