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Mile High Misery: Josh McDaniels' Destruction of the Denver Broncos


Tim Tebow might be bad, but Josh McDaniels’ tenure with the Broncos was much, much worse.

The only reason to think Tim Tebow is anything other than awful is because you want to.

Those are the paraphrased words of Bomani Jones, ESPN personality and radio host. They were expelled in tweet-form, in no more than 140 characters, yet they comprise easily the best summation of Tebowmania we’ve yet to hear, read or say.

In a nutshell, their simplicity is why the Broncos are so—for lack of a better word—screwed. Nothing good can happen when ineptitude is this obvious. Nothing at all.

Now, crack open the nutshell. How did the Denver Broncos get to this point? Why are they starting a player whose mediocrity is apparent even to the most uneducated of football laymen?

The 2011 Denver Broncos are a team destroyed by pettiness past, derailed by two men who have since moved on. The story is an old one, but its ramifications are only now revealing themselves. The Cutler trade, and the flurry of moves that succeeded it, have decimated the Broncos’ recent past, present and foreseeable future.

On April 2nd, 2009, just weeks before that year’s NFL Draft, the Broncos flipped Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton, two first round picks, a fifth round pick and uncertainty at the league’s most important position.

The Broncos traded knowledge for faith. They knew what they had in Jay Cutler—a young, cannon armed quarterback who led them to seven wins in his rookie campaign. They merely hoped Kyle Orton was an average quarterback who would improve under the “expert” tutelage of McDaniels.

Although the Broncos were giving up their then 25-year old face of the organization for a man once benched in favor of Rex Grossman, the move made some sense; the relationship between Cutler and the Broncos organization was likely irreconcilable. All things considered, Denver had no choice but to trade Cutler. They might have been lucky to get as much as they did.

But if a risky move ends up backfiring, the offending executive or coach is almost always shown the door. McDaniels had doubled down on his risk; not only would he have pulled the trigger on disaster, his tenuous relationship with Cutler had made disaster necessary in the first place.

Josh McDaniels was on the hot seat before he ever coached his first game.

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If the team McDaniels was inheriting had won seven games with Jay Cutler at the helm, surely expectations would be tempered with Orton stepping in. McDaniels needed to win games to save his job, so he would need to find a way to improve the team in other areas.

As McDaniels searched for answers, the Cutler deal served as the catalyst for a series of ill-advised moves, just one of which was handing the keys to the Broncos’ future over to Tim Tebow’s college resume.

As head coach and GM of the Broncos, McDaniels made 18 trades involving draft picks in ’09 and ’10. Six of these trades came in the first round of the 2010 gala alone. More than once, the Broncos received a pick in exchange for a player, only to trade that pick for another pick, and then flip that for a selection later on. Just when it appeared as if the chaos had passed, the Broncos traded a seventh-rounder back to the Patriots in exchange for Ross Hochstein, a 32-year old guard with only 20 career starts.

Perhaps McDaniels’ vision might have been successful if his eyes weren’t so crossed. But the Belchick disciple continued his mindless shuffle, flipping picks back and forth so quickly that it seemed impossible he had any semblance of a plan.

As is always the case with the draft, instant analysis was futile. The dust had not yet settled. Nevertheless, everyone seemed frazzled, Mel Kiper’s hair notwithstanding.

With the two first round picks and the third rounder received in exchange for Cutler, Denver ended up choosing Robert Ayers and…no one. They flipped the 2009 third rounder to Pittsburgh, who ended up picking Mike Wallace. Their second number one draft pick, by way of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and New England, ended up being WR Demaryius Thomas.

Oft-injured, Thomas has been a Grade A bust. If injuries weren’t insulting enough, Denver chose the former Georgia Tech receiver over Dallas’ Dez Bryant, who has already developed into an elite playmaker on offense and special teams.

Furthermore, Kenny Britt, Hakeem Nicks and Jeremy Maclin were all still on the board in 2009 when Denver picked Ayers—as was Tampa QB Josh Freeman following their selection of HB Knowshon Moreno.

Besides selecting Bryant and Wallace, teams ended up choosing Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Graham, Johnny Knox, Anthony Davis and Earl Thomas with picks that once belonged to the Broncos.

Trading up to get Tim Tebow meant the Broncos lost out on the opportunity to draft defensive linemen Terrence Cody and Carlos Dunlap as well as Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Tampa’s Mike Williams. Former Broncos Tony Sheffler, Brandon Marshall and Montrae Holland—now starting at guard for the Cowboys—were all traded as well.

Instead of having any of those players, the Broncos ended up with Ayers (58 tackles and four sacks through 33 games), Thomas (12 career catches in 12 games), G Seth Olsen, CB Alphonso Smith and LB Jammie Kirlew (now with Indianapolis, Detroit and Buffalo, respectively), Perrish Cox (cut following accusations of sexual assault) as well as Rich Quinn and Syd’Quan Thompson, both of whom have yet to play a down in the NFL.

All in all, not a single one of the Broncos’ 18 trades could be described as anything other than a disaster. Out of their 2009 and 2010 draft picks, only Eric Decker—he of 36 career catches—and Tebow have contributed in any way, marginal as those contributions may be.

Broncos fans should be horrified. How could anyone be allowed to wreak this much havoc on a single franchise? The only explanation involves an image of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen curled up in a corner, rocking back and forth and muttering to himself about how, “It…just happened so fast.”

It’s one thing to take on risk by trading away established veterans. It’s another entirely to do what Josh McDaniels did, setting an organization ablaze and then dousing the flames with kerosene. Unable to get anything of significance out of 18 trades and 16 draft picks, it’s no mystery why Denver has trouble getting anything at all out of the 45 men on their roster.

Nor why McDaniels is currently with another organization, his seat still at a simmer, his job security just as tenuous as it has been from day one in Denver.

Jesse Golomb is the creator and lead writer of TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter at @TheFanManifesto or drop him a line at