The Denver Broncos are firmly entrenched in last place in the AFC West and are nothing more than a model of futility with a dilapidated roster. Despite having numerous and high draft picks over the past few years, Denver is going in the wrong direction and much of the blame goes to one short man who had a brief tenure.
Josh McDaniels was the head coach of the Denver Broncos franchise for less than 23 months. It has been nearly 11 months since McDaniels has been an employee of the team but the effects of his hiring will be felt for years to come.
“My decision to relieve Josh McDaniels as head coach was not taken lightly,” Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said 11 months ago when he decided that enough was enough. “I will always be appreciative of his passion, enthusiasm and hard work, and I thank him for his efforts.”
Perhaps the efforts that Pat Bowlen was thanking Josh McDaniels for was helping turn a once proud organization that has appeared in five Super Bowls (winning two) to the current laughing stock of the NFL.
Should all the blame go on McDaniels?
If a monkey shoots someone with a gun, you don’t blame the monkey. You blame the guy who gave him the pistol. Pat Bowlen handed Josh McDaniels a loaded weapon with a hair-trigger when he allowed McDaniels a certain amount of control over the team’s personnel.
“In the end, I was not satisfied with the results and the direction this team was headed. The decision to make a change was extremely difficult but one that needed to be made for this organization and our fans,” Bowlen admitted.
McDaniels first faux pas was alienating then starting quarterback Jay Cutler. At the time Cutler was a 25-year old gunslinger coming off a Pro Bowl season. With the relationship irreconcilable, McDaniels dealt Cutler to Chicago where in return he received journeyman quarterback Kyle Orton and a pair of first-round draft picks. In the two full seasons since the deal Denver won a total of 12 games. A Cutler-led Bears team won 12 games just last year en route to an appearance in the NFC title game.
After trading away the franchise quarterback who hadn’t hit his prime, McDaniels made an underrated move by dealing little known running back Peyton Hillis and a fifth-round pick to Cleveland for backup quarterback and former first-round bust Brady Quinn. Hillis went on to earn a Pro Bowl selection in 2010 as well as Madden Cover-boy honors (and the ensuing curse). Brady Quinn hasn’t taken a regular season snap for Denver to date.
Shortly after, McDaniels took one of the most productive wide receivers in the NFL in Brandon Marshall and sent him packing to the Miami Dolphins for a pair of second-round draft picks. From 2007-2009 Marshall averaged 102 catches per year for better than 1,200 yards and 23 total touchdowns. The Broncos current leading receiver is Eric Decker who is on pace for roughly half of those numbers.
So McDaniels clearly traded away talent with questionable attitudes, but at least they received good draft picks to build with, right?
They did receive plenty of compensation for their Pro Bowlers, but it’s what they did with those picks that could be even more troubling than the reprehensible trades. McDaniels targeted Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith in the 2009 draft and traded a first-round pick to Seattle for the rights to select the cornerback. Smith was waived prior to his second season. A first-round pick was dealt for a player who didn’t last through two training camps.
With their two first-round picks in 2010 McDaniels selected Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas who has started three games in his career and has 26 catches to date. With McDaniels next selection he traded up to acquire Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who has set the franchise back a minimum of two years.
“Tebow has all the traits you’re looking for in terms of toughness, competitiveness, he’s intelligent, he’s won a lot of games, he’s a leader, he works hard, he’s got all the intangibles you look for in a player at that position,” McDaniels told reporters.
Those intangibles are fantastic but Tebow never had any legitimate passing skills to warrant a fourth-round draft pick, much less a first-round selection. His awful mechanics, poor footwork and weak throwing arm are much less of a concern than the fact he is unable to process an NFL defense. To make matters much worse Tebow is insanely popular and the fanbase has blindly hopped aboard his bandwagon- which is rapidly speeding off a canyon.
Tebow’s presence on the roster has made life considerably more difficult for starting quarterback Kyle Orton and with the team falling out of contention early, management has no choice but to play him. Tebow is clearly regressing and watching him try to throw a football must make general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway nauseous, as he and head coach John Fox know fully that he doesn’t have the requisite skills to succeed at the NFL level. Fox and Elway are wasting the rest of this season with Tebow starting only due to the fact that the team has a first-round pick invested and they must prove to the fans what they knew all along- the guy can’t play at this level.
Did we mention that McDaniels gave up a second, third and fourth-round pick for the rights to draft Tebow?
The Broncos and their fans must cringe every time they see Jay Cutler, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Marshall on a Sportscenter highlight. Of course it’s not as cringe-worthy as when their starting quarterback drops back to throw. Josh McDaniels was only on the job 23 months and he set the franchise back a minimum of five years.
In the annals of sports history Josh McDaniels name will be on the Mount Rushmore of management ineptitude with L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, former New York Knicks general manager Isaiah Thomas and former Detroit Lions head man Matt Millen.
At least the team is selling a lot of number 15 jerseys.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie