Denver Broncos Have Nothing to Gain by Waiting to Fire Nathaniel Hackett
The Denver Broncos sank to what feels like an all-time low on Sunday in their 23-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Broncos’ offense didn’t score a touchdown until garbage time, deep into the fourth quarter.
This team continues to find new, creative ways to lose games under head coach Nathaniel Hackett. And even though Denver’s previous two head coaches — Vance Joseph (2017-18) and Vic Fangio (2019-21) — also started off their first seasons, respectively, at 3-8, this one feels different.
Because neither Joseph nor Fangio had a $250 million quarterback. Hackett does, and his name is Russell Wilson. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
After six long years of depredations in the NFL doldrums, Broncos Country was promised some relief in 2022. GM George Paton mortgaged Denver’s future, giving up multiple first and second-round picks, along with three players, to acquire Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks.
Then, Paton signed Wilson to a contract extension, nearly sight-unseen. Before he’d taken a single snap as a Bronco, Wilson garnered a five-year deal worth $245M.
Paton made three big decisions this past offseason, and he’s likely ruing each one. First, after interviewing 10 different candidates, Paton opted to hire Hackett, the former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator, passing over purported finalists for the job like Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Kevin O’Connell, whom the Minnesota Vikings hired as head coach.
The Vikings are 9-2 under O’Connell as a first-year head coach. Quinn’s Cowboys are 8-3 with his defense playing lights-out football.
Paton’s second and third big decisions were the aforementioned acquisition of Wilson and his subsequent extension, which, unless the Broncos find a way to salvage the QB, is likely going to hamstring this team for the foreseeable future. Wilson looks like a shell of his former nine-time Pro Bowl self.
Hackett has presided over arguably the most shocking regression of a competent, dynamic quarterback in NFL history. All in the matter of *checks notes11 games. It feels like it’s been 11 years.
Averaging 14.3 points per game under Hackett, the Broncos now have the ignominious distinction of fielding the NFL’s worst-scoring offense since 2000.
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“It’s unacceptable. Bottom line,” Wilson said post-game of the offense’s production in Carolina. “This organization, this tradition here, this—everything else—we’ve got to honor it.”
The spin doctors around Broncos HQ are pushing the, ‘But Joseph and Fangio started 3-8 and each got at least another season’ talking point, but looking back in hindsight, everyone knew those hires were lemons even 11 games in. Giving them another year, and in Fangio’s case, two, was a grievous mistake in hindsight that set the Broncos back God only knows how many years.
Paton has to see that. While it might be ego-deflating to fire the first head coach he’s ever hired as an NFL general manger, Hackett is blowing egg all over his face with each humiliating week. At a certain point, the spirit of self-preservation should kick in for Paton.
Through his actions, Hackett is screaming that he’s in over his head. Through their play and lack of poise, the Broncos’ players are telegraphing to ownership and the front office that this coaching staff was dead on arrival.
Suh-wing and a miss.
When defensive players are having altercations with your franchise quarterback on the sideline out of pent-up “frustration” — within arm’s reach of Hackett (who did nothing) — you know the head coach has lost the locker room. Buy in? How about cash me out posthaste?
The quicker the Broncos rip the band-aid off with Hackett, the sooner the team can begin the process of exorcising that demon. There is a real concern in NFL circles now that Wilson has been ruined. That he is irredeemable.
The Broncos had better hope against all hope that Wilson can be salvaged, but the proof is in the pudding: Hackett is not the guy to redeem the beleaguered QB. All Hackett can do is dig Wilson’s hole deeper and deeper — maybe to the point where no coaching staff can save him.
Why would the Broncos risk that? As it stands, Hackett is scheduled to address the media Monday at 3: 15 pm MDT as the Broncos’ head coach, which is an usual start time for a head coach presser at Dove Valley.
All eyes will be on Twitter to see whether the Walton/Penner group nips that particular presser in the bud with a fell-swoop firing.
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.