ENGLEWOOD — A confluence of factors have produced the Broncos' 3-10 record and five straight losses. Lack of talent and injuries cannot be dismissed.
Questions and optimism now loom over the availability of the Broncos' two biggest offseason acquisitions for Sunday's game vs. Arizona.
Quarterback Russell Wilson went through individual drills Wednesday, showing he has advanced through multiple stages of the concussion protocol. He must practice fully and be cleared by an independent neurologist to face the Cardinals.
It raises the question: Would the team sit him if he's cleared, exercising an abundance of caution after he appeared to be knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter last Sunday?
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said the team will do right by Wilson and follow the advice of the medical staff.
Randy Gregory, on injured reserve following knee surgery after the Week 4 loss to the Raiders, practiced on Wednesday, opening his 21-day window to return. There is hope he will play this week.
There's no denying the Broncos have missed the outside linebacker over the past nine games.
"His ability to set the edge, his ability to rush the passer. That's why we are here," Hackett said. "We are excited to see him get after it."
The initial projection was for Gregory to miss roughly six weeks, but he required more time to regain trust in his knee. Gregory made it clear that he wanted to return regardless of the team's record.
“I have shut it down enough. I have missed a lot of time. I am to the point now where I want to help where I can. I understand the landscape and the situation we are in as a unit, but I think it’s important to go out there and end the season on a good note,” Gregory said.
"I think it’s important for me or anybody to get back out there to get that cohesiveness going into the offseason.”
In his monthlong cameo, he was living up to expectations, with two sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and seven quarterback hits.
"His resume speaks for itself. His motor, his energy, he’s someone we can use out there for sure," nose tackle Mike Purcell said.
Added defensive lineman Deshawn Williams, "It would be huge. Just his presence alone. If he played a full season would probably have like 14 sacks by now.”
Gregory was signed to a five-year, $70 million contract with $28 million guaranteed to create menacing pressure along with Bradley Chubb.
It worked initially, but the experiment fizzled when Gregory got hurt and Chubb was traded to Miami following the Broncos' win in London over the Jaguars.
The Broncos have produced eight sacks over the last five games, but only three from outside linebackers (two from Jonathon Cooper and one from Baron Browning). Chubb remains tied for the team lead with 5.5 sacks with Dre'Mont Jones and hasn't played for the team since Oct. 30.
If Wilson does not play, Brett Rypien takes over. He is 1-1 as a starter in his career, beating the Jets in 2020 and losing to them earlier this season.
Wilson has never missed a game for a concussion in his career. He drew criticism in 2015 for claiming that he avoided a concussion by drinking Reliant Recovery Water without medical proof.
Wilson sat out the Jets game this season with a hamstring injury after appearing limited in practice and following an on-field Friday discussion with general manager George Paton.
The nine-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $242.5 million contract extension in August, including $161 million guaranteed. Given the Broncos' record, does the risk outweigh the reward by playing Wilson?
For now, Wilson, who is coming off his best game of the season with three touchdown passes, is navigating the protocol with eyes on starting Sunday.
Left guard Dalton Risner missed his first game of the season with a shoulder issue. He told Denver7 he will play against the Cardinals. Risner has been the most reliable member of the offensive line this season. Risner had hoped there would be talks on a new contract during the bye week, but none developed. He will be a free agent at season's end. ...
Outside linebacker Jake Martin went on the IR with a knee injury. It was more of a wear-and-tear issue over time, Martin said. He is still getting info, but hopes to avoid surgery. Martin, who is under contract for 2023 season, would obviously like to return and rebound in big way for his hometown team. ...
In what Denver7 reported last week, the Broncos announced $100 million in stadium improvements, including the fourth-largest scoreboard in any NFL stadium. The video board will be 31 feet higher and a few feet wider, designed to enhance the gameday experience.