ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos, with an NFL high 11 starting quarterbacks since the start of 2016, have wandered in the quarterback desert for so long and tried so many different solutions that they now hope the 12th time is the charm.
Welcome Russell Wilson to perhaps the biggest pile of expectations you’ve had in your professional football career: a franchise with three Super Bowl trophies in its lobby that seems to live by late owner Pat Bowlen’s annual season prediction of, “I think we’re going to win the Super Bowl every year.”
The billboards to welcome Wilson are already up and the league-shaking trade that brought him to the Broncos from the Seattle Seahawks won’t even be official until free agency opens Wednesday. Wilson will be the 12th different person to start behind center for Denver since Peyton Manning retired.
They don’t waste time putting up billboards in Denver…. pic.twitter.com/U9NNBzHlme
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 9, 2022
Since Manning’s tearful farewell, the Broncos have missed the playoffs in six consecutive seasons, had three coaching changes and five different offensive coordinators, with newly hired Justin Outten now the sixth.
“We just want the best guy,” general manager George Paton said at the NFL combine last week. “We don’t care if it’s free agency; we don’t care if it’s the draft; we don’t care if it’s a trade. We’re going to exhaust all options to try to get the best guy for the Broncos.”
Paton has already tried to fix the Broncos’ quarterback woes, trading for Teddy Bridgewater last April. The acquisition of Wilson, in exchange for five draft picks (two first-rounders, two second-rounders and a fifth-rounder) to go with three players (quarterback Drew Lock, defensive end Shelby Harris and tight end Noah Fant) is a testament to how crippling the turnstile at quarterback has become.
From Trevor Siemian to Paxton Lynch to Brock Osweiler to Case Keenum to Joe Flacco to Brandon Allen to Lock to Jeff Driskel to Brent Rypien to Bridgewater, it has gone. Toss in running back Phillip Lindsay taking the first snaps during a COVID-19 no-quarterback game in 2020 and the list is 11 different starting quarterbacks since Manning started in Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 season.
The Broncos tried the draft to fix the drought with Lynch and Lock, first- and second-round picks, respectively. Lynch started just four games over two seasons, a failure that still resonates.
They tried to fix things in free agency with Keenum and Flacco. They tried the trade route with Bridgewater. They tried to just get through a week with the rest.
The results were not pretty. Since the start of 2016, only three teams have a lower QBR than the Broncos.
As Nathaniel Hackett said, just after he became the fourth different head coach for the Broncos since Manning last took a snap: “The quarterback position is the leader of this organization in a sense. They’re the guy that you have to lean on. It doesn’t matter if you’re on offense or defense or special teams.”
He could have just as easily added head coach, offensive coordinator, assistant coach, general manager, receptionist, ticket manager and, well you get the idea.
Former pass-rusher Von Miller has said: “When your quarterback is that Peyton Manning-type player, everybody knows it, in the locker room, upstairs in the coaches’ offices, in the cafeteria, everybody.”
The Broncos’ decision-makers have bet on Wilson, likely with their jobs. Paton has said he knows finding the answer at quarterback doesn’t guarantee much other than the launch point required to succeed in the NFL — plenty of franchise quarterbacks were not in the Super Bowl last month — but this is about intent, too.
The longer the Broncos’ list of starting quarterbacks got, the less it looked like they intended to make the playoffs. There are plenty of decisions still to be made, players to sign, players to draft and games to play.
But the Broncos can write in the name of their quarterback again and they don’t have to use a pencil.