Every week when the Denver Broncos put up a dud of a performance, losing in the ugliest of fashions, head coach Nathaniel Hackett would walk up to the post-game press conference podium and regurgitate the same, tired line:
“It starts with me.”
Now on Dec. 26, it officially ends with him.
General manager George Paton, with the support of the Walton-Penner ownership group, decided after a 51-14 bludgeoning at the hands of a four-win Los Angeles Rams team, enough was enough.
It was a move anyone with a working pair of eyes (or maybe even not fully working) could see coming a mile away, but seeing it come to fruition in an official capacity signals that much-needed change is coming to Broncos Country.
Unfortunately, while the hope that a new staff will finally get the team back to the winning ways, fans had become so accustomed to the years prior to 2016, the reality is that the team is still facing a steep uphill battle to return to those days .
The team is still financially handcuffed to Russell Wilson for a gargantuan sum of money, and seven straight years of missing the playoffs has infected the franchise with a culture of losing.
When the team decided to move on from Vic Fangio and bring in the tag team of Nathaniel Hackett and Russell Wilson, it was supposed to signal an end to the culture of losing that had grown with each passing season and deliver a return to a fun brand of offensive football.
Gone would be the conservative, defensive-minded coaches like Vic Fangio and Vance Joseph and journeymen-type, short-term QBs like Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, and Joe Flacco, and in their place would be an offensive wizard and a future Hall- of-Fame QB with a Super Bowl win and nine Pro Bowls on his resume.
That was what was supposed to happen.
Instead, not only did the duo fail to eliminate the culture of losing, they turned it into a full-blown, rock-bottom level of epic proportions. Not since “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” (“You’re…letting them…kill…Martha…”) there has been as much excitement and hype about the potential of a product only to become a colossal bomb of a disappointment.
Hell, that may not even be an apt analogy, as this Broncos team made BvS look like “Avengers: End Game.”
There was no doubt that Hackett needed to go. He was woefully unprepared to be a head coach. He had to hire a game management expert. He had zero to do with the defensive planning. He ultimately had to surrender many play-calling duties to Klint Kubiak. Insert office space “What would you say…ya *do*…here?” memes.
Unfortunately, he is just a pawn in this game of chess, and this move doesn’t move the team as close to “checkmate” as fans would like to believe.
The good news is that the new ownership group is filthy, stinking rich and will have no problem throwing a ridiculous amount of money at the most attractive coaching candidate.
Obviously Sean Payton is a top dog. My understanding right now is Payton has a high affinity for the Chargers & Cowboys, w/t Cardinals being a consideration too, if jobs become available. When Denver calls, I expect him to listen, though he historically prefers strong link to GM.
— JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) December 26, 2022
Yet, the group still has to abid by the restraints of the NFL cap space, and $245 million was just invested in a QB who looked no better than any of the aforementioned journeymen type of QBs the team has seen in recent years. He arguably (or not) looked worse.
Is there a home run type of coach out there who would be willing to take on such a burden? Would a guy like Sean Payton really want to pair himself with Wilson and the GM who made the deal? It doesn’t help that the team has limited draft capital to work with in addition to little wiggle room for free agency.
In a perfect world, Paton could return the fleecing Seattle gave him with the Wilson deal and convince another team to take on a large chunk Wilson’s contract, but given the several national games for all to see this year, it’s unlikely any team will see the tape of Wilson and believe he’d be an upgrade over any potential other option.
The team could eat his salary and take a chance in the draft, but given the aforementioned limited amount of assets to work with, it’s tough to believe the team could move up to a position to get a franchise-level QB.
While this is a move that needed to be made, the grim reality of the Broncos’ situation is they are still far away from the position they thought the team would be in entering the 2022 season.
The good news is that it is difficult to envision a worse season coming up than the rock-bottom catastrophe that was 2022, but the team is not in position to perform a complete 180.
It is encouraging to see that ownership and the front office is committed enough to change to part ways with a first-year coach before his first season even ends, but this will be no easy task for anyone involved.
The best that fans can hope for is Paton’s draft acumen continues this April, that the new staff is a complete upgrade, and that someone in the staff can get whatever Russell Wilson has in the tank out of him for his remaining days with the Broncos.
It is far from the hope and excitement the previous offseason produced, but at this point, it’s all that can be realistically offered.