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1 thing I know after the Broncos 17-14 loss to the Browns

It’s time for George Paton to take the reins.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns
The Broncos lost in all three phases. Again.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

After opening the season undefeated, the Denver Broncos have now lost for a month straight. The most ardent fans have gone from whispering about a dark horse Super Bowl run to checking out the mock draft machines. We’ve reached that point in the downturn where any realistic talk about the playoffs is a bit of a sick joke, meant to yank fans along so they continue to show up to faithfully support the orange and blue each week.

I’m not going to lie to you.

Mathematically, the Broncos are not completely dead in the water at 3-4. If this was a Disney movie, the coaching staff would decide to insert the backup quarterback into the starting lineup and it’d spark a miraculous turnaround. There’d be a fun little montage as the Broncos defense completely forgot half their best players are hurt or underperforming, the offensive coaching staff would remember that Noah Fant is a matchup weapon and use him as such, and Drew Lock would light the league on fire and draw comparisons to John Elway.

The truth is, the math is for suckers. Following the 10 day bye and the game with the 2-4 Football Team, Denver heads to Dallas to face the Cowboys. The following week they finish their NFC East games with the Eagles and get a bye. After that the AFC West gauntlet begins with Justin Herbert and the upstart Chargers. Kansas City follows soon after, and with them questions about what’s worse: Steve Spagnuolo’s defense or Pat Shurmur’s offense? A quick reprieve against the rebuilding Lions will be enough to stir a tanking debate among the fans and local media before Denver closes out the 2021 season with the Bengals, Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs back to back to back to back.

The Broncos are dead at 3-4. They just don’t know it yet.

It’s time for a first year general manager to step in and do his job. A lame duck coaching staff isn’t going to pull the plug on the season, even if they accept the playoffs are a pipedream. If nothing else, they’re coaching for their next jobs. That means it’s one George Paton, or John Elway, or whoever is actually calling the shots to make the tough decisions to set the Broncos on the long term path towards relevancy.

Justin Herbert is 23 years old. He isn’t going anywhere. Patrick Mahomes is 26. Derek Carr is the division’s elder statesman, and he’s only 30. There’s plenty of reasons to believe all three will continue to air it out in the AFC West for years to come. Meanwhile the Broncos are starting a journeyman over a second round flop and pretending the starter is anything other than the fourth best quarterback in the division.

At his first press conference George Paton admitted he fully understood the importance of a franchise quarterback. That’s become easy to lose sight of in the months since because of all the passers he didn’t chase, the Teddy Bridgewater trade, and his comment about franchise corners.

Roster building is a complicated endeavor, and things like injury luck, scheme, and the human element routinely throw wrenches into the best laid plans. When George Paton elected to pass on a rookie quarterback in the 2021 draft, his first Broncos team became a win-or-else roster. As good as Patrick Surtain II looks, the corner’s play won’t be enough to convince fans of some sort of real vision for the team. There’s a reason the crux of the argument for Drew Lock over Teddy Bridgewater is the fact that the third year passer may still yet have some sort of untapped potential, even if it seems unlikely.

At 3-4 with the season slipping away, it’s time for the Broncos to fully shift into rebuild mode. Young players such as Quinn Meinerz, Caden Sterns, and Javonte Williams ought to play, mistakes by damned. With the November 2nd trade deadline quickly approaching, Denver’s decision makers should take a good hard look at who they intent to bring back to the club in 2022. Every other player should be made available in hopes that they can net draft capital to participate in the franchise QB sweepstakes next season. Whether it’s Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, or a member of the 2022 draft, the Broncos answer at quarterback won’t come cheap.

Trading away veteran talent won’t be well received in the locker room, of course. Those remaining will be left with a stripped down, injury plagued roster where 6th string linebackers are starting. The coaching staff will quietly seethe that the captain gave them an anchor instead of patching the holes on a sinking ship. It shouldn’t matter. The future does. This year is about running out the string.