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Kiszla: The Broncos are a hot mess, but they can be all yours for $4 billion (or more)

The Broncos are such a hot mess it could drive anyone to drink.

Just as Broncos Country began to toast to the team’s long overdue sale and brighter days ahead, former NFL coach Brian Flores crashed the party, accusing general manager John Elway and CEO Joe Ellis of being hung over and unprofessional in their roles as stewards of Denver’s most-beloved sports franchise.

On any other day, putting the Broncos on the auction block would be the talk of the town. But Flores blew the narrative to smithereens Tuesday, with a blockbuster lawsuit accusing the NFL of systemic racism in its hiring practices.

Flores alleged Broncos representatives showed up to a 2019 interview for the team’s head coaching vacancy “an hour late.” But that’s not all. Flores brought the hammer down on Elway and Ellis, insisting: “They looked completely disheveled, and it was obvious they had (been) drinking heavily the night before.”

Not a good look.

Could it possibly be true?

Instead of wondering how many billions the Broncos might be worth on the auction block, we are now forced to ponder a far weightier question: What the heck has been going on the past six years when the team the late Pat Bowlen built into a champion lost its way and fell into shameful disrepair?

While Elway shamelessly angles for a cushy role at team headquarters when a new owner closes a deal on the Broncos, he should be thanked for the three championships and all the thrills provided Colorado fans, then be politely asked to take his ball and go home. At a safe distance from a fresh start a long-suffering franchise so desperately needs.

The hiring of Vic Fangio was a blunder by Elway on par with a litany of mistakes in evaluating quarterbacks. Three years ago, five Broncos officials met with Flores, then an assistant coach with the New England Patriots, at an upscale hotel in Providence, R.I. During an interview that began at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, and lasted approximately 3½ hours, the topics ranged from Flores’ childhood in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn to his views on disciplining NFL players.

In a 58-page lawsuit in which Flores also alleged Miami owner Stephen Ross once offered him six-figure financial incentives to tank games during his tenure as head coach with the Dolphins, he labeled interviews with the New York Giants and Denver as nothing more than lame excuses to fulfill a league-mandated obligation to interview minority candidates.

“The Broncos never had any intention to consider him as a legitimate candidate for the job,” according to the suit filed on behalf of Flores in a New York federal court.

Taking strong issue with Flores’ recollection of a “sham” thinly veiled as a legitimate opportunity, the Broncos cited extensive notes taken during the interview and fired back in a statement, calling his accusations “blatantly false.”

Fair or not, the Broncos find themselves stuck squarely in the mire of a sticky problem for the NFL, where Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin is the only Black coach leading a team after Houston recently fired David Culley and Flores was dismissed by the Dolphins, despite winning eight of his last nine games.

I advocated for the dismissal of Vance Joseph. But it’s reasonable to ask: Were 32 games truly a fair test for him in Denver, especially now that we know Elway was tempted to run Joseph out of town and bring back Mike Shanahan after only one season? In Broncos Country, Ellis has been widely criticized for putting the kibosh on the deal, instead of receiving praise for being a voice of reason and fairness.

Putting his career at risk, Flores felt compelled to pull back the curtain on a league he says is “rife with racism,” where it is difficult for Black candidates to land top-level management jobs. Despite the NFL’s insistence it’s all about diversity, the good-old-boy network is alive and well. The Broncos recently hired Nathaniel Hackett, whose father introduced him to the football business.

I’m afraid Hackett might be doomed to the same sad fate as Joseph and Fangio if general manager George Paton is unable to make a significant upgrade at quarterback. Will that crucial move be as buzz-worthy as Aaron Rodgers or as yawn-inducing as Jimmy Garoppolo?

While the search for a QB will make for the juiciest storyline, the biggest change during the most crucial year in franchise history will be who takes over as owner of the franchise.

If recent NFL history is any indication, the league prefers its teams to be controlled by a single dominant owner. With the sale anticipated to fetch at least $4 billion, that could severely limit the list of preferred buyers for a troubled franchise at a crossroads. We can only pray the next owner of the Broncos is a true leader, rich in both cash and ideas.