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Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: Broncos should have already locked up their free agents; Why Rockies players should be PO’d, and what will make 2020 a successful sports year?

@MarkKnudson41

Strike One: There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Denver Broncos prospects for next season. A lot of young talent returns – including a potential “franchise” quarterback – and there’s a full off season to address needs…like the offensive line, for instance.

But first…Denver needs to make sure they don’t lose a few of their own best players.

Safety Justin Simmons, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris, along with veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr. are all free agents. Broncos GM John Elway has already made it clear he wants to re-sign Simmons, who had a second-team All-Pro season (and yet was amazingly left off the Pro Bowl roster) and is a cornerstone of a solid Denver secondary. Elway says he wants all four players back…but on the team’s terms. But is it too late for him to dictate the terms?

Under Elway leadership, Denver has done a very good job managing the salary cap. He knows what he can and can’t do financially this off season….but the Broncos HAVE a good amount of cap space available. That makes it even harder to understand why the EVP/GM let it reach this point, where Simmons can hit the market if the player chooses to do so.

This sort of reminds you of the situation in 2015 with quarterback Brock Osweiler. As a back-up and part-time mid-year replacement for Peyton Manning that season, Osweiler played very well in the final year of his rookie contract (10 TD passes and a QB rating of 86.4.) It was assumed that if Peyton retired (as expected…which he did) Brock was equipped to step in keep the offense running efficiently. Yet for some reason, Elway hesitated in getting a new deal in place to lock up Osweiler before the end of that season. After winning the Super Bowl, Osweiler jumped at a phat free agent contract with the Houston Texans – four years and more than $70 mil. Denver was left with the totally forgettable and substandard third stringer Trevor Siemian as the starter in 2016…and the four-year backslide began.

The fact that Osweiler fared poorly in Houston, and even ended up back with the Broncos later on, doesn’t change the fact that letting him walk for nothing after winning Super Bowl 50 was a poor decision that sent the franchise backwards.

Now Simmons – arguably an even more important cog than Osweiler was – ends up in the same situation. The question is “Why?”

Same goes for Harris and Wolfe. Both are key cogs that should have already been re-upped for next season…and beyond.

Is it possible that by waiting to see what the market will bear, Elway is actually outsmarting himself once again? Simmons for one will likely cost significantly more now than he would of mid-season.

These three players should be re-signed “immediately if not sooner,” as my mother used to say.

Harris is a different situation, having been offered an extension during the season but choosing not to sign it. He obviously wants to test the free agent market and has earned that chance. The ball is probably in his court as to whether or not he’s a Bronco next year.

The other three? They better be in predominantly orange in 2020…or Elway will have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

Strike Two: If I were a player on the current Colorado Rockies roster, I’d be really pissed off right about now.

Players are on social media. They read news reports. They see that every national media type out there who’s looking for an attention grabbing baseball story to post is talking about where Nolan Arenado will be traded to.

You can toss Jon Gray into those conversations as well. The reports are non-stop. One particularly galling story said that the Rockies division rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, would be good destination for Arenado AND Gray. And the Rockies should be okay with these guys being taken off their hands…well…because.

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Because? Because much of the national media believes – after one bad season – that the play-off  Rockies from 2017 and 2018 having pretty much dissolved and the franchise is now reduced to being merely a farm team, existing only to develop players for actual contenders. In the near-sighted view of things, the Rockies are back to being the Rodney Dangerfields of the National League West.

Newsflash for the rumormongers: The Rockies ownership wants to win. They know full well that having Gray and Arenado on their roster greatly improves their chances of doing so.

Those saying that there’s a “50-50” chance that Nolan will be traded? They’re 100% wrong.

Nolan Arenado is not getting traded this off season. Book it.

This national view of the Rockies isn’t new of course. Back prior to the 2017 season, when Colorado signed free agent reliever Gregg Holland, the national media instantly assumed that he was being acquired merely so he could be a chip at the July trade deadline. That of course, proved to be nonsense. The Rockies were actually buyers at deadline, bringing in reliever Pat Neshek and catcher Jonathan Lucroy. They all helped Colorado make the play-offs. So much for the rumors.

