For the first time in over half a decade, fans of the Denver Broncos have indisputable reason to feel hope, optimism, and excitement about their team.
It feels pretty good.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of general manager George Paton, the three-time Super Bowl winning franchise will enter the season with a new offensive-minded head coach, an elite, Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and legitimate postseason potential.
Fans who sat through six seasons of mediocrity will at last be able to sit down on Sundays with the expectation that the Broncos have the roster to win just about any game on the 2022 schedule. That is quite a far cry from just 8 months ago when the Broncos dropped their 10th loss in the season ender vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
It would be a cheesy cliché to say something like, “It’s always darkest just before the dawn”, but let’s face it, Broncos Country has been experiencing almost exclusively dark clouds ever since the final bit of confetti was swept off the field of Levi’s Stadium on February 6, 2016.
It wasn’t so much that fans expected a Super Bowl repeat once Peyton Manning officially hung up his cleats, but coming off of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy, not many could have predicted the nose dive that transformed the team into an NFL afterthought.
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen it coming. After all, when a seasoned starter in Mark Sanchez and a first-round draft pick (and expected heir to the throne) in Paxton Lynch couldn’t beat out a former 7th-round pick with more vowels than consonants in his last name, maybe things weren’t great.
While Trevor Siemian was a fun Cinderella story easy to root for, it was pretty clear pretty quickly that he would not last as a starting quarterback for long. And when we look back at all that went wrong the past six seasons as to why Denver wasn’t more of a threat in the AFC West, the problem was no secret: quarterback.
In today’s NFL, teams without a legitimate franchise QB will almost always be on the outside looking in when it comes to postseason aspirations, as the Broncos know all too well. The attempts to dig themselves out of QB limbo were met with miss after miss.
Testing the free agent/trade market did no favors, as Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, and Teddy Bridgewater would never be more than placeholders. Sure, Keenum was coming off a Pro-Bowl season, and Flacco and Bridgewater were both former first-round picks hoping to resurrect their careers elsewhere, but it didn't take long for fans (and the front office) to realize their best days were behind them.
The draft efforts proved not much better. Paxton Lynch was a colossal bust, which may have caused John Elway to second guess himself two years later when he chose to pass on Josh Allen in the 2018 draft. Despite that, #7 hoped he found his next franchise QB at a bargain when he was able to snag Drew Lock in the second round, but the former Missouri standout couldn’t capitalize on a promising rookie campaign and will be remembered mostly for his inconsistency and sideline raps.
Fans at this point had to have been at their boiling point, as with a young, talented defensive roster and pieces to compete on offense, it really seemed like the team was still just a QB away. Prior to the 2021 draft, it started to seem like the team would finally get past that issue.
Reports began to surface that a deal was in place to send league MVP Aaron Rodgers to Denver. Then it wasn’t. When former Ohio State All-American Justin Fields somewhat surprisingly fell to the Broncos in the draft, it was all but a certainty he would be picked and become the franchise signal caller fans had longed for. Paton instead went with CB Pat Surtain II and iced it with some out-of-context comments when he suggested franchise CBs were harder to find than franchise QBs.
It was a rough time, but now, those dark clouds have parted. The sun is shining, and fans who just suffered through yet another season of mediocrity can expect it to be the last one for a while.
The man many fans were furious with when he failed to address the QB situation aggressively in his first offseason is now being revered as a front office evil genius.
While most signs yet again pointed to an acquisition of Rodgers, especially following the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett (formerly the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator) as head coach, Paton did fans one better.
Rather than break the bank for a guy who may only play another year or two, and who has been making headlines for admitting to experimenting with weird drugs and dating a witch, Paton brought in the man who at just 24 years old handed the Broncos a humiliating Super Bowl loss in 2014.
He brought in the guy who has been to 9 Pro-Bowls and 2 Super Bowls. He acquired a QB who is largely regarded as one of the best deep ball throwers in the game who at 33 years old can still beat you with his legs and has plenty of mileage left in him.
Russell Wilson is the QB fans have been waiting for. He’s the QB the entire offense, notable WRs Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy have been waiting for. He’s the guy the defense has been waiting for to give them some cushion. He’s the guy with the proven track record that allows fans the luxury of expecting great things this season and the next several to come.
Does this mean immediate Super Bowl expectations should be the consensus thought process? Of course not.
The AFC West is still a juggernaut. Justin Herbert is rapidly becoming one of the best QBs in the league. Everyone knows what Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are capable of. And Derek Carr, always a solid and steady QB, now has Davante Adams to play with. This will not be a cake walk by any means.
Yet, whereas in years past, the Broncos have essentially been background actors in a summer Blockbuster, the team can now insert themselves in starring roles. They are no longer background noise, but once again are headliners.
In the front office, we have an ultra-competitive general manager hellbent on winning now. On the sidelines, we have an offensive-minded guru of a head coach who will take us from dull, 15-20 point performances to offensive firework displays. On one side of the ball, we have one of the best running back duos in the league, a dangerous receiving corps, and a capable offensive front led by one of the league’s top QBs. The other side of the ball contains one of the most dangerous pass-rushing attacks in the NFL, one of the league’s best safeties, and a young, second-year DB who could soon establish himself as “the” lockdown corner in the league.
It all starts in one week. Drink it in. Broncos football is officially fun again.