Departures likely after Broncos’ bad season
Vail, CO Colorado
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado ” Javon Walker stopped short of demanding a trade like he did two years ago in Green Bay, but he suggested Monday that it might be best for everyone if the Denver Broncos sent him packing.
“It’s not that they don’t want me here, but I just don’t think it’s the best fit for me,” Walker said as he prepared to meet with coach Mike Shanahan for his exit interview.
The Broncos (7-9) expected to compete for a championship but they lost Walker for two months after he underwent a third operation on his right knee and Denver posted its first losing season since 1999.
So, big changes are expected this offseason, perhaps starting with the departure of defensive boss Jim Bates, although Walker sounded as though he’d like to be the first one out the door.
Walker said he wouldn’t ask for a trade but just didn’t see himself fitting into Denver’s plans in 2008, when he’s due to make about $7.5 million in salary and bonuses.
He has said he wouldn’t be amenable to restructuring his contract despite his injury-riddled season and that he just needs an offseason of rest to return to his Pro Bowl form after catching only 26 passes for 287 yards and no touchdowns this season.
In his absence, second-year pro Brandon Marshall blossomed into the Broncos’ primary receiver with 102 catches for 1,325 yards and seven TDs, and slot receiver Brandon Stokley played so well that he received a three-year contract extension.
In a rambling eight-minute group interview in front of his locker that was eventually cut off by the team’s public relations staff, an unusually jovial Walker said he can still be a great receiver but probably for somebody else.
“I just don’t see it happening for me here,” he said. “What it boils down to at this point is I’ve got to go where the best fit is for me. … And if it’s not the best situation for me (in Denver), it’s the best situation for Brandon Marshall.”
This was the first indication that Walker was unhappy in Denver, although he acknowledged last summer that he initially wanted out after cornerback Darrent Williams died in his arms in a New Year’s Day drive-by shooting that remains unsolved.
Walker asked out of Green Bay after missing the 2005 season with a knee injury that occurred in the Packers’ opener, the very thing his then-agent Drew Rosenhaus feared when Walker was threatening to hold out for more money.
Walker was upset that the Packers dismissed his contract complaints and also didn’t appreciate Brett Favre telling him to put up and shut up, so he was traded to Denver on draft day in 2006, signed a five-year contract extension worth more than $40 million and had a stellar season for the Broncos.
But it’s become apparent to Walker that he had it good in Green Bay, where the Packers capitalized on his deep threat ability much more than the Broncos have.
“Green Bay made me who I was for a team like this to want to bring me here,” Walker said. “So, maybe it takes a team like that to go back.”
Walker suggested, however, that he could find happiness if he stays in Denver.
“Yeah, if they do want me back, I greatly appreciate it,” he said. “If not, you’ve got to move on.”
Shanahan, who has called this the toughest season of his 13-year tenure in Denver, was unavailable for comment. He’s scheduled his season-ending news conference for Jan. 7.
Plenty of players and some coaches are steeling themselves for another offseason shuffle in Denver.
Coordinator Larry Coyer was fired last year despite a top-10 defense but the Broncos proved unable to master Bates’ system that worked so well in Green Bay and Miami.
The Broncos eventually ditched the hallmarks of Bates’ system and went with smaller tackles and put eight men in the box.
“I just don’t think we had any consistency or any confidence at any point in ourselves as players or in the scheme that we were running,” defensive back Domonique Foxworth said. “I think it’s important that we build that into the next season, that we find something that we’re good at and we stick with it from start to finish.”
They ranked 19th in overall defense and 30th against the run.
“It was unfortunate it didn’t work here because I like his system,” said defensive lineman Kenny Peterson, who was with Bates in Green Bay. “He has a good system, it’s proven, it’s tested.”
Linebacker Nate Webster said too much youth put the Broncos in a pickle, but Foxworth suggested the problems stemmed from the scheme actually being a hybrid.
“I think we tried to hold over some techniques from what we had been doing, which don’t necessarily blend well with what we were switching to,” Foxworth said. “It wasn’t 100 percent commitment, I don’t think, from Day 1 to the new scheme.”
The Broncos sorely missed the leadership of linebacker Al Wilson, waived for health and salary concerns, and quarterback Jake Plummer, who retired after losing his job to Cutler.
Receiver Rod Smith missed the whole season with a hip injury and is facing the possibility of career-ending hip replacement surgery. Other veterans who might not be back are safeties John Lynch, who is pondering retirement, and Nick Ferguson, who was benched over the final month, and offensive linemen Matt Lepsis and Ben Hamilton. Center Tom Nalen, who missed most of the year with a torn biceps, hopes to return.
Although the Broncos dedicated their season to the memories of Williams and running back Damien Nash, their deaths hung over the team all year.
“Everything pretty much I’ve done this year is something that I would have done with D-Will, so everything is a reminder,” Foxworth said.