Denver Broncos QB Kyle Orton: Did Josh McDaniels Sabotage the Forgotten Hero?
In filling the final spots on the coaching staff, it is safe to say the John Fox regime as head coach of the Denver Broncos is officially underway.
As Fox, John Elway and Brian Xanders begin to develop a strategy for this year's draft, much of the attention now is focused on scouting and attempting to recruit potential free agents.
As we take a closer look at the Broncos, one cannot help but notice the amount of speculation that has surrounded one particular quarterback. What does the future hold for our forgotten hero?
What happened to Kyle Orton?
(Readers probably thought I was going to go back there, but this might be to everyone's surprise: there are 52 other Broncos on the roster other than the rookie QB we drafted last April).
For those who are new to the franchise, Orton is the once beloved leader of the Denver Broncos. Sadly, he has been swiftly swept under the rug—like leaves off of a porch in autumn—to be forgotten forever.
Yes, it is clear that Orton had his 15 minutes in Denver, and now, there is an enormous contingent who would like it if he politely went away.
So how did Orton go from potential Marino record breaker, Pro Bowler and fan favorite to the newest name added to the list of "undesirables and forgettables"?
Is it possible that Orton, much like the Denver Broncos franchise, was sabotaged by the newest member of the Rams coaching staff?
Let us examine a little further to see if Orton is merely the unluckiest guy in football, the poster child for 20/20 hindsight or another victim of the human wrecking ball.
It Started Out Wonderfully...
The current apathetic nature toward Orton was certainly not the way it all started. The Broncos had BIG plans for Orton.
He was the replacement for the "cry baby" and "injury faker" Jay Cutler who did absolutely nothing but cause misery and strife to both the city of Denver, the organization and fans alike.
The Orton-Cutler trade was one of the most heated issues in Broncos Country in recent memory. There were some who defended Cutler and chastised Josh McDaniels for trading away a potential franchise quarterback.
Their defense was Orton was a "game manager" who would never lose a game for you, but he would never win one for you either.
He was not the QB that Denver wanted, nor that they needed.
Others who were possibly more vocal about their disdain for Cutler castigated the minority and praised McDaniels for his ability to "shake things up" and "get the fans excited again". They had seen all they needed to see out of Cutler, and it was time to cut him loose and explore another option.
That last sentiment sounds eerily familiar, but this article is about Orton.
But you have to admit, the foreshadowing is quite ironic.
Orton Shines Like a Crazy Diamond. Cutler? Not So Much.
Orton swooped in and immediately led the Broncos to a 6-0 start. Immediate success? Yep, sounds familiar.
Cutler, meanwhile, struggled in Chicago, leading everyone to believe that McDaniels was indeed the genius he alluded to be.
Unfortunately, the Broncos stumbled in the second half of the 2009 regular season, falling short of the playoffs once again.
Yet there was hope. Energy.
The consensus among those who loved the Orton trade was, "Give him another year in the system, and Orton will prove to be a solid QB in Denver."
The team even offered Orton an extension, which he graciously accepted.
Another year in the system? That sounds familiar too.
Then, however, McDaniels made a rather capricious move. There are some reading this who may be thinking, "That is impossible," but it is true. In a clever move, the organization traded for highly-touted collegiate phenom Brady Quinn.
Further boosting Orton's confidence in the April draft, they drafted another highly touted collegiate quarterback out of Florida—you may have heard of him.
Nonetheless the franchise maintained that Orton was their guy, hence the extension, and he was the leader of the franchise. Fans were puzzled, but like the die-hards that we are, we took it in good faith.
...Then the Wheels Fell Off the Wagon
The first half of Kyle Orton's 2010 season was one of the best in franchise history.
In spite of an anemic running game and a slew of cast-off wide receivers, Orton was the second-leading passer in the league.
Think about that.
Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers, Big Ben, everyone except the detested Philip Rivers were all looking up at Orton in the top passing categories.
Orton was able to mystify people with a play-action fake even though Denver was in the toilet when it came to running the ball.
The system worked indeed.
The only problem was, Denver was losing. Its atrociously awful defense couldn't stop a paper cut from bleeding. Still, fans maintained, "You cannot blame the losing on Orton." There were several articles written on this very site speaking to the veracity of Orton's talent.
But the team kept losing—badly.
Embarrassing home losses to the Raiders and Rams, coupled with a blowout at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, left fans up in arms.
They wanted the rookie to get a shot to "reinvigorate the team" and suddenly Orton found himself alone.
Reinvigorate the team? What is this, an ongoing theme? It appears that we have heard all of these things before, and as recent as two years ago.
But Was He Sabotaged?
When McDaniels brought Orton into Denver, it is hard for one to believe that he was going to expect Orton to chuck it 50 times a game to win.
It is also hard for one to believe the defense was going to be as putrid as it was.
It is supremely harder to believe that McDaniels would bring in TWO other guys to compete with Orton, including a first round pick.
Orton was asked to play at a level that he had not been accustomed to since being a Boilermaker at Purdue.
Moreover, as time wore on, his body couldn't keep up. Orton ended up missing the last three games, but nobody ever questioned his toughness.
