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Going All-In for a Super Bowl Win?

I want to make a comparison between the 2015 Denver Broncos and this year’s Green Bay Packers.

The Broncos had just concluded the 2014 season by going one-and-out in the playoffs, losing to the Colts. This was the same exit the team took in 2011 and 2012. Their high point was in 2013, when they made it to the Super Bowl, but got embarrassed by the Seahawks, 43-8.

The Broncos had an all-time great quarterback in Peyton Manning (sound familiar?), acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Colts in 2012. The 2015 season would be his fourth – and it turned out final – season in the Mile High City and the NFL.

After falling short in the playoffs for four straight years (ring a bell?), the Broncos front office, led by Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, decided to go all-in for a Super Bowl win before their aging quarterback retired.

Building the 2015 Broncos’ Roster

First, Denver discarded several players to make room for new signings (rookie year in parentheses):

  • Orlando Franklin, guard (2011)
  • Nate Irving, linebacker (2011)
  • Terrance Knighton, defensive tackle (2009)
  • Will Montgomery, center (2006)
  • Rahim Moore, safety (2011)
  • Jacob Tamme, tight end (2008)
  • Julius Thomas, tight end (2011)
  • Mitch Unrein, defensive tackle (2010)

Next, they re-signed key players from the 2014 Broncos’ roster:

  • Aaron Brewer, long snapper
  • Tony Carter, cornerback
  • Paul Cornick, offensive tackle
  • Ben Garland, guard
  • Virgil Green, tight end
  • Steven Johnson, linebacker
  • Brandon Marshall, linebacker
  • Demaryius Thomas, receiver

Finally, they made a number of free agent signings of veteran NFL players (rookie year in parentheses):

  • Owen Daniels, tight end from Ravens (2006)
  • Ryan Harris, offensive tackle from Chiefs (2007)
  • Antonio Smith, defensive end from Raiders (2004)
  • Shelley Smith, guard from Dolphins (2010)
  • Darian Stewart, safety from the Ravens (2010)
  • Reggie Walker, linebacker from the Chargers (2009)
  • Vance Walker, defensive end from Chiefs (2009)

When the dust settled, the Broncos had loaded up on mid-range veteran players – mostly backups – for the Super Bowl run. In keeping with the Super Bowl master plan, several of the newcomers had just one- or two-year contracts.

Perhaps the most important 2015 signing, however, was that of Demaryius Thomas, on whom Denver had placed the franchise tag. Thomas, knowing he was indispensable to the team’s Super Bowl hopes, held out until July 15, when he agreed to a five-year $70 million contract hours before the franchise player deadline.

The Great Irony

Yes the strategy worked, but not according to plan. After a 12-4 regular season, Denver narrowly prevailed over the Steelers (23-16) and Patriots (20-18), then handily beat the Panthers, 24-10, in the Super Bowl.

The great irony regarding Denver’s plan is that the Broncos beat Cam Newton and the Panthers in the Super Bowl despite Peyton Manning. Manning’s stat line: 13-of-23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, two fumbles (one lost) and five sacks. His quarterback rating: 56.6. Not only had the 38-year-old run out of gas, there were some who thought Brock Osweiler, who went 5-2 during the regular season, should have remained the starter.

Denver acquired so much talent in support of Manning’s final Super Bowl run that they were a dominating team even though Manning had faded into mediocrity.

As you might expect, in 2016 the Broncos finished at 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. I suspect that Broncos fans are happy with the tradeoff over the last two years: a Lombardi Trophy and narrowly missing the playoffs. Whether the all-in effort will result in a playoff drought in future years remains to be seen.

Comparison to the Packers

What does all this have to do with the 2017 Packers? Tomorrow I’ll complete the comparison by analyzing the moves the Packers made this spring. I’ll consider a number of pertinent questions. Did the Packers go all-in this spring in pursuit of winning it all? If not, should they have done so? Have the Packers positioned themselves for a Super Bowl run this season?

One thing is for sure. Just 14 months ago, John Elway and the Broncos proved the all-in approach can work!

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. PF4L June 10, 2017

    The all in approach to win a Super Bowl can work as Rob notes, citing the Bronco’s in 2015. But there is one larger point to be made of what it takes to not only win, but to even get to the Super Bowl. I’ll wait until Rob’s next article to expand on that , as Rob may touch on what i’m talking about in his follow up article.

