Ready to Reload
With an on-the-ball off-season, the Broncos are flush with draft picks
In most newspapers outside Colorado and the Carolinas last week, the trade between the Broncos and the Panthers was just another line in Transactions: Denver—Traded QB Jeff Lewis to Carolina for undisclosed draft choices in 1999 and 2000.
In fact, the deal could turn out to be huge for the Broncos. In return for Lewis, who had thrown only 19 passes in the NFL since being drafted in the fourth round in 1996 and who had reconstructive knee surgery in February 1998, Denver got Carolina's third-round pick in next month's draft plus a conditional fourth-round pick next year. If Lewis makes the Panthers' 45-man active roster during the '99 season, that conditional pick becomes a third-rounder; if Lewis starts at least eight games next season, it becomes a second-rounder.
By comparison, when Green Bay traded Mark Brunell, a brighter and healthier prospect than Lewis, to Jacksonville in '95, all the Packers got were third-and fifth-round picks. Add this deal to earlier trades of forgettable offensive linemen Jamie Brown and Kendall Watkins, and Denver winds up tied with Cleveland for the richest stash of picks in the '99 draft. The Broncos have their five original choices plus four more—one in the second, one in the third and two in the fifth. See how the rich get richer? Denver will have nine draft picks in the first five rounds.
"We've got a lot of ammunition," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan says. "If we see someone we really want, we ought to be able to move up to get him."
Even with the uncertainty surrounding John Elway's future-the Broncos think he will decide by the end of March whether to play in '99 or to retire—the off-season has been very good for Denver. The Broncos signed the most talented cornerback on the free-agent market, Dale Carter, and did so in a cap-friendly manner. Carter's cap number, $2.6 million in '99, is less than that of the corner he's replacing, Darrien Gordon ($3.1 million). Also, for the second year in a row the club kept its coaching staff intact after winning the Super Bowl, with receivers coach Mike Heimerdinger turning down four offensive coordinator jobs in the past 25 months.
Nevertheless, it's easy enough to paint a dire picture of life without Elway. For one thing, it may be folly to suggest that Bubby Brister could be a championship quarterback. Still, on paper, at least, he outplayed Elway during the '98 regular season. ( Brister was 4-0 with a 99-0 quarterback rating; Elway was 10-2 with a 93.0 rating.) Shanahan says he would not be afraid to enter next season with Brister and second-year man Brian Griese as his signal-callers. "Bubby's 36, but he hasn't been hit much in years," says Shanahan, "so he could have lots of time left."
All of which means that Denver—with or without Elway—should be as big a favorite to three-peat as any back-to-back Super Bowl winner.
Teddy's Ball Game
Summer League Still Hot Topic
Insiders at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and NBC, both of which came up empty-handed in the last NFL television rights deal, are still bent on starting a summer pro football league, mostly in non-NFL markets, by Memorial Day 2001. The price of a franchise is likely to range from $30 million to $50 million, and corporate ownership of franchises may be allowed. "If corporations can own franchises, we're interested," says Lee Corso, the ESPN college analyst who is also director of business development for Dixon Ticonderoga, a pencil company seeking a franchise for the Orlando area. "We think it would be a tremendous marketing tool for us."