Then there was last off season, when Nolan was supposedly getting traded because the Rockies could never afford to keep him. Instead, they signed him to a long term, multi-million-dollar deal.

Fast forward to this year. Now, this particularly out-of-touch writer believes that after one bad season, the Rockies brass would actually, in real life, trade their best pitcher and their best player to their biggest division rival. Basically, the Rockies and their fans would be fine with punting on first down.

Complete and utter nonsense.

And if I’m Trevor Story or David Dahl or Ryan McMahon or Kyle Freeland…this really pisses me off.

These are pretty much the same Rockies who’ve made the National League play-offs two of the past three seasons (minus DJ LeMahieu.) Other than Charlie Blackmon, their core players are all 20-somethings. They had four All-Stars last season. Why would any front office want to break that up?

And because of the way rumors get repeated and grow, now the Arenado trade nonsense won’t end. Say something often enough – even if it’s blatantly false – and it starts to get some traction.

The latest reports are that the Texas Rangers – no closer to being a play-off team than the Rockies were last season – are the team Arenado is headed to. Or Atlanta, if they lose Josh Donaldson. Or…fill in the blank.

All this may make sense to some under informed national media types, especially those desperately trying to find any story to run with during the off season, but if you’ve followed this team for any length of time, you know the Rockies ownership doesn’t do things this way. They hang on to their guys…sometimes to a fault. They do their best to field a competitive baseball team every year. They aren’t interested in tanking. They want to win. And they believe this nucleus of players can get back to the play-offs.

They might be wrong. This year’s Rockies might struggle again. But it won’t be for a lack of trying. They aren’t punting. And if I was a Rockies player in 2020, I’d be going into Spring Training with a big fat chip on my shoulder and a whole lot to prove.

Strike Three: A year from now, when we look back at 2020 and assess what happened in the year in sports, we’ll appreciate many things…while wondering out loud what went wrong for others.

Everyone wants all their favorite teams, regardless of the sport, to win the championship. But if we’re being real, we need to ask ourselves a simple question: What makes any season a success? The answer varies by team and expectation level of course. If it’s clear ahead of time what a team needs to accomplish to meet realistic goals, it makes it that much easier for everyone to decide if a season was successful or not

So…the question: What would make 2020 an overall good sports year in Colorado? (The Patriots are already eliminated from the AFC play-offs, so we’re off to a good start.)

How about this list:

  • Former Rockies star Larry Walker getting voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
  • The Chiefs NOT winning a Super Bowl.
  • Two local Men’s college basketball team making the NCAA tournament.
  • The Denver Broncos re-signing Justin Simmons, Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris.
  • Michael Porter Jr. becoming a fixture in the Denver Nuggets starting line-up.
  • The Broncos signing a standout offensive lineman in free agency.
  • The Denver Nuggets reaching the NBA’s Western Conference Finals.
  • The Broncos drafting a standout offensive tackle and wide receiver.
  • The Colorado Avalanche reaching (winning?) the Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Denver being awarded an XFL franchise for 2021.
  • Kyle Freeland bouncing back to win 15 games for the Colorado Rockies.
  • The Rockies playing ‘meaningful games in September’ and making a play-off push.
  • Nolan Arenado winning another Gold Glove and NL Home Run title, then announcing that he’s NOT leaving the Rockies.
  • The Dodgers NOT winning the World Series…again.
  • The Colorado Buffaloes making a Bowl game.
  • Ed McCaffrey and the UNC Bears winning more games than they lose.
  • The Colorado State Rams making a Bowl game.
  • Air Force winning 10 football games again.
  • The Denver Broncos making the AFC Play-offs.

Nothing on this list is impossible. In fact, most are doable. They won’t all happen of course, but if they did, it would make it one helluva Colorado sports year in 2020.

What’s on your list?

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