    1. Empacador June 10, 2017

      I’m curious as to what the mindset would be if the Packers made the Superbowl 4 consecutive years like the Bills in the early 90’s did. That was quite the feat. Yet lost all of them the same as Buffalo did. Would there be McCarthy supporters doubling down on their support of him, even if he failed to win another Superbowl? At least Elway decided he had seen enough of Fox to replace him with his buddy Gary Kubiak.

      1. Packers fan June 11, 2017

        Plus Elway wouldn’t have let McCarthy to finish up his contract (which is up after 2018). I also wonder if the new GM in 2018-19 talks to the media, acts right in press conferences, signs free agents that contribute instead of team castoffs, and draft good players instead of bust projects (like from UCLA). If I was the Packers, I’d fire McCarthy after the Seattle choke job and Thompson after last year’s blowout loss in Atlanta.

  2. Kato June 10, 2017

    I disagree with the “all-in” approach. Mostly because it doesnt always work. Guys get hurt. As much as we don’t want to admit it, the NFL is a bit of a crapshoot. Whoever is hot, healthy wins the super bowl. Take the ravens in 2013 for example. I do think TT could better those odds every year but doesn’t do enough

  3. Cheese June 10, 2017

    The Packers didn’t go all in just because TT finally decided to do his job and sign a few free agents. Other than a tight end close in talent to the one we had last year, a few middle of the road FA’s, and some unknown rookies, what is all in about this season? The defense was a total crapshoot last year and didnt address any of it outside of the draft besides Davon House who TT let walk a few years ago. Way to go all in. The running backs are all late round rookies and a back up wide receiver. The Broncos also got rid of their underwhelming coach who could never get the job done. McCarthy will ride Rodgers coat tails until they both retire ginger gap tooth won’t hold anyone accountable. The only thing the Packers are going all in on is that playground they’re building in the Kmart parking lot so they can attract fans after Rodgers is gone.

    1. Packers fan June 11, 2017

      Ted did signed 6 time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans. I agree he didn’t do much to improve the defense. Kevin King could and will help the secondary but the linebackers will be a concern (especially on the inside). Jury is out on Randall and Rollins after horrible seasons last year. And I hate the Ryan-Martinez combo. Horrible ILB combo. Matthews isn’t who he once was. And if Randall and Rollins don’t bounce back, they need to go as well. Josh Jones should replace Hyde this year and Burnett after next year. As for Thompson and McCarthy, their contracts are up after 2018 (Teds after the 2018 NFL Draft and McCarthy after the 2018 season). If you haven’t been seeing Teds interviews, he is definitely showing his age. Hopefully Eliot Wolf is like his dad (by going All-In like his dad did) and I hope he chooses the right coach once TT and MM are gone. And if Wolf is like his dad, Rodgers may not retire with one or two rings after all.

    2. Kato June 12, 2017

      Um, Jordan Howard was a 5th round pick and I think he was like the second or third leading rusher in the league. Alfred Morris is also another example of a late round running back having success early. I am not saying the packers have one of those guys right now, but in terms of running back, being a late round guy means absolutely zero. Remember Trent Richardson? Cedric Benson? Cadillac Williams? Monte Ball? I will stop.

      1. Cheese June 12, 2017

        Anyone can cherry pick good and bad players from each round after all is said and done. But yes, if one of our back up rookie running backs becomes even a top ten leading rusher in the next four years then I tip my hat to you.

        “Ted did signed 6 time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans.” First off the pro bowl is a popularity contest. Second, you’re not going to be getting that level of play from the oldest guy on the team. I’m glad they picked Evans up because he’s definitely and upgrade over Don Barclay and whoever else they have, but I wouldn’t consider it going all in. Especially when you compare Evans contract to Langs.

        1. Packers fan June 12, 2017

          Yep and the good thing is that he will do better than the Turnstile Barclay.

  4. PF4L June 12, 2017

    When you lose 6 or 7 skill players, even Ted Thompson didn’t have much choice but to sign free agents. It was done out of necessity, not because he made a conscious effort to go all-in.