Welcome to ‘Fixer Upper: Denver Broncos’ edition, featuring a project requiring so much work that Chip and Joanna Gaines hung up the phone when asked for consultation.
Sitting at 4-11 with one of the worst offenses in the NFL, the team made the first step in reconstruction by firing head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who from day one seemed in over his head, but the team still has to shoulder a $245 million ($165 million guaranteed) contract that general manager awarded QB Russell Wilson, who is finishing up the worst season of his career by far.
With limited draft capital and a first-round pick that can’t be had until late first-round, the team is in no position to draft their way out of the contract, either, which means for the time being, they are stuck with Wilson.
There is no debating that parting ways with Hackett was the right move, but Wilson, outside of an unlikely scenario of Denver eating his contract and cutting him, will still be taking the snaps for the foreseeable future. Therefore, team CEO Greg Penner, who is leading the coaching charge in place of Paton, will need to find the absolute perfect fit for Wilson.
Around the league, there has been some debate as to whether Wilson is fixable at all. Penner expressed belief that his QB is ‘fixable’, using that exact term when facing the media post-Hackett firing.
Broncos legend-turned-Hot Take distributor Shannon Sharpe did not share the same confidence, going so far Wednesday as to suggest Wilson’s attitude was not appreciated by the team and he should be locked out of his office and lose his parking spot.
Both current Broncos Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy took offense to Sharpe’s comments, and responded in support of their QB.
Say it louder for the people in the back‼️‼️‼️ https://t.co/dmeTRIk3Hy— Tim Patrick (@Tpstreets) December 29, 2022
From an analyst perspective, former NFL QB Dan Orlovsky suggested a coach with a system built to benefit Wilson’s strengths (as opposed to whatever Hackett’s was) would be the fix for the Broncos QB, but the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah disagreed, suggesting Wilson had taken too big of a step backward for a simple scheme change to be the solution.
He lost his twitch/explosiveness & strength. I don’t know if that’s going to come back. He doesn’t have any snap left. Super monotone in all of his movement. https://t.co/5JXar6vkqI— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) December 28, 2022
No one knows for certain just what it will take to get Russell Wilson to play even close to the level he played in Seattle, but if it is indeed fixable, not just anyone will be able to do it. It is going to take the ultimate mechanic; the football coaching version of Sherlock Holmes, Gregory House, or whatever other genius problem solver.
Is there anyone who fits that profile who would actually take this job?
There really seem to be only two options who would generate a unanimous response of approval in this regard, and those two would be Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh.
Payton’s name will be the hottest on the market, as no one has close to his resume. He has a Super Bowl win to his head coaching resume over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. He won the NFC South seven times in 15 years, including four out of his final five. He turned an undrafted rookie in Tony Romo into an upper-tier pro bowler while an assistant in Dallas, and while head coach in New Orleans, he turned Drew Brees from a good QB in San Diego to a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer running his offense in the Big Easy.
He would be the ultimate home run hire, but the big issue: he’d have to say yes, and so would the New Orleans Saints. Still tied to his former squad, it would take a haul to get him out from under the Saints’ grip, and as aforementioned, the Broncos have limited draft capital.
He also reportedly has expressed interest in a Los Angeles based team or the Dallas Cowboys, all three teams with better QB situations than the Broncos. If he coaches anywhere next year, it is going to have to be the perfect situation, and while the Broncos ownership will have no issue paying him more than any other team, do they have what he wants as far as personnel?
That one is going to be a tough sell.
Next, there’s Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, currently coming off an undefeated regular season, a BIG 10 championship, and is now two games away from a national championship. It’s been reported over the years he is content at Michigan and staying at the college level, but others have suggested he still has the itch to win a Super Bowl.
In four years at San Francisco, he went to the NFC championship game three times, including an appearance in the Super Bowl. Prior to his arrival in 2012, the team had not been to the playoffs or had double-digit wins in a decade.
As far as QB fixes go, look no further than Alex Smith.
Considered to be a bust prior to Harbaugh, the former number one overall pick had an average passer rating of just 67.3, had thrown 51 touchdowns to 63 interceptions, and completed 55.6 percent of his passes.
In his first year under Harbaugh in 2011, he had career highs in passing yards (3,144), TD-to-INT ratio (17 to 5), and passer rating (90.7). He was limited by injuries in his second season, but in 10 games, he completed 70.2 percent of his passes, threw 13 touchdowns, and had a passer rating of 104.3. His success would lead to big offseason contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he continued to resurrect his career.
It should be noted, too, that Condoleezza Rice, part of the Broncos ownership group, worked closely with Harbaugh during his days as Stanford head coach and may have an ‘in’ with her former colleague. Of the two options between Payton and Harbaugh, the latter appears to be more in play and would be the type of splash hire Penner and team seem to be going for.
Harbaugh’s biggest red flag appears to be the fact that he has a very large personality and was known to butt heads with the San Francisco front office an ownership, which ultimate led to their parting ways. For the Broncos franchise, though, it’s a red flag worth ignoring.
After Payton and Harbaugh, the options become a bit more vanilla.
Dan Quinn will of course be brought up again, mostly due to his relationship with Paton as well as Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator who worked well with Wilson while with Seattle.
Frank Reich was never given a fair shake in Indianapolis after Andrew Lucky surprised the NFL world when he retired early and could be an option, but even if given said fair shake, he couldn’t get much out of two past-their-prime QBs in Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan. Why should anyone expect him to do differently with Wilson?
Shane Steichen is a hot young name who has done great work with Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense in Philadelphia, but going from one head coach with no prior head coaching experience to another seems unlikely.
If the team indeed plans to move forward with Wilson as the starting QB, ownership should be fully prepared to make an offer that cannot be refused by someone like Harbaugh or Payton.
Payton will be a tough egg to crack. Harbaugh? Maybe it would be best to advise all of Broncos Country to pull for the Wolverines to come out on top in the college football playoff, for if he conquered all in the college level, maybe he would see it as time to finish some business at the next level.
In any regard, this is a hire Penner and those advising him cannot mess up. If the group cannot find someone who can bring Russell Wilson back to being a productive QB who can win games, then it will just be more of the same for years to come.
And everyone surrounding the Broncos has been through enough.
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