The Broncos tried and failed with Russell Wilson, what's next?



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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos have, time and again, tried to find the answer to the question they still have at quarterback after the financially painful decision to release Russell Wilson on Monday after two seasons.

Since Peyton Manning hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 50 on the way to retirement, the Broncos have seen every move they’ve made to replace him shatter postseason dreams into tiny pieces.

They’ve used a first-round pick — Paxton Lynch — they’ve used Day 2 picks (Brock Osweiler and Drew Lock) and they’ve used a late-round pick (Trevor Siemian). They’ve signed veteran free agents in the hope to squeeze out a little more, such as Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Teddy Bridgewater.

They’ve had injury replacements in Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien.

And they made the all-in, this-time-we-really-mean-it move to trade for Wilson. The Broncos bet draft picks — five in all, including two first-round and two second-round picks — and they bet cash in the five-year, $242.6 million contract.

They bet their salary cap health, their playbook and at least some of the future. And they lost.

Again.

Consider that Siemian, with 13 wins in his time as the Broncos starter, leads the group in that category.

The Broncos are on a list of only five NFL teams that have been to at least eight Super Bowls. Hall of Fame owner Pat Bowlen saw his team have more appearances in the title game than it had losing seasons over his three-decade run at the top of the league flowchart.

But the Broncos aren’t that team anymore. Instead, they have an eight-year streak of playoff misses — the team’s longest since it was a struggling AFL franchise.

They reside in the same division as the 28-year-old alpha that is Patrick Mahomes. The quarterback just led the Kansas City Chiefs to their fourth Super Bowl — and third win — in a five-year span with a largely draft-built starting lineup. Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and the newly crowned Rookie of the Year in C.J. Stroud are leading teams in AFC.

In short, the notion that the Broncos are going to fix everything when they find a quarterback who is equal to or better than some, or all, of those passers seems like a dicey proposition at best and a path to folly at worst.

With their salary cap’s snug fit and limited capability to add free agents, their ability to find a quarterback in free agency who plays even to the level Wilson did when coach Sean Payton benched him is a maybe/maybe not bet at most.

Sure, not much gets done in the NFL without a guy behind center who can handle all facets of the job, including crunch time, meeting time, locker room time and prime time.

But the Broncos need a plan, a fit and some patience. Mahomes isn’t even to his prime playing years if he stays healthy, and the Broncos have changed coaches, playcallers, quarterbacks and directions as if it is dry cleaning.

They signed the likes of Wilson, Randy Gregory and Frank Clark and then shipped them out — dead money be damned — in two or fewer seasons.

The Broncos need to dig in, pick a lane and stay in it — at quarterback, in the draft and in free agency. And that’s not on Sean Payton, George Paton or even the next quarterback who opens a season behind center. It’s on owner/CEO Greg Penner.

As the Broncos evolve in the Walton-Penner group’s ownership it is Penner’s challenge to make sure the salary cap remains manageable, the draft is being used as it should be and that those who report to him have good answers. He has to make sure the new guys just don’t keep getting rid of the players the old guys had.

The Broncos have led the league in change over the past eight years. Changes at quarterback, changes on the depth chart, changes in coaching, changes at general manager and even the change in ownership.

And change almost always follows failure in the NFL, an annual rite of passage when the public demands heads roll following the inability to even sniff the postseason. But change hasn’t worked for the Broncos — at all.

The Broncos had two paths with Wilson. Make the blockbuster trade to sign him to the megadeal and commit to making it work for three to five years. Or simply not do the deal in the first place and take another fork in the road instead.

The Broncos did neither. They did the deal and didn’t commit to it. Because of change, because of impatience, because they don’t stick to anything these days.

With one of the tightest salary caps in the league, a thin depth chart with three of their own first-round picks and a four-year span during which they have picked in the top 45 three times, the Broncos are poised for a painful 2024.

And what they do from here, not only at quarterback, but with the depth chart around him, will determine whether they can recapture franchise glory. It could also determine whether they’ll be another lost soul staring into a glass at last call in remember-when mode, talking of past victories as they wonder, again, where it all went.



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