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Why the Broncos need to swing for the fences, not play it safe

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
December 31, 2018

DENVER — Strike three.

As the Broncos walked off the field on Sunday, losers once again, what was already obvious became final, John Elway struck out when it comes to his hire of Vance Joseph. He also struck out in the decision to retain Joseph less than 365 days ago.

Over the last two seasons in Denver, Joseph amassed a cringe-worthy 11-21 record. After being given the power to hire his coaching staff and, allegedly, a competent quarterback, Joseph improved his 5-11 record of 2017 by just one game.

The hire of Joseph, a man thought to be an “up-and-comer” in the coaching ranks—and a longtime favorite of Elway’s—was an out-and-out whiff, but that does not mean the Broncos should stop swinging.

The idea around town is that, if the Broncos do move on from Vance Joseph, something that would likely become official on Monday morning, the Broncos should go after a known commodity. We’re talking about a coach like Chuck Pagano, Mike McCarthy or even Mike Shanahan, with the idea being that Denver has struggled in hiring first-time head coaches like Joseph or Josh McDaniels before him.

Here’s the thing, though, while hiring a coach like Pagano would certainly bring some stability to the organization, and maybe even get the Broncos back on the track towards the playoffs, playing it safe in sports rarely pays dividends. Even safer, from a stability standpoint, would be to hang on to Vance Joseph, protecting Elway from a “coach killer” reputation.

But think of it this way, this past offseason, as Denver had two choices: Go after a “known commodity” like Case Keenum or Kirk Cousins or draft a young quarterback with their top-five pick. They went with the “safe” route and ended up paying 18 million dollars for 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Meanwhile, the Browns, Jets, Bills, Cardinals and Ravens—who all took quarterbacks in the first round—feel much better about their quarterback situations moving forward. Now, Denver likely wouldn’t have been able to get their hands on Baker Mayfield at No. 1, but all of the other quarterbacks that were drafted in the first round were in play for them.

Heck, we can even look to John Fox, the ultimate safe guy in more ways than one. Sure, Fox won a whole bunch of games, a whole bunch of division titles and even made it to a Super Bowl, but with hindsight being 20-20, was he more of an asset or a hindrance for Peyton Manning and company? In the end, obviously, Elway believed the latter.

As evidenced here, “playing it safe” is actually very dangerous, which is why the Broncos need to go big or go home.

Trading for John Harbaugh? That’s going big. Plucking Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma? That’s going big. Going after Sean-McVay-disciple Zac Taylor? That’s going big. Bringing in quarterback whisperer Kliff Kingsbury? That’s going big.

What’s the worst that can happen, you end up with another Josh McDaniels? Well, guess what? The swing and miss that was the Josh McDaniels era resulted in the Broncos getting Von Miller. And the swing and miss that is the Vance Joseph era resulted in the Broncos getting Bradley Chubb, who had an even better rookie season than Miller himself.

Those two misses have resulted in the best building block this franchise has moving forward.

That’s why you swing for the fences—because in the NFL, striking out is the second-best thing to hitting a home run. On this list, hitting for average ranks last because average gets you nothing around here. Oh, and the reason many of these “known commodity” coaches are on the market is because they were average. That’s just the hard truth.

Back in February, at the NFL combine, Elway was pressed about his swings and misses at the quarterback position, and he fired off a memorable quote.

“Believe me, I’m not done swinging and missing,” he said. “Misses don’t bother me.”

Ah, the ever-important, next-play mentality of a legendary quarterback.

Well, go ahead then, John, take another swing.

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