Analysis: Jerry Rosburg is one call Broncos GM got right

Denver Broncos interim head coach Jerry Rosburg watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

DENVER (AP) — Just about all of the biggest moves by Denver Broncos general manager George Paton backfired in 2022.

Russell Wilson is the odds-on favorite for 2023 Comeback Player of the Year, according to following the worst season of his career, one that includes 13 TD throws in 13 starts and a career-high 53 sacks.

If he can bounce back like John Elway did in 1991 when the Hall of Famer followed a 5-11 season with a 12-4 rebound, Wilson's acquisition won't go down as one of the most lopsided trades in league history.

Wilson's lousy season played a major role in Nathaniel Hackett j oining Urban Meyer, Bobby Petrino, Pete McCulley and Lou Holtz as the only head coaches since the 1970 merger to get fired during their first season.

Wilson's acquistion from Seattle cost Denver three players and four premium draft picks, including what stands now as the third overall selection on April 27.

There's also the $245 million contract extension that Wilson signed before taking a single game-day snap for the Broncos (4-12), who are out to avoid the franchise's first 13-loss season Sunday when they host the Chargers (10-6).

Paton's free agency gem was linebacker Randy Gregory, who commanded a $70 million contract despite having missed more games (63) to injuries and suspensions than he'd played (50) in eight seasons in Dallas.

Gregory missed training camp after shoulder surgery and was limited by a bum knee to six games this season, when he collected two sacks, two forced fumbles — and $63,261 in fines for throwing his helmet and punching an opponent on Christmas Day.

Paton's top draft pick was pass rusher Nik Bonitto, the 64th overall selection, whose rookie season includes just one start and 1 1/2 sacks.

Neither Bonitto nor Gregory did much to make up for the loss of Bradley Chubb, who was traded to Miami for a 2023 first-round draft pick.

Chubb signed a $110 million contract with the Dolphins, $40 million more than Gregory cost the Broncos. Combine those savings with another $50 million or more it figured to cost them had they waited to extend Wilson with Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow about to re-set the market and those seemed like decent deals at the time.

One call that did pay off for Paton came back in September when he dialed up Jerry Rosburg, who had retired in 2019 as John Harbaught's right-hand man in Baltimore, after realizing that while Hackett had talked a good game in his job interview he sure was bad at managing them.

Three months after agreeing to Paton's plea to help out Hackett, Rosburg, 67, replaced Hackett when he was named interim head coach last week.

Finally given the opportunity to call his own shots after four decades as an assistant, Rosburg wasn't about to just go through the motions, either.

He fired the special teams coach and the linebackers coach and he put his team in pads, almost unheard of this late in the season, especially for a team that's out of the playoff hunt.

On Sunday, he benched mistake-prone kick returner Montrell Washington and handed play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Justin Outten. That way, QBs coach Klint Kubiak was on the sideline working closer with Wilson, who had his best game as a Bronco, running for a pair of touchdowns for the third time in his career.

Wilson also threw a touchdown pass to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who had fallen so far out of favor with Hackett that he was inactive for two months in one of Hackett's more head-scratching decisions.

As foreshadowed by Rosburg, Denver's O-linemen helped Wilson to his feet when he was sacked Sunday after they simply stared at him peeling himself off the ground in Los Angeles a week earlier—which led to guard Dalton Risner shoving Brett Rypien in the chest after the backup QB implored the linemen as they came off the field to give Wilson a helping hand.

CEO Greg Penner mentioned the sideline shenanigans of Risner and Gregory one day later when he decided not to wait for Black Monday to change coaches.

Rosburg doesn't have the same panache as a Jim Harbaugh or a Sean Payton, who are getting all the buzz as the Broncos map out their head coaching search.

Rosburg, however, has provided the Broncos much more than Paton ever could have imagined back in September.

Rosburg began his Monday news conference apologizing for neglecting to wish everyone a Happy New Year after Denver's 27-24 loss to the Chiefs. Then, he quoted Dag Hammarskjöld, former Secretary-General of the United Nations: “’For all that has been—thanks. For all that is to come—yes.”

“We’ve been through a lot around here — our players have, coaches have, fans have. We recognize that and we say thanks,” Rosburg said. “We are grateful for all the challenges we have had because it has put us in a place to improve ourselves. We have taken that attitude. ‘For all that is to come—yes.’ Bring it on. We are looking forward to it. We are prepared. We are going to make the best of the situation that we have been dealt with here in life.”

Hackett spoke endlessly about accountability and discipline but it wasn’t until Rosburg took over that those standards were demonstrably applied.

Through his no-nonsense, old-school approach, Rosburg has delivered not only a cultural change during his brief time in charge but also guideposts for Penner as he sets out to find his next head coach.


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