It is funny to think that after hearing the news that Orton would not be starting, some arbitrary group of people learned the very valuable lesson that God truly does answer prayers.
Orton was out and the rookie was in.
McDaniels expected Orton to play at the highest level, and led the team to victory without the assistance of a viable rushing attack or a fundamentally sound defense.
All the while, McDaniels expected Orton to block out the sounds of another guy's name being chanted in the stands and ignore the signs the fans were holding.
Orton's situation was almost too much for anyone to bear.
It is important to remember that football players, although we cease to think of them this way, are human. Imagine going to work everyday knowing that you have ZERO job security.
This aspect of professional football is often overlooked.
One would have to think that during the season, or even in the offseason, Orton implored McDaniels to get the team some defensive help—any smart QB would do that. If he did, it was to no avail, because that is definitely not what happened.
Orton competed admirably, but at the end of the day, he was replaced.
His head coach, the guy who brought him here, was fired. That left Orton to pick up the pieces of his once promising future, take his ball and probably go elsewhere.
Unfortunately, what legacy he had is tarnished. His only claim to fame when coming here was that he was a winner (another familiar statement, but this was actually at the pro level).
Currently he is in the midst of losing 16 of 21 as a starter.
Plus, many GM's might be thinking that maybe Orton was the benefit of a very good system designed by McDaniels to suit Orton's strengths.
He was a game manager, which is bad enough, but now add system quarterback to the list and things get a little sketchy.
Moreover, apparently he is not wanted here anymore. He has been replaced by a new "spark".
Sabotaged? Possibly. But only time will tell.
Last Sunday Had To Have Been Especially Painful
Here is where hindsight being 20/20 comes into play. Orton's former team, the Chicago Bears, played in the NFC Championship game last weekend.
Meaning the guy who Orton was traded for, Jay Cutler, was quarterbacking Orton's former team one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Unless you have been living under a rock the last week or so, you know what the outcome was.
Cutler was injured, much like Orton, but was absolutely massacred in the press for not going back in the game.
That did not happen here in Denver. It appears nobody wanted Orton to go back into another game for another snap.
Regardless, as Orton sat and watched his former team—because most athletes continue to have relationships with their former teammates—he had to be thinking, "What if?" and cursing McDaniels in the process.
He had to be asking himself, "Who trades their franchise QB?"
Resentment and the Power of Hindsight
Orton knows he would have went back in that game. Orton knows he could be playing in the Super Bowl right now! Talk about resentment.
Instead he was one of the pieces in one of the most asinine trades in NFL History.
Instead, he is the subject of numerous trade rumors coupled with speculation that he will be probably wind up elsewhere next season.
Oh, the power of hindsight.
Orton thought he was going to be the future of the Broncos. Instead, he was merely an inconvenience that got in the way of what the people really wanted to see since last April.
Did McDaniels really put him in the best possible situation to succeed?
Was it really worth leaving Chicago?
Of course, he did not have a say so in the trade, but would he had been as giddy if he had known that McDaniels would self destruct in less than two seasons?
So...Where Did All of the Orton Fans Go?
Apparently, they jumped ship.
There was a conversation on a blog where a gentleman requested that something else be written about the Broncos other than stories about potential rookies at quarterback.
This was intriguing.
Not even three months ago, Kyle Orton was the proverbial hero of our franchise. He was the one who was above reproach. The Broncos stunk, but in no way was it Orton's fault. Now? There is not a trace of one to be found.
It's like looking for something in Loch Ness, or searching for Yeti. You know that they may exist, but you just do not hear much from them anymore.
As soon as Orton sat down, they all got up and left, and seemingly jumped on a different wagon.
Either that has occurred or during this entire migration toward other "options," they have politely sat on their hands as if B/R has all of a sudden become the Sunday morning service.
There is danger in this, though.
What Happens When the Next QB Comes Along?
All of the aforementioned elements of foreshadowing, the points of emphasis that were brought up, were done so to prove a point.
This is sports.
In sports, the fans pay their hard-earned money to watch their team play, and they want to watch a winner.
In saying this, it is no coincidence that these colloquialisms, the very same that are being offered to the other "options", were being offered only two short years ago when explaining the "breath of fresh air" that both McD and Orton were to bring.
They were also utilized when describing the transition from Griese to Plummer, Plummer to Cutler, Cutler to Orton and now Orton to his potential replacement.
Pretty much every QB that has set foot on the field since No. 7 retired over a decade ago.
If this keeps up, you know who Denver begins to look like? The Miami Dolphins.
I am not insinuating that all hope is lost. I am not insinuating that I want any quarterback to fail, nor do I expect them to.
What I am insinuating is if everyone is ready to cut ties with Orton, they better be ready to suffer the consequences if things do not work out.
Not for the fate of the individual—though I am certain hearts will break all over the country—but rather the fate of the TEAM.
If it does not, then the cycle begins all over again.
There will be another "energy creating, breath of fresh air" in here next year and as much as many of us may not want to believe, Orton's replacement will then become one of the "undesirables and forgettables."
Not a dig—it is simply the way the business of sports works.
Yet, for some reason, I think they will get a better shake than Orton did. A little more loyalty too.