LAS VEGAS — The Broncos have no quarterback, no draft capital and no salary-cap flexibility.
No playoff berth for the eighth NFL season in a row might be the least of this no-hoper-of-a-team’s worries.
After not only losing but getting bullied in a 27-14 manhandling by the hated Raiders, Denver coach Sean Payton tried to scrawl a smiley face on this mess.
“Disappointed,” Payton said Sunday. “Not discouraged.”
Say what? Perhaps we should add another, more appropriate word to describe the Broncos:
Delusional. With a capital “D.”
Payton was hired to fix a broken quarterback too expensive to fail but has made the Broncos a bigger mess than the moment he was hired 338 days ago.
So maybe forking over an $18 million salary for a football coach doesn’t buy as much as it once did. The investment in Payton, however, is chump change compared to what really hinders Denver going forward.
The only real action Russell Wilson got all afternoon was when a veteran quarterback with a clean uniform texted furiously at his locker following the eighth loss in a row to the Raiders. Even if the Broncos cut him, they will pay Wilson in excess of $120 million over the next two years merely to go away.
With a final record of 8-9, are these Delusional Broncos a more competently coached team than the cluster that Payton inherited from Nathaniel Hackett?
But after spending a small fortune to upgrade an offensive line that surrendered 52 sacks over 17 games, watching tailback Javonte Williams look run down, and wondering if 2020 first-round draft choice Jerry Jeudy will ever be all that, are the Broncos any closer to championship contention?
For all his football genius, Payton won eight games with a quarterback with a Super Bowl ring. That’s progress? When Uncle Vic Fangio went 7-10 with Teddy Bridgewater, he got fired.
“It stinks,” safety Justin Simmons said. “It’s a bitter feeling.”
It’s a feeling we’re beginning to know all too well.
For nearly 40 full years, from the Orange Crush of 1977 to Peyton Manning’s triumphant farewell at Super Bowl 50, fans in Broncos Country were so spoiled by success they regarded it as a birthright. Newsflash: Nothing lasts forever. If winning can become a tradition, losing can also become a vicious cycle, with the chronic misery that long plagued the Browns and Lions as proof.
What I don’t get, and the first question franchise CEO Greg Penner and general manager George Paton must answer about this team’s future: Why did the Broncos decide it was a wise business decision to blow up their relationship with Wilson before deciding to bench him?
I can understand why Wilson made Payton uncomfortable and how the franchise felt it was better to move on rather than pray he would become a better quarterback after his 35th birthday.
Unless the plan was to hold Wilson hostage as a backup until he agrees to renegotiate his contract in a way that allows this soap opera to end in a trade, what were the Broncos thinking when they tried to bully him into agreeing to a contract amendment no athlete in his right mind would accept? Is the only viable option to cut Wilson, which would force the Broncos to swallow a bitter, dead-money pickle that would seriously impede their ability to rebuild in 2024 and beyond?
Don’t come crying to me if Wilson returns to Denver next season and leads the Steelers to victory over a team that blamed him for a ridiculous extension that made zero football sense.
In a two-game audition after the Broncos made Wilson the league’s highest-paid cheerleader, Stidham acquitted himself admirably with all the operational stuff. But when it came to scoring points? Not so much.
With Stidham at the controls, Denver averaged 15.0 points per game, slightly less than the offensive output that made Hackett the laughingstock of the league a year ago. Anybody with eyes can see Stidham is a fine NFL backup, but definitely not championship material.
Do the Broncos have any real choice except to draft a quarterback in the first round? The loss to Las Vegas helped, allowing them to move up two slots to the 12th overall pick. But with no shot at QB hotshots Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels, Denver must hope Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy or Bo Nix remain on the board, then choose very wisely.
Because in the NFL, if you ain’t got a quarterback, you ain’t got diddly.
With limited football resources, the Broncos have big work to do and no end to this football drudgery in sight.
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