LANDOVER, MD. – Attention all Denver Broncos personnel. Hurricane Elway is coming.
In a lackluster performance in a season full of them, Denver was crushed by Washington, 27-11 in a non-conference game here Sunday on a chilly, gloomy, Christmas Eve at FedEx Field.
Elway, the head of Broncos’ personnel, is about to blow through Dove Valley and UCHealth Training Center headquarters with landfall expected in about 10 days. Broncos working in the football department — players, coaches and executives — should stock up on food, water and gasoline and think about shuttering office space and lockers.
Jobs are in danger. Vance Joseph’s coaching staff will be shaken up, first. There figure to be changes within Elway’s personnel department. And then there will be roster turnover.
“It’s coming, man,” said Broncos’ inside linebacker Brandon Marshall. "I just hope I’m not part of the wrath. You know, with the contract and all. All I can really do is go out there and give it my all on the field.’’
Elway left FedEx Field after the game encouraging a 9News reporter to state his own opinions, but otherwise offered no comment.
Marshall is smart. One of the smartest big-picture thinkers in football. Given the circumstances — a torn right rotator cuff since Game 4 this season — he has been terrific, leading the team in tackles all year and again Sunday against Washington.
But Marshall also knows that’s not the point. In fact, the better the player, the more money he makes, the more vulnerable he may be during the Broncos’ expected offseason overhaul. Marshall is one of 12 Bronco players scheduled to make $4.5 million or more next season.
The list of the rich currently on the 2018 books: Von Miller ($19 million), Aqib Talib ($11 million), Bradley Roby ($8.526 million), Demaryius Thomas ($8.5 million), Emmanuel Sanders ($8.25 million), Derek Wolfe ($8 million), Ron Leary ($7.625 million), Chris Harris ($7.4 million), Menelik Watson ($5.5 million), Marshall ($5 million), Darian Stewart ($4.5 million) and C.J. Anderson ($4.5 million).
Many of those players will be back. But not all of them.
"I know something’s going to happen,” Talib said. “I’m 10 in, I made the Pro Bowl this year, I still got a nice little ticket. Guess we’ll see. I know I’m not the problem.’’
Talib is finishing up his 10th season with his fifth Pro Bowl berth. But after a hardly Merry Christmas for the Broncos, there will not be a Happy start to the New Year.
The Broncos’ two-game winning streak has given way to a 5-10 record with their final game to be played next Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in Denver.
And then Elway will start making numerous changes.
“As he should,” said Anderson, who now has 946 rushing yards with one game remaining to claim his first 1,000-yard milestone. "It’s his right, it’s his team. He has that right. Personally I just try to play hard and put myself in position, if not here, somewhere else. That’s how I’ve always looked at it.’’
The Broncos previous losing season was 2010 — the year before Elway took charge of Denver’s football operations. One of his most prominent offseason moves — although not his first — will be to pick up a different quarterback or two.
From the four quarterbacks who dressed for the game played here Sunday, the one who has the best chance to start for Denver next year started for the other side. Kirk Cousins is the Washington quarterback and free-agent-to-be who no doubt was in the eyesight of Elway, Denver’s general manager.
It took Cousins three possessions to figure out the Denver defense, but once he got going, Cousins led Washington to a 10-3 halftime lead.
“Cousins was good. Personally, he was better than I thought he was,’’ Talib said.
“Cousins is dope,” Marshall said. "It’s funny, I played in a flag football game with him this offseason. At Houston, the Super Bowl (week). It was a celebrity flag football game. I was playing receiver on his team and the way he commanded the huddle .. This was flag football, and it was just supposed to be for fun. He was commanding and he was killing it. I’m like, this dude is nuts. He’s good. He’s the real deal.’’
A fumble by Broncos’ quarterback Brock Osweiler after he was sacked in the second quarter gave Cousins a short field at the Denver 38. Cousins finished the short drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder late in the first half to break the 3-3 tie.
Denver dominated the field of play from kickoff through the first 4 minutes of the second quarter, outgaining Washington, 130-14, in total yards. Denver’s drives, though, kept stalling in Washington territory. Incredibly, the Broncos had five drives reach Washington’s side of the 50 in the first half, yet they came away with just 3 points.
“The bottom line is that’s just unacceptable,” Osweiler said. "That’s not capitalizing on the field position. I think we had a chance to definitely get an early jump with those five possessions in their territory and we didn’t get the job done. That’s very disappointing and there’s no excuse for it.”
A final-second drive into Brandon McManus’ field goal range was wasted when rookie receiver Isaiah McKenzie took an Osweiler pass near the sideline and instead of getting out of bounds with about 10 seconds remaining, cut inside for 8 yards.
