When the Broncos lost 11 games last season, they weren’t truly committed to winning. Or so we’ve been told. But now they are humbled and hungry, insists coach Vance Joseph. For $9.5 million in renovations at team headquarters, the team not only built the best private barber shop money can buy, but also installed a new, winning culture.
“We’ve all gotten better from last year,” Joseph said Friday.
Can we get a pinky promise from Joseph on that?
On the eve of training camp, every team is a playoff contender. Could the Broncos fail to qualify for the playoffs three years in a row, which hasn’t happened with John Elway in a Denver uniform or the team’s front office?
“I haven’t thought about not making it,” Elway said.
Elway did some renovation of his own, buying the team a real NFL quarterback for the first time since Peyton Manning retired. There’s no time or patience for long rebuilding projects in Broncos Country. “If you’re planning for down the road, you should probably be in a different profession,” Elway said.
While Broncomaniacs gathered on the hill above the practice field will focus their gaze on Case Keenum as camp opens, any hope for a real culture change or a playoff berth starts with one guy.
The culture of a football team, as defined by Joseph is: “How you work every day, it’s the attitude, it’s how you fight through adversity. And your culture speaks to all those things. Obviously, the culture comes from the head coach. But the culture is passed on through the locker room. It’s my job to set the culture. But it’s our players’ job to pass the culture on to our young guys.”
Keenum was hired to provide the offense a strong voice it lacked for two years. But this is Miller’s team. If there was complacency in the locker room a year ago, he bears a responsibility to eradicate it.
“Von is one of our best leaders. I’ll tell you why: Because he cares about his teammates, right?” Joseph said. “Guys lead in different ways. Von is a fun-loving guy. But our team knows Von cares about them. And, on Sunday, Von is playing 100 percent. He leads in his own way. But he’s definitely a big part of our culture.”
After Miller was named the most valuable player in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos paid him like a quarterback, rewarding him with a six-year, $114 million contract.
In pursuit of more championship hardware, Elway dared to do the math like no other general manager in the league. Of the 20 players with the highest average annual salaries in 2018, 19 are quarterbacks. The outlier is Miller.
Since Miller signed the lucrative deal, the Broncos’ record is 14-18. Don’t get me wrong. A year ago, Miller was the best player on a bad team. But according to the analytical gurus at Pro Football Focus, Miller graded out No. 7 among defensive players in the NFL in 2017, behind Aaron Donald, Harrison Smith, Bobby Wagner, Casey Hayward, Cameron Jordan and Calais Campbell.
For the big dollars of Miller’s contract to make sense, he needs to be the No. 1 defensive player in the league. If Denver gets mere competency at quarterback or head coach, it would be a major upgrade over 2017. The Broncos must ask and get much more from Miller than from Keenum or Joseph.
The Vonster has the dance moves of Justin Bieber, the style to wear a three-piece Carhartt suit and a zanier sense of humor than Martin Lawrence.
But clown time is over at Broncos Headquarters.
Or so we’re told.
What’s the key to Denver winning the AFC West?
Start with this: Miller must play as if he’s worth paying like quarterback.
Given good health, it’s a given Miller will be a Pro Bowl linebacker. For the Broncos to be championship contenders, however, he has to be nothing less than the Vonster, the most dominating defensive player in the league.
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