Josh McDaniels' debut head coaching season ended with a humiliating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs by a whopping 20 points. Even worse is that it came at the hands of a team that finished with a pitiful 4-12 overall record.
This concludes a season of emotions whose ranges rivaled that of a roller coaster.
The 33-year-old head coach effectively turned the team around for an impressive 6-0 start to the season, which had many of us naysayers scratching our heads, wondering if maybe we had jumped to an early conclusion about our doubts to this man leading a playoff contending team.
Needless to say, our thoughts of ambivalence were returned.
The orange and blue came back from their bye week to finish the season off with a 2-8 record over the last 10 games. They also failed to qualify for the playoffs.
All and all, McDaniels tried to fix something that was not broken: the offense.
After trading away Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler for some draft picks and Kyle Orton, one needs to look at how the two seasons stack up.
Cutler finished 2008 with a rating of 86.0. He posted 25 passing touchdowns with two rushing touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He was only sacked 11 times throughout the year (less than one per game).
Cutler had over 4,500 passing yards with 200 rushing yards, often coming in with a crucial first down by rushing.
Orton finished 2009 with a similar quarterback rating, posting 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Conversely, however, with the same offensive line, he was sacked 29 times. He had 3,800 passing yards in a "pass friendly" system and netted less than half of Cutler's rushing yards in the previous year.
Am I saying that Orton should be able to replicate what Jay Cutler accomplished? Absolutely not. Cutler was a far better quarterback.
At the same time, let's look at how Cutler performed this year: 27 touchdowns, 26 interceptions, one rushing touchdown, and being sacked a whopping 35 times.
Was it all Cutler in Denver? Doesn't look like it.
No, in fact, it appears to be the system that the current Redskins head coach created. A system set up with zone blocking, coached by Rick Dennison, and by using low profile running backs, coached by Bobby Turner, to come in and make huge impacts.
Unfortunately for Denver, both of these coaches have departed to the Texans and the Redskins, respectively.
So what happens with Orton? He is now a free agent that the team had made no effort to re-sign before the season ended. I think it is pretty apparent that the team did not want him to return for 2010.
Let's say the team does in fact re-sign him, who will he be throwing to?
Certainly not Brandon Marshall. After the latest brilliant move of benching Marshall, along with tight end Tony Scheffler, the Pro Bowl receiver wants out now. Again.
The current regime never re-signed Marshall to a long-term contract and his current deal is up. People have been on Marshall about not being a team player, but let's look at how this guy has played the past few years.
He came in as a fourth-round pick in 2006 and made an immediate impact. So much so that the following year, he was named a starter. His second year as a starter, he made the Pro Bowl while playing with a hurt hip throughout most of the season.
This past year, he was publicly humiliated by a coach on multiple occasions, but still managed his third consecutive 100-plus catch season and another trip to the Pro Bowl.
The man was a work horse for the team. The next leading receiver after Marshall was Jabar Gaffney, with 54 catches. That is nearly half of what Marshall had, and Marshall was benched for the final game, enabling Gaffney to get some catches.
So let's look at the current state. The team still has to re-sign its starting quarterback and number one wide receiver, its play making tight end, star defensive player Elvis Dumervil, Russ Hochstein and LeKevin Smith (which we essentially traded away a fifth-round pick to get these two), starting guards Chris Kuper and Ben Hamilton, and Ty Law, who helped the defensive backfield tremendously.
So altogether, the team has next no leverage when it comes to re-signing players this off season.
But what about the remaining players from the Shanahan era? Let's go through by position to see where they end up.
Peyton Hillis was seldom-used this season. This is the same guy who made a huge impact in the 2008 season and led the team in rushing and making a candidacy for rookie of the year,before winding up on injured reserve. He no longer fits in to the plan in Denver and could end up traded, likely Washington.
Spencer Larsen was a special teams ace who saw time at fullback this year. Could still make a case for himself to come back for one more year.
Eddie Royal's production dropped by a third in terms of reception numbers this season and netting zero receiving touchdowns. Will only stay on as a return specialist and deep threat.
Brandon Stokley was as reliable as any receiver on the team, but also saw his production drop, not even breaking twenty for receptions on the year. Will probably return, but I see him as trade bait early in the season due to his age.
Daniel Graham becomes the only remaining tight end from the Shanahan era if Scheffler departs. He finds himself in favor with McDaniels, being a former Patriot under his current head coach.
If Hamilton and Kuper are not re-signed (foolish to let the latter go), Ryan Clady, Ryan Harris, Tyler Polumbus, and Casey Wiegmann remain.
Keeping Clady and Harris both would be crucial for a team to continue on any path towards the future. In my opinion, the top echelon of tackles in the NFL (when Harris is healthy).
Polumbus filled in decently in Harris' absence. Fifty-fifty on his return next year.
Wiegmann I believe is out. His age is starting to show and, although it pains me to say this, the team should look elsewhere next year at center.
Marcus Thomas I believe has been playing out of position in the 3-4 scheme. I think he would have made a better defensive end rather than nose tackle. I think he will be released before next season.
Kenny Peterson did not post big numbers, but his friendship dating back to being high school teammates with McDaniels keeps him on the team until his contract runs out in 2011.
D.J. Williams is a huge impact player on the defense. Someone with his athleticism is important to remain on the team to keep the defense going forward.
Wesley Woodyard has made tremendous strides not only in special teams, but as well as the passing game, coming in as a nickel linebacker in most passing situations. I think he will be safe.
If Elvis Dumervil is allowed to explore free agency, then it will be crucial for the team to consider keeping Mario Haggan. He was given a contract extension during the season after being named captain, so I think he stays.
Jarvis Moss will be gone. I am surprised he stayed as long as he did due to his preseason troubles and his high salary. He only appeared in seven games and recorded no stats, aside from a pass break-up.
Champ Bailey is the only one who remains, but I think his time may be winding down. Look for him to remain with the team, but to be on the trading block and for McDaniels to "listen" to offers for him.
Josh Barrett played pretty well in 2008 and played average in 2009. Will probably be gone next year based on David Bruton's development as a back-up strong safety.
Matt Prater will need to be re-signed, which I see the team doing. Performed well in spurts this year.
McDaniels did bring his own brand of football to the Denver Broncos this year. But it is clearly a brand that no one wants to buy into. He has no support from anyone in the locker room, and the locker room looks like it is going to break up in free agency this year.
Quite honestly, would you trust this man knowing that at any moment he could break up the chemistry of your team to acquire someone from the Patriots?
So are the Broncos in a state of panic at this point? I sure hope so.
Josh McDaniels and Mike Nolan are now parting ways. The team's defensive coordinator is departing after only one season and looks to be heading to Miami. The one thing good that the rookie head coach did is now gone. Way to go, coach!
Now to connect some dots. New England defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently opted not to re-sign with the Patriots. Now suddenly the Broncos have their defensive coordinator suddenly leaving.