DENVER -- According to 18th century Irish-Anglo statesman Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.’’
If the Broncos don’t study their own past, they are doomed to defeat.
Since 1992, the Broncos have drafted five quarterbacks in the first two rounds. Only one has been a starter in post-season games with Denver. And, after one playoff victory one loss in 2011, Tim Tebow was jettisoned to the Jets the next season.
The other four were Tommy Maddox (’92), Jay Cutler (’06), Brock Osweiler (’12) and Paxton Lynch (’16). In fact, of the 42 quarterbacks drafted by the Broncos in 58 previous years, only one other than Tebow ever played in a post-season game. Gary Kubiak, selected in the eighth round in 1983, appeared in 11 playoff games as a backup to John Elway.
Conversely, in the franchise’s history, the Broncos have played in 42 playoff games (which is, oddly enough, equal to the number of quarterbacks they’ve selected in drafts). The starters in 40 were acquired by the Broncos in trades and as veteran free agents.
In perhaps the greatest trade ever in the NFL, the Broncos got Elway – who started 21 of 22 post-season. The other was his rookie season, 1983, when Steve DeBerg, obtained from the 49ers in 1981 for a fourth-round draft choice, started the playoff game in Seattle, but was replaced by Elway. The most legendary athlete in Denver history would lead the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning the last two. He was 14-7 in the postseason.
In another extraordinary deal, the Broncos sent quarterback Steve Ramsey to the Giants for the washed-up Craig Morton. However, Morton wasn’t finished. He was the starting quarterback when the Broncos reached their first Super Bowl in the 1977 season. Morton would start two more (losses).
Gus Frerotte, signed as a free agent in 2000, was the starter for one playoff game after taking over for the injured Brian Griese and leading the Broncos into the postseason. Griese, a third-round pick, was another Broncos’ drafted quarterback who never started a playoff game.
The Broncos beat out other teams for high-profile free agent quarterbacks in 2003 (Jake Plummer) and 2012 (Peyton Manning).
Plummer was lured away from the Cardinals, who were unable to sign him to a new contract, and chose the Broncos over the Bears because of coach Mike Shanahan, the location and a playoff-ready team.
Plummer signed a seven-year contract for $40 million, with a $13 million bonus. He played four seasons with the Broncos, compiling a 39-15 record (59.1 percent winning percentage), was the starter in four post-season games (2-2) and guided the Broncos to the AFC Championship in 2005 (a loss to the Steelers).
The next season, after Plummer and the Broncos were 7-4, rookie (No. 11 overall choice) Jay Cutler was inserted by Shanahan as the starter. The Broncos finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs. After the season, a bitter Plummer was traded to the Buccaneers (and coach Jon Gruden), and decided to retire prematurely, leaving a guaranteed $5 million.
Griese never started a playoff game for the Broncos or any other team.
Manning, who chose the Broncos over 12 other suitors (including Washington, whose coach was Shanahan), agreed to a five-year, $96 million contract (with no bonus) in March 2012. He played four years, started eight post-season games and played in two Super Bowls, winning one.
So, which strategy has been more successful for the Broncos – drafting quarterbacks high or low; signing unrestricted veteran free agent quarterbacks, or trading for young and old quarterbacks?
The answer is as discernible as the nose on Cyrano de Bergerac’s face.
The Broncos always have been awful at drafting quarterbacks in the first, second, third, fourth rounds – and beyond.
The franchise has had a remarkable run with Morton, Elway, Plummer and Manning. All four had winning records and combined for 38 playoff games, 10 AFC Championship games and eight Super Bowls (three triumphs).
Morton was 34 when he joined the Broncos, and Manning was 36 in his first season in Denver. Elway was 23, and Plummer was 28.
Kirk Cousins is 29. Case Keenum turned 30 this month.
The Broncos should heed Edmund Burke's advice.