October 18, 2022
During training camp, I was asked on the air for my prediction
of the Broncos' record in the upcoming season.
I said 8-9.
In the ensuing weeks,
I waffled a bit when the Broncos seemed to outperform the Cowboys in a joint practice at Dove Valley, noting it's not weakness
or lack of conviction to keep an open mind about changing a prediction before the season starts.
But I stuck with 8-9, though I was derided for it.
I bring that up not to crow, but to wonder out loud if we
in the media -- and I include myself, up to a point -- were too compliant in going along with the narrative after Nathaniel
Hackett's hiring and early weeks on the job.
He was Mr. Happy, such a refreshing change!!
He took handoffs from Russell Wilson in minicamps and camp!!
He was one of The Guys!!
They'd run through a wall for him!!
He knew exctly what he was doing with what even for recent times was a dialed-back
It was considered
gauche to point out that Matt LaFleur, and not Hackett, called the Packers' plays.
The first red flag, at least for me, was when the first practice of training camp
was fast-paced and energetic. Hackett afterwards said they'd go as fast as Russell Wilson wanted to go. Then the second day
was a leisurely stroll through the park in comparison. Hackett subsequently outlined a practice cycle of quick pace, jogthroughs
as questioning as some are of the decision to play veterans only sparingly, or not at all, in exhibitions. A few series for
the starters might not have changed the Broncos' degree of preparation for the regular season. But what has made the plan
seem so farcical is that avoiding injuries and being at the top of their game in December were the cited reasons. Yet Denver
has racked up a long list of injuries, anyway.
wondered out loud if there ever would be a "Whoa!" moment when Hackett angrily drove home the point that for all
the conviviality, he was ... the ... hard-ass
... head ... coach.
If there was one or more
of those moments on or off the field, and there might have been, I didn't see them.
Wilson as the cornerstone after the Broncos paid a huge price
to acquire him from Seattle? We interpreted the widesread don't-let-the-door-hit-you sentiment in Seattle as the reaction
of the jilted constituency, not a reasonable assessment of Wilson's talent at age 33. What was the rush on his five-year,
$245 million contract extension -- a deal that absolutely locked the Broncos into a long-term "Let's Ride" strategy
minus coveted high draft choice? And that question applies to the Wilson camp, too, given that the quarterback salary benchmarks
go up every year, as we saw in this offseason.
Now ... think of what Wilson might be like in, say, 2026.
Clearly, this offensive fiasco is not completely his fault. He's banged up. The Broncos can't protect him, and the offensive
scheme and playcalling have been shaky at best. But at times, he has seemed to have replaced a leader's fire with mellowness and scripted, cliched rhetoric. He's playing the role of quarterback. That's not enough.
Is there any hope? The Broncos are 2-4, bad enough, but the
issue of how they have looked is more troubling than the record itself.
This conclusion might surprise you: Despite what I just said,
it's premature to completely write off either Hackett or Wilson.
With Hackett, the issue is that making a change now -- whether making senior defensive assistant Dom Capers or defensive
coordinator Ejiro Evero the interim head coach -- would accomplish little. Give Hackett
the season to grow on the job, if that's possible, and evaluate after. Same with George Paton, who after a much praised first
year-plus on the job, has overseen the mortgaging of the future that will make a turnaround even harder.
If it is deemed necessary to fire
Hackett and name an interim head coach for the remainder of the season, what about seeing if Mike Shanahan will agree to act
as a CEO-type head coach?
Capers is 72. Shanahan is 70.
One thing we know is that the new Walton-Penner-Hobson-Rice-Hamilton
ownership group likely won't wince at the cost of buying out Hackett and much,
or all, of his staff. (Unless, of course, this can turn out to be another instance of very wealthy folks being surprisingly
frugal at times. It happens.)
I do know my 8-9 prediction is going to turn out to be closer than those who scoffed at my skepticism.