DENVER -- If Kirk Cousins joins the Broncos next year, it would be the ultimate time and space oddity.
John Elway would get the quarterback he could have drafted in 2012 in the second round instead of Brock Osweiler, and the quarterback that his former closest friend and ex-Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan did draft that year in the fourth round with Washington, and the quarterback that Kyle Shanahan, who could have been the Broncos’ head coach this season, loved when he was the offensive coordinator in D.C., and actually wanted when he took over as head coach with the 49ers.
But this story actually begins at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii in February of 2006, and changed the entire course of Broncos history.
The elder Shanahan was named the AFC coach for the Pro Bowl after the Broncos and quarterback Jake Plummer lost to the Steelers, and young quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in the conference championship. (The Broncos had beaten the Patriots and Tom Brady in the first playoff game.)
Plummer had come to the Broncos as a veteran unrestricted free agent in 2003 after being the starting quarterback for the Cardinals. In Plummer’s last game with Arizona, he lost to the Broncos in Denver 37-7.
Shanahan was dumping his starter Brian Griese, the oft-injured, much-maligned successor to Elway.
Even though Plummer had guided the Broncos’ offense to three consecutive postseasons, that wasn’t enough for the impatient Shanahan.
At that Pro Bowl, Shanahan got the only opportunity to coach Peyton Manning, and the two played golf after practice almost daily and talked football incessantly. Shanahan returned to Denver afterward and told associates: “I’m going after a quarterback who is immersed in football like Manning.”
Plummer was somewhat of a free spirit who cared about handball, the mountain life and significant subjects beyond the NFL.
Shanahan traded up in the first round to select Jay Cutler. The rookie would replace the healthy Plummer in the 12th game of the 2006 season, and the Broncos, who had started off winning seven of nine games, didn’t make the playoffs. Plummer immediately announced he was retiring; the Broncos traded the incensed quarterback to the Buccaneers, and he quit.
And the franchise went on a slide until Shanahan was fired, and Cutler was traded.
They only began to return to greatness with the hiring of Elway and luring of Manning to Denver.
Shanahan, who wanted to sign Manning (and had to settle for the quarterback living in his house in Denver when he joined the Broncos), was the coach in Washington, and drafted both Robert Griffin III second overall (to Andrew Luck, who took over in Indianapolis for Manning) and Cousins out of Michigan State in the fourth round.
Shanahan was impressed with Cousins because he was a football gym rat, and later said Kirk was the most competitive player he’d ever coached. And he had coached Elway and Steve Young. Both Shanahans wanted Cousins to be their starter, and he eventually would take over from the injured and insulted RG3. The Shanahans were fired. On the way out, Shanahan told the owner and the team’s top executive that they better trade Cousins. Otherwise, he would beat out RG3 for the starting job. Someday, Shanahan said, Cousins would lead a team to the Super Bowl.
Washington kept Cousins and let go of Griffin. Cousins became an expensively-paid “franchised” (for two seasons) starter and a playoff quarterback, and RG3 is out of the league.
And it was assumed Cousins would end up with the younger Shanahan in San Francisco – until the 49ers made a deal for New England backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who is undefeated in three starts. And, it’s now assumed that the 49ers will signed Garoppolo, who will be a free agent, to a long-term contract.
Elway chose Vance Joseph over Kyle Shanahan, partially, at least, because of his long-time strained relationship with Mike, and John didn’t want the father’s influence on the son at Dove Valley only a few miles from the unemployed Shanahan’s house (which is near Elway’s home) and restaurant.
This entangled web involving the Shanahans, the Broncos, Elway, Cousins, Plummer, Cutler, Osweiler, Washington (which once in the 1990s came this close to making a trade with the Broncos to acquire Elway) could soon become even more intertwined if Washington doesn’t “franchise” Cousins for $34 million for another season, and the Broncos are able to persuade Cousins, who will have as many suitors in ’18 as Manning did in ’12, to become the quarterback of the Broncos.
On Sunday, watch Kirk closely on the field and John in a luxury suite, and wonder what they are contemplating. And consider what Mike and Kyle are thinking from the distance.
It’s a Broncos space time continuum.