Broncos in Quick-Fix Chaos

On January 17, 1973, Mike McCormack, who had spent eight years as an assistant coach for division rival Washington, was hired as both head coach and general manager of the Eagles. Following an outstanding draft (which in those days was held immediately after the Pro Bowl, which in those days was played the week after the Super Bowl) that brought offensive tackle Jerry Sisemore, tight end Charlie Young, center Guy Morriss, safety Randy Logan, and cornerback Joe Lavender to Philadelphia, McCormack proceeded to mortgage just about every draft pick he could after that for the next five years, resulting in the Eagles not having a pick until the third round in 1974, until the seventh round in 1975, until the fourth round in 1976, until the fifth round in 1977, and until the third round in 1978.

At first, the approach appeared to work: 2-11-1 in 1972, the Eagles improved to 5-8-1 in 1973 and to 7-7 in 1974, but finished 4-10 in 1975 (causing McCormack to get fired) and again in 1976 (their first season under Dick Vermeil; the four wins were over teams with a combined record of 12-44) and 5-9 in 1977 (five wins over teams that went a combined 18-52) before finally breaking through with a 9-7 finish (and a playoff appearance, the first of four straight) in 1978, which was also their first winning season since 1966.

Half a century later, the Denver Broncos apparently believe that emulating this strategy is the right thing to do.

Perceiving the need for a "marquee" quarterback, on March 9 of last year, the Broncos traded their first-and second-round picks in both 2022 and 2023, along with three veteran players, to the Seahawks for 33-year-old Russell Wilson.

We all remember — at least those who are old enough to remember it anyway — what Danny O'Keefe sang about the age of 33 in his 1972 hit single Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues: "You know my heart's keeps tellin' me/You're not a kid at thirty-three/You play around you lose your wife/You play too long you lose your life."

Based on his 2022 stat line, it would appear as if Wilson has indeed been playing too long: 292 completions in 483 attempts for 3,524 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, for a passer rating of 84.4.

Not bad if it was 1972 — but in 2022, that 84.4 was "good" for 25th among NFL quarterbacks who had started in at least 10 games. (Denver also scored the fewest points in the entire NFL in 2022.)

On Wednesday, the Broncos doubled down on their policy of mortgaging the future by trading a 2023 first-round pick they had acquired from Miami for linebacker Bradley Chubb (the Dolphins had this pick because of the fallout from the Trey Lance trade with the 49ers — these things can get really complicated sometimes!) and a second-round pick in 2024, in exchange for the "rights" to former Saints head coach Sean Payton plus a 2024 third-round pick from New Orleans.

When the thick, acrid smoke cleared, the Broncos emerged without a first- or second-round pick in the 2023 draft either — significant because only one team in NFL history lacking a pick in either of the first two rounds of the draft has ever won the Super Bowl: the 2002 Buccaneers.

(Not that the Broncos had any chance of winning Super Bowl LVIII regardless — but still).

John Elway won two Super Bowls as a quarterback, albeit painfully late in his career — but so far at least, he is to general managers what Bart Starr was to head coaches. (At least Elway was right about Tim Tebow — but you know what they say about a stopped clock.)

With the NFL regular season rounding 17 games and sooner or later on its way to 18, the task faced by teams with older rosters has every promise of getting more and more difficult. Not only that, but pursuant to the seniority-based wage scale that the owners shoved down the union's throat to end a lockout that critically endangered the 2011 season, teams with older rosters are also at a serious disadvantage as regards the salary cap, which interestingly enough, does not include the salaries paid to the coaching staffs of each team.

Don't you think that a team that is coached by a man who has six Super Bowl rings; i.e., Bill Belichick, has a huge edge over a team that is coached by a man who has a lifetime record of 15-38; i.e., Dennis Allen?

The bottom line is that the 2021 Rams were a fluke. A quick-fix agenda doesn't pay. It didn't pay in Philadelphia or Washington in the 1970s — and it won't pay in Denver now.

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