At the end of the 2022 NFL season, Denver Broncos ownership should take a long look at the mess on the field, in the locker room, on the sidelines, and decision making. The choices will be hard, and familiar names could and should not be a part of Mile High in 2023, but for the sake of a once proud and successful organization, the time is now to clean house and chart a new course.
1 – John Elway, President Football Ops. Consultant.
John Elway has become the biggest obstacle in Denver. The two-time Super Bowl champion and Mile High legend needs to end his tenure and allow for a new voice and fresh vision. While he did get HOF quarterback Peyton Manning at the end of his career for a championship run, his guidance on the quarterback position has been miserable. Since joining the Broncos from office, he’s missed on the position he brilliantly played.
1 – Brock Osweiler, drafted in 2012 (second round). Retired October 2019.
2 – Trevor Siemian, drafted in 2015 (seventh round). Currently with Chicago.
3 – Paxton Lynch, drafted in 2016 (first round). CFL backup QB.
4 – Case Keenum, veteran free-agent signing in 2018. Backup QB, Buffalo.
5 – Joe Flacco, veteran acquired via trade in 2019. Backup QB, New York Jets.
6 – Drew Lock, drafted in 2019 (second round). Backup QB, Seattle Seahawks.
Perhaps most galling is the major miss in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Broncos had the fifth-overall pick and Elway, who was then the General Manager in Denver, chose not to select Josh Allen, instead they selected outside linebacker Bradley Chubb from North Carolina State. The problem with the selection of Chubb, is that he wasn’t “what could have been”, because he wasn’t Allen. When Chubb was traded to Miami for a first-round pick next April, a fourth-round pick in 2024, and running back Chase Edmonds, it exposed how bad the situation in Denver had deteriorated.
— PFF (@PFF) November 1, 2022
If the Broncos, most specifically John Elway, believed Denver was one quarterback away, take a look at the signal-callers prior to Russell Wilson, who brought another wealth of problems to the position.
2 – Russell Wilson, quarterback acquired in a trade with Seattle.
When the Denver Broncos lost out on an opportunity to land Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they managed to orchestrate a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for embattled quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson had burned his last bridge in the Emerald City, and the organization was all too glad to get what was considered second tier quarterback talent to move on. Unfortunately for fans, even a non-time pro bowl player couldn’t validate Elway as a legitimate talent evaluator.
Heading into 2022, Denver had talent on offense, and the defense ranked third in defensive scoring in 2021. However, the price for Wilson wasn’t cheap, and in hindsight, was way too high for a quarterback who has taken the Broncos down the rabbit hole.
Elway would oversee a deal that saw quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, 2021 sacks leader Shelby Harris, two first-round, two second-round, and a fifth-round draft pick go to Seattle.
Blockbuster: After weeks of negotiations, in one of the largest trades in NFL history, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have agreed to terms for a deal involving Super-Bowl winning QB Russell Wilson, sources tell ESPN.
Trade is pending a physical and Wilson’s approval. pic.twitter.com/oRFDV8Ehyx
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2022
The wheels came off faster than any nightmare scenario. The Broncos went back to Seattle to face both a hostile fan base and a motivated Seahawks team.
Go back to the spring of 2022. The conventional wisdom was that new head coach Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson would produce a lot of points and a lot of wins. Some in the media even advanced the narrative that the bold stroke by the Broncos could lead to a Super Bowl as early as this season. After another loss, this time to the Baltimore Ravens, Denver is now at 3-9 overall and 0-3 in the AFC West. They’ve lost their last four games in a row, and over the last nine games have only one win. In a division with the down and out Las Vegas Raiders and underperforming Los Angeles Chargers in front of them, 2022 is even more of a head shaker than anything else.
Wilson has even bigger problems in that he is quickly losing the locker room if he hasn’t already. His reputation is quickly losing oxygen and he’s now treading quicksand with no lifeline coming. For Denver, it’s even worse. The Broncos are on the hook for option bonuses in 2023 and 2024. To cut him before the 2023 season would result in $107M dead money. It would be an impossible sell to ownership for a recommendation of taking on so much in a lost investment. Their best option is to cut Wilson in 2024. That’s still a pricey scenario, but given his digression and a fan base unhappy, choices are few.
3 – Nathaniel Hackett, first-year head coach.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Nathaniel Hackett will be made a convenient scapegoat for the disastrous 2022 season. He promised big and under-delivered, and along with quarterback Russell Wilson, have put the Denver Broncos in the kind of predicament that will require hard decisions at season’s end. That could be complicated by the idea that he has lost the locker room when in fact, it’s Wilson who has.
According to @TomPelissero, Nathaniel Hackett has NOT lost the Broncos locker room, but…
“Russ has lost some people around that team. He has lost some people in that locker room.”
(Via @NFL’s ‘The Insiders’)
— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) November 30, 2022
According to “The Insiders with Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo”, Wilson is losing support in the locker room and within the Broncos organization. His ‘diva-like’ persona has not gone over well with teammates, and although Denver did their due-diligence, they were still comfortable in adding him to the locker room believing things would ultimately mesh for the better.
Mike Purcell is from Highlands Ranch CO, he’s been a #Broncos fan his entire life.
If Nathaniel Hackett doesn’t yell at Russell Wilson, he will.
This damn team needs more accountability.
This should be the ONLY take on this situation. pic.twitter.com/kIikoYedmv
— Denver Broncos 365 (@DailyBroncos) November 28, 2022
But wait, it gets worse. John Elway has gone on the record to publicly gush over the one who ‘got away’ with the Minnesota Vikings hiring Kevin O’Connell. While it doesn’t necessarily indicate a loss of support for Hackett, Elway didn’t make the perception any easier for his struggling head coach.
— Pioneer Press (@PioneerPress) October 13, 2022
Clearly, Russell Wilson has digressed. Along with Elway and Hackett, the entire organization has digressed. The Broncos are a team fighting the inevitability of a losing season, and being absolutely lost in the woods from an overall organizational game plan for the future. It’s already bubbling over with Wilson’s almost lackadaisical approach to the current state of the team, and teammates who are finally letting their feelings known.
4 – A clean slate is not likely in 2023.
For the sake of the Denver Broncos organization, they should clear the deck. Unlikely, perhaps, but the Mile High City is in complete disarray with no smart fix in sight. Legend or not, John Elway has failed with building an organization and making better decisions at the position he played—quarterback.
Russell Wilson should be held accountable by an organization who went ‘all-in’ on a Super Bowl winning Pro Bowl quarterback who has zero interest in owning a mess he helped to create. Contrition on his part won’t happen as his ego won’t allow it. Certainly economics are the single contributing factor in Wilson being back in 2023. But 2024 should be a date on the calendar where the experiment ends.
Nathaniel Hackett will bear the burden for everything Elway and Wilson did wrong. He’s the one fingers will point too as the reason for why the Denver Broncos were a disaster in 2022. It won’t be entirely fair, but his one year audition won’t end well for him. Frankly put, 2022 shouldn’t end well for Elway or Wilson either.