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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos, with NFL high 11 starting quarterbacks since the start of 2016, have wandered 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 the lobby that seems to live off the late owner Pat Bowlen’s annual season prediction of, “I think “We want to win the Super Bowl every year.”
Billboards to welcome Wilson are already up, and the league-shattering trade that brought him to the Broncos of the Seattle Seahawks will not even be official until the free agency opens Wednesday. Wilson will be the 12th different person to start behind the center of Denver since Peyton Manning retired.
They do not 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 for six consecutive seasons, had three coaching changes and five different offensive coordinators, with newcomer Justin Outten now the sixth.
“We just want the best guy,” general manager George Paton said at the NFL combine last week. “We do not care if it’s free agency; we do not care if it is drafted; we do not care if it is a trade. We will exhaust all opportunities to try to get the best guy to the Broncos.”
Paton has already tried to rectify the Broncos’ quarterback problems when he traded with Teddy Bridgewater in April last year. The purchase 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 paralyzing the quarterback counter 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’s gone. Throw run back Phillip Lindsay in and take the first snaps during a COVID-19 no-quarterback match in 2020, and the list is 11 different starting quarterbacks since Manning started in the Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season.
The Broncos tried the draft to correct the drought with Lynch and Lock, first and second rounds, respectively. Lynch started just four games over two seasons, a failure that still resonates.
They tried to sort things out in free agency with Keenum and Flacco. They tried the trade route with Bridgewater. They were just trying to get through a week with the rest.
The results were not nice. Since the start of 2016, only three teams have a lower QBR than the Broncos.
As Nathaniel Hackett said, right after he became the fourth different head coach of the Broncos since Manning last took a snap: “The quarterback position is in a way the leader of this organization. They’re the guy you have to lean on. It does not matter if you are offensive or defensive or special. “
He could just as easily have added head coach, offensive coordinator, assistant coach, general manager, receptionist, ticket manager, and well you understand.
Former pass-rusher Von Miller has said: “When your quarterback is the Peyton Manning-type player, everyone knows it, in the locker room, upstairs the coaches’ offices, in the cafeteria, everyone.”
The Broncos’ makers have been betting on Wilson, probably with their jobs. Paton has said he knows finding the answer at quarterback does not guarantee much other than the launching point required for success in the NFL – lots of franchise quarterbacks were not in the Super Bowl last month – but it’s also on intent.
The longer the Broncos’ list of starting quarterbacks got, the smaller it looked like they intended to get into the playoffs. There are still plenty of decisions to be made, players to sign, players to draft and games to play.
But the Broncos can write in their quarterbacks name again, and they don’t have to use a pencil.