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'You have to go through a rebuilding stage'

Andrew Mason Avatar
October 2, 2019


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Emmanuel Sanders knows exactly where the Broncos stand right now.

“I know a lot of people around here have been spoiled in terms of the passing offense we had and winning a Super Bowl,” he said Tuesday as the Broncos returned to work following their Monday off-day, “but sometimes when you win a Super Bowl, obviously, you have to go through a rebuilding stage.”

The “R-word.” Someone said it.

“You have to try to get the right players back in the locker room,” Sanders said. “So I tell people all the time, ‘You know, in 2014 and 2015, we had a lot of good players, but a lot of players left because obviously when you’re winning, teams want guys who win, and they go and get bigger money.’”

They did, of course. The Broncos made choices at various positions. They kept Derek Wolfe, but saw Malik Jackson leave for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They gave Brandon Marshall a restricted free-agent tender and then signed him to a contract extension, but they allowed Danny Trevathan to sign with the Chicago Bears.

Some moved on to other teams. Others retired. And while some replacements were as good as their predecessors, the Broncos are still looking for the leadership they had with Peyton Manning on one side of the locker room and DeMarcus Ware on the other.

The Broncos never had a losing record when they had Manning, Ware or both on the roster. Since 2007, they’ve never had a winning season when they didn’t.

You don’t replace talent and leadership like what the Broncos lost unless you nail the draft and find bargains in free agency who play above their previous standard. Struggles in the draft from 2013-17 and in the free-agent classes of recent years put the Broncos in the position in which they sit right now, where the bulk of the talent is either in its first or second year or holdovers from Super Bowl 50.

A rebuilding team cannot do the things that a playoff contender can. This is a point that Chris Harris Jr. made last Sunday as he reflected on the defense’s inability to close out foes in the Broncos’ two home losses, leading to last-second, game-deciding field goals.

“We haven’t had the closers that we’ve had in the past,” he said. “It’s not the same defense. It’s totally different players, all new guys. So we’ve got to figure out how to close as a team.”

In other words, these Broncos must not only add talent, they must learn how to win.

Their young talent must grow — a core that absorbed a crushing blow with Bradley Chubb’s torn ACL. That injury doesn’t change Chubb’s status as one of the foundational pieces of the rebuilding project, but it complicates efforts to turn the corner right now.

“We’re in that process and trying to get it right. Upstairs they’re trying to get it right. It’s not an easy job,” Sanders said.

That’s the big picture.

General manager John Elway, meanwhile, has a narrower focus — to start the journey back with a win. In other words, he sees it like the player he was, focused on one game at a time.

“We’ve got to keep it small,” he told KOA-AM 850 Tuesday. “I think we’ve got to look to next week. That’s the only thing we can do. We’ve got to keep the picture small. You know, if you go back, and you look at the start of the season, the things that we’ve done, and you go over the tape and the way that we’ve played, the effort’s been there. We just haven’t played well enough. We’ve been close and haven’t been able to win one.”

Elway told KOA that this moment is the toughest he has endured as a player or executive with the Broncos. He maintained the team was “on the rise” based on its performances the last few weeks.

But he also said the most difficult part of getting out of the morass was in front of them. He noted that they’ve taken the first step: acknowledging and identifying issues.

“A lot of times it’s easy to identify problems; it’s tougher to fix them,” Elway said. “We’ve just got to figure out the tough part — and that’s fixing them.”

A moment later, Elway took that task upon himself.

“Ultimately this comes down to me, so I’m here to get this thing figured out, and we’re going to keep battling on this thing, and we’re going to try to find a way to win some football games, and as I said, take it one week at a time,” he told KOA. “But no, it’s not easy. I’ve had the ups and downs my whole life between good and bad, and this is one time that we’re at 0-4, we’re a little bit behind the eight-ball, but now is the time to really put our nose to the grindstone, to continue to work at this and see if we can get it figured out. That’s what my goal is going to be, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

It’s all part of rebuilding. It doesn’t come quickly or easily. But it’s what Elway and the Broncos face.


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