As the Broncos with no timeouts watched the final seconds of the half tick away.
“He should be aware,” Joseph said. "He was told and that stuff we work on all the time. That’s no excuse at all that he wouldn’t know that. He was told we had no timeouts. It was an outside throw or nothing. We had three points. That’s something he has to know. Unacceptable.”
Said McKenzie: "“I should have gotten out of bounds. I just caught the ball and mentally was like, ‘Make a play.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t make the right decision.”
It was all Washington from there. Denver picked up some garbage yards and 8 points after failing behind, 27-3, in the fourth quarter and wound up getting outgained, 386-330.
Washington put the game away early in the fourth when Cousins hit Josh Doctson, who was open from here to Baltimore, on a 48-yard touchdown pass down the right side. And then after Broncos coach Vance Joseph called three timeouts even though his team was getting trounced, Cousins threw another touchdown pass to a wide open Vernon Davis for a 31-yard scoring play.
Cousins is making $23.9 million this year and he figures to command something in the $25 million to $28 million a year range if Washington allows him to become a free agent. After starting 0 for 5 passing Sunday, he finished 19 of 37 for 299 yards and three touchdowns, although an interception by Broncos safety Will Parks in the end zone took away a fourth scoring throw.
“I was just thinking about this the other day,” Marshall said. "If we go out and get a veteran quarterback like Cousins, he’s probably going to demand (a multi-year contract of) $100 million-plus. So a lot of people got to go. If we get a rookie quarterback, most people are going to be fine. They aren’t going to take as much cap room. Even a first pick.’’
The Broncos may do both:Pick up a proven, free-agent quarterback, and draft a quarterback in the first or second round.
Osweiler, who got the start ahead of the injured Paxton Lynch, was 22 of 38 for only 193 yards. He was also sacked four times and threw an interception besides his lost fumble.
Lynch and Washington’s Colt McCoy were the two backup quarterbacks in the game. In fairness to Osweiler, it couldn’t have been easy on him this week knowing the bosses wanted Lynch to play, and he was only in there by default.
“I don’t think it’s ideal,” Osweiler said. "But bottom line, I’ve been a backup in this league, I’ve been a starter in this league. I know how to prepare with no reps and I know how to prepare with all the reps. Was it ideal? No. But was it an excuse? Absolutely not.’’
The Broncos’ early game plan did feature running back C.J. Anderson and receiver Demaryius Thomas, who each were within reach of 1,000-yard season. Anderson, who started the game 142 rushing yards shy of 1,000, had 16 carries for 88 yards with a 5-yard touchdown and a 2-point conversion catch in the final 1:18. He needs a doable 54 yards in the final game against Kansas City to earn his first, 1K season.
Thomas, who needed 160 yards for his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season, had four catches for 52 yards. He needs 108 yards against the Chiefs for his sixth consecutive, four-digit season.
The most dominant unit of the first quarter, though, was the Denver D. Led by Shaq Barrett, who provided pressure from his outside linebacker position, and Talib, who made a terrific pass breakup, Cousins was 0 of 4 in his first two series.
With 2 minutes left in the first quarter, the Broncos had 86 yards of total offense to Washington’s -2. It was 130 yards to 14 with 11:32 left in the second quarter. The Broncos had Cousins frustrated.
“We did, but then he started finding holes in that zone,” Talib said. "He started creating a little time, moving around a little bit. That’s one of the things he does well, Cousins. Got to hit him. We didn’t get pressure on him. We didn’t touch him. We let him get comfortable back there.’’
At that point, Cousins started warming up. He led a long drive to first-and-goal territory but a dropped touchdown pass by Doctson forced Washington to settle for a short Dustin Hopkins field goal and it was tied 3-3 with 6:15 left in the half.
“He played well against him early but he bounced back well,” Marshall said. "He bounced back and played extremely well. He’s the real deal at quarterback. I don’t know what the Redskins are going to do.’’
Washington can place a franchise tag on Cousins for a third consecutive season for $34.5 million in 2018. That’s not likely to happen. He has been a top 10 NFL quarterback the past three years, but he is also 26-29-1 as a starter with no playoff wins.
Another option for Washington is to place a $28 million transition tag on Cousins in which they could match any offer he gets from other teams in free agency. Or, Washington could let him go to free agency, unconditionally.
"A lot of teams would kill to have a quarterback like that,” Miller said.
Yes, but for the money he would command, signing Cousins would mean saying goodbye to so many other players currently on the Broncos’ roster. With or without Cousins, changes are coming. Elway is not standing pat with a 5-10 team.
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