ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times in a Rocky Mountain spring when the day begins with a cloudless sparkling blue sky, framed by the still-snowcapped peaks of the Continental Divide.
Then, suddenly, the dark clouds sprint over the mountains, drop down some mayhem and move on, just as quickly as they rumbled in.
Welcome to the Denver Broncos’ offseason. Because there are Super Bowl hangovers and then there's the temple-rubbing eyeball-crusher the Broncos have constructed. Not that you’re going to convince Broncos coach Gary Kubiak that things are out of balance as the team wraps up its offseason program this week.
Asked about the turbulent offseason, Kubiak quickly tossed out: “It’s been good; hell, we won a Super Bowl.’’
That they did. The gritty, hard-nosed, plenty-of-spine Broncos won 11 games last season by a touchdown or less, they had the league’s best defense, they lost two left tackles for the season with injuries, had Peyton Manning miss seven starts, had DeMarcus Ware miss five games and still finished with a 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50.
But in between the talk-show appearances, a White House trip and Sunday night’s ring ceremony, the Broncos have had more drama than a high school prom.
Some of that is to be expected from a Super Bowl winner. A longtime league executive once told me “the downside of winning Super Bowl is an awful lot of people -- players, coaches, personnel, whoever -- start thinking they were the reason why you won. It becomes a little more 'me' than 'we' and everybody wants what they think they deserve. That’s when you have things come up, and it’s from both sides, the team and the players.’’
And with each passing week since the start of free agency, those words have rung resoundingly true around the Broncos.
Start with free agency, in which Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan and David Bruton Jr. signed elsewhere. There were some hard feelings on all sides, especially in Osweiler’s case, from Broncos football boss John Elway's saying the team tries to sign players who “want’’ to be in Denver to Osweiler’s bevy of public reasons for skipping a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip to the White House as well as Sunday night’s ring ceremony.
There are the still very much unresolved circumstances surrounding the gunshot wound cornerback Aqib Talib suffered just over a week ago. Beyond the physical implications, it is unknown if Talib shot himself or was shot by another person, or even where he was and what he was doing when the shooting took place. Talib could face misdemeanor or felony charges in Dallas and league discipline.
This from a player the Broncos signed for $57 million in 2014 and whose annual trips back home to Texas seem to have the Broncos pacing by the phone.
And now there is the growing testiness of Von Miller’s contract negotiations. The Broncos offered a total deal ($114.5 million for six years) that would make Miller the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
That makes the Broncos look good in the court of public opinion. However, the offer contains a lower percentage of guaranteed money ($38.9 million in the first two years, $58 million in potential guarantees overall) than Olivier Vernon got from the New York Giants this March. Vernon has $52.5 million worth of potential guarantees in a five-year, $85 million deal with $40.5 million guaranteed on signing and $12 more potentially guaranteed on the fifth day of league year 2018.
Vernon has 31 fewer career sacks than Miller, just one double-digit sack season and has not been a Super Bowl MVP. Both Miller and the Broncos believe they’re right; both sides are dug in and mad. That’s a recipe for a deal only if cooler heads prevail in the coming weeks.
Toss in Ware’s balky back (he's missed much of the on-field work this offseason), plenty of uncertainty on the offensive line and the potential for a quarterback controversy to pop up at an interception’s notice and things have an unsettled look around the Broncos.
Kubiak says he's seen a still-talented team go about its business in recent weeks. And the players privately say Kubiak has been up front about where things stand.
“Start every day by talking about the things that are going on and how we’re handling things: ‘This is what we’re doing and how we go to work,’ ’’ Kubiak said. “The minute those things are over, our focus is football throughout the course of the day. We don’t run away from anything. We talk about everything we’re doing and what we’ve got to get done. Football is football. Once it’s time to start that meeting and get out here and play, everything else goes to the side.’’
Or as cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said: “We know how we’re supposed to do things. It’s up to the vets to keep things straight.’’
The Broncos will adjourn for a little over a month after OTAs and do not return until late July, when they report for training camp. It’s clear they need something between now and then -- tomato juice, vitamin B, hair of the Bronco, whatever -- to cure what ails them.
And if they can’t, their 2016 will look vastly different than they’ve all said it will.