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Broncos aim to avoid ugly history Sunday, then focus shifts to coaching search

Wilson says he will look for ways to improve this offseason after worst year of career
Russell Wilson
Posted at 5:40 PM, Jan 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 21:03:19-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The question was simple. The answer is not.

I asked Russell Wilson if he planned to evaluate his offseason routine after the worst performance of his career.

"I do that at after every season. You have to," Wilson said. "That's how you get better."

On Sunday, the Broncos wander into Empower Field for the final time, aiming to avoid an ugly history with one eye peeking towards the future. Denver is attempting to avoid the first 13-loss season in franchise history. The Broncos also want to avoid the AFC West bagel for the first time since the strike-shortened 1982 season. Denver is 5-18 in its last 23 division games, and 4-16 overall its last 20 games.

It speaks to the challenge facing the next head coach. CEO Greg Penner will spearhead the search, along with Carrie Walton-Penner, Condoleezza Rice and GM George Paton.

It is expected the Broncos will interview at least six candidates. They have interest in Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, as do the Panthers and Colts. Harbaugh released a statement Thursday saying he expects to lead the Wolverines in 2023, while acknowledging that he does not know "what the future holds." Is he using the NFL as leverage to get more money and respect from Michigan? Or would say the prospect of NCAA violations and, hypothetically, a 10-year, $200 million contract from Denver push him back into the pros, following Pete Carroll's script at USC?

If not Harbaugh, Sean Payton should be considered a target until he's not. His situation is more complicated because hiring him would require draft pick compensation to the Saints. Dallas Cowboys defensive boss Dan Quinn should be on the short list after finishing second to Nathaniel Hackett a year ago.

Wilson will not be part of the search, but he mentioned characteristics he'd like to see in the next coach.

"I think what we desire, what we want as players, is we all want to win. We want a winner. We want a person that's going to encourage us and challenge us at the same time — push us to the furthest edge every day. And also teach us how to be better men every day, too. And all that counts," Wilson said.

"First of all, I know Greg and George, they're going to do a great job. And the executive team upstairs, they're going to do a great job of finding a great head coach. There's some great options, obviously. There's a lot of amazing coaches and brilliant people that have been really, really successful coaching the game and have gone to Super Bowls, won them, been to them, and been at the highest level in whatever facet that may be. And there's also some brilliant minds, too, that are younger."

Some of those names include Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Rams assistant head coach Thomas Brown, 49ers defensive boss DeMeco Ryans, Eagles assistant Jonathan Gannon, and Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Before settling on Hackett at the end of January, Paton interviewed 10 coaches over 20 days, including nine in person.

Penner wants a coach who can establish a winning culture, discipline and an offensive identity. It won't be easy. The Broncos can preach all they want about closes losses, but they are not very good. So what is there to watch for against the Chargers?

My Denver7 list:

Playing for joy
This season stinks, and nothing will provide a soothing balm Sunday save for a win. If Baltimore loses at Cincinnati, the Chargers playoff seed is locked in, making it likely they will take their foot off the gas. Then it becomes a preseason game with the Broncos playing starters. It would be embarrassing if they don't win. And I'd like to see it for the players and interim coach Jerry Rosburg.

Make it a grand
Jerry Jeudy sits 182 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. It would be a nice milestone. But more importantly, it would establish Jeudy as the team's No. 1 receiver who should have his fifth-year option picked up.

Outside looking in
The Broncos defense has become ballhawks over the last few weeks. It goes hand-in-hand with pressure. Given the uncertainty surrounding Randy Gregory's availability, the Broncos need young players to continue to improve. So another week of reps for Nik Bonitto and Jonathan Cooper is a good thing to get a clearer picture moving forward.

On the Line
Dalton Risner, voted the Darrent Williams Good Guy winner for his professionalism with the local media, might have played his last game for the Broncos. He would like to remain in Denver, but wants to be "valued and respected." Risner could command $10 million a season as a free agent with a straight face given the current salaries of starting veteran guards. The Broncos could be searching for a new left guard, center and right tackle. Of the three, finding a solution at right tackle is imperative. The Broncos are approaching 20 starters at right tackle since Orlando Franklin manned the position in 2013. It's why Georgia's Broderick Jones is often mocked to the Broncos.

Standing Pat, Just-in Case
Pat Surtain II wants to finish strong. He's a Pro Bowler, and has played some of his best games vs. Justin Herbert. Also, Justin Simmons would love to add another pick. His six are the most since Champ Bailey hauled in 10 in 2006. Surtain will be in the Pro Bowl games, and Simmons should join him as a first alternate if a player is unavailable because of the playoffs.

Special circumstance
It matters little when looking at the record, but it would be nice for the special teams to put together solid back-to-back games seemingly for the first time since 2015. It would also be a nice cap tip to Rosburg's message and coaching.

Broncos connection to Damar Hamlin
None of us will forget the frightening scene on Monday night in Cincinnati when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest. Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington has been praised as a hero for administering life-saving CPR on Hamlin.

"To put in context, for an assistant to find himself at that position and needed to take the action that he did, and step up, and take charge like he did was nothing short of amazing. And the courage that it took," Bills coach Sean McDermott said.

Hamlin served as a season intern (2001) and offseason intern (1999-2000) for the Broncos, and remains friends with his mentors in the organization.

RENCK'S PREDICTION: Broncos 22, Chargers 17