LONDON — The Broncos flew nearly nine hours for their fourth road game, an international match vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With Denver ranking as the NFL's most disappointing team — they acquired nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson and hired an offensive-minded coach in Nathaniel Hackett and somehow got worse — it's fair to wonder if multiple Broncos will be packing when the team arrives back home because of potential trades.
The disappointment of the 2-5 start, including four straight losses, gives way to a sobering reality. Broncos general manager George Paton, whose phone never stops buzzing, must weigh future roster construction against winning in the present.
The Broncos would need to finish 8-2 or 7-3 to be in the playoff mix, mythical math for a team that averages 14.3 points per game, last in the NFL. That's five points fewer than last season, which resulted in the termination of the coach and offensive coordinator. For perspective, the two teams ahead of the Broncos in points — the Colts and Steelers — both benched their quarterbacks for the season.
As it stands, the Broncos boast five picks in 2023 — two thirds (one from the Colts), a fourth, fifth and seventh (from Vikings) — their stock thinned because of the Wilson trade.
So two goals have emerged, in my opinion, for the remainder of the season, which might end with Hackett gone without dramatic improvement. First, the Broncos need Wilson to rebound, and at some point resemble the player he was in his previous 10 years. The Broncos gave Wilson a five-year, $245 million extension in August with $124 million guaranteed in the first three years. Paton said it was the "best he's ever felt" after getting a deal done.
The enormity of the money makes a rebound crucial or the franchise could descend deeper into this rabbit hole of misery. Wilson's dead cap money reads thusly, per Spotrac:
2023: $107 million
2024: $85 million
2025: $49.6 million
Simply put, the Broncos require Wilson to find his footing — I still believe he will — either with Hackett or a new coach.
The second priority becomes building around him. Which brings us back to trades. Several players are drawing interest, most notably outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, and receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and Melvin Gordon could also be moved.
Chubb plays a premier position and has 5.5 sacks, leaving him on pace for a career-high 13. There is an argument to keep Chubb and franchise tag him next season, though that roughly $19 million number is uncomfortable when needing to address some many other roster issues. With the Panthers asking for two first-round picks for Brian Burns, according to ESPN, the Broncos will likely ask for a first or a combination of a second and a third for Chubb.
Jeudy is a former first-rounder on a friendly contract next season, so there is less motivation to move him without the right return. Could the Broncos get a second or third for him? Perhaps. The Packers wanted Jeudy in the Aaron Rodgers' talk, per sources, and the Giants could make sense.
As for Hamler, he is a rocket on the field, an admirable story after overcoming hip and knee surgeries. However, he as a long injury history, likely minimizing the return. Could he fetch a fourth-rounder? Albert O, who has no role moving forward, and Gordon have less value — the Rams could be a fit for the veteran running back — but deals must be explored.
The Broncos have multiple needs looking at 2023, among them, rebuilding the offensive line. Acquiring picks is not sexy. This season was supposed to be about winning, not serving as a supplier of players to contenders. But a pivot is required.
Getting picks and Wilson back on track have to the focus moving forward.