Kiz: Moral victory? Players in the Denver locker room didn’t want to hear it after the Broncos’ 14th-straight loss to Kansas City. Yes, the game was entertaining. But the big rally fell short, and a 34-28 defeat left Denver with a 3-10 record. Unless the Broncos win out, they are doomed to a worse record than last season. That’s nearly unfathomable after trading for quarterback Russell Wilson. Where does general manager George Paton start to fix this mess? And is Paton the man for the job?
Gabriel: The starting point for Paton is to figure out how to maximize Wilson’s ability and that starts with determining who the best person/people are to coach him and orchestrate the Broncos’ offense. There are a bunch of other items on the list — figure out how to keep the core of an excellent defense together and where free agency priorities lie for players like Dre’Mont Jones, Alex Singleton, DeShawn Williams, re-tool the offensive line, add a running back and probably a receiver, too, etc., etc., etc. — but the No. 1 item is making sure you’ve got the right coaching situation around Wilson.
Kiz: I can’t see Penner and the new ownership team wanting to blow it all up and start from scratch only months after closing a $4.65 billion purchase. There would barely be enough football experience left at team headquarters to assemble a search committee. But I don’t see how Paton can retain coach Nathaniel Hackett, regardless of how the Broncos fought for their beleaguered coach during the comeback against the Chiefs. Give Hackett a mulligan? Fans wouldn’t buy it. Paton should already have begun the search for a new coach.
Gabriel: Certainly Denver’s general manager should have a lot of intel at his disposal by the nature of his position and also since he just went through the coaching search process 11 months ago. There are two edges to that blade, though, considering the prospect of another coaching search means the first one didn’t go well. One-and-done coaches are a relative rarity in the NFL — there have been 17 since the salary cap was instituted in 1994 — and the Broncos have never had one. But Denver is in a unique position this year given the major underperformance and the new ownership since Paton hired Hackett.
Kiz: Do the Broncos have the draft capital to obtain Sean Payton in a trade from the New Orleans Saints, which retain his rights? And would Payton want to get back in the coaching game with Wilson, when maybe he could instead develop Justin Herbert in Los Angeles? Should Denver elevate defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero? Try to lure Jim Harbaugh back to the NFL? Or does the next coach not really matter unless Paton addresses critical personnel needs on this roster?
Gabriel: Depends on how high a bidding war goes, I suppose, and if New Orleans is committed to acquiring 2023 draft capital for him. The Broncos acquired a first-round pick for Bradley Chubb and also have two third-rounders, but that’s where the roster part of the conversation enters the equation. They have needs — tackle, perhaps receiver, edge, etc. — and need more high-end talent. So for a hypothetical Payon pursuit, the Broncos’ recipe may include future draft capital and/or the Walton-Penner Ownership Group offering Payton enough money that he doesn’t want to coach elsewhere. Evero’s going to get interviews this winter for a head coaching position, as will Harbaugh (if he wants them) and other veterans like Frank Reich and Dan Quinn. The coaching decision or decisions will happen first, but Denver’s roster needs are woven in as part of the conversation.