September was a rough month for the Denver Broncos, to say the least.
The team lost all four of its games in the opening month of the season, despite leading in the final seconds of two of those matchups. October started off with two wins, but ended with back-to-back losses, including — you guessed it — another last-minute loss.
In Week 2, a roughing the passer penalty on Bradley Chubb sparked a game-winning drive for the Bears that ended with a 53-yard game-winning field goal for Eddy Piniero. In Week 4, it was the same story. A roughing call on Von Miller jumpstarted another last-minute drive that concluded with Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo kicking a 33-yarder.
Even worse, the loss to Jacksonville also cost the Broncos their young pass rusher Chubb. The 2018 first-round pick suffered a torn ACL, ending his year and depriving an already surprisingly awful pass rush of one of its only threats.
The defense has improved since the team’s 0-4 start, but Joe Flacco is out now with a neck injury. When Flacco’s been on the field he’s been frustrated with the team’s conservative playcalls. They were part of the reason the Broncos gave up a game-winning field goal to Adam Vinatieri.
Denver is 2-6 through the first half of the season, and a postseason run isn’t on the way. The best thing the team can do now is pack it in for the year.
Denver should do a mini-tank in 2019
They already have a few promising young pieces in place that they can build around including Chubb, running back Phillip Lindsay, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, tight end Noah Fant, and guard Dalton Risner.
The Broncos may even have their future franchise quarterback on the roster, depending on how confident they are in 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock. He’s currently on injured reserve due to a thumb injury, but he can return in November and could see the field before the season ends.
A rebuild for the Broncos doesn’t need to take years to make them a contender again, either. Even as early as next season, Denver could be back in position to compete for a spot in the playoffs.
But it doesn’t make much sense for the Broncos to try to win anymore in 2019.
It feels safe to assume no dramatic turnaround is coming for the team before the year ends. Joe Flacco has been a below-average starter for at least four years, the offensive line is struggling to clear much room, and the defense didn’t get its first sack until Week 4. Those early pass-rushing struggles came while Chubb — one of the only two Broncos players seemingly capable of touching a quarterback — was still healthy.
Right now, the Broncos would be better off finishing the year with more resources to improve in the offseason. That means losing more games to get an early 2020 draft pick, and perhaps even trading a veteran or two who can fetch some extra draft capital.
The Broncos should be busy ahead of the trade deadline
If Denver is really serious about bottoming out this year and loading up on draft picks, its most drastic course of action would be trading linebacker Von Miller. In nine seasons, he has 100 career sacks, the most any player has ever recorded as a member of the Broncos. The seven-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl 50 MVP would presumably fetch a high price on the trade market from whatever team is most ready to push its chips to the middle of the table in 2019.
By trading away Miller, the Broncos would get more than a premium draft pick or two. It’d also move a significant amount of his upcoming $25.6 million and $22.2 million cap hits off the books for the next two seasons. That’d be useful space to have if the Broncos plan on retooling the roster.
Miller is 30 and has plenty more sacks coming before his NFL career ends. But the Broncos may believe his best days are behind him and that Chubb can fill his shoes when he’s gone.
Still, it feels like an unlikely route for the Broncos to take — especially given their current pass-rushing deficiency. Denver probably doesn’t want to part with Miller when he still makes the defense way better in 2020 and beyond. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said the Broncos aren’t planning on putting Miller on the trading block, and head coach Vic Fangio says it doesn’t stop there.
Fangio said he doesn’t think team will make any trades. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) October 28, 2019
That doesn’t make much sense. The Broncos already made a good decision by trading away Emmanuel Sanders, so why stop there?
Sanders bounced back from a 2018 Achilles injury and caught touchdown passes in the first two weeks of the year. He’s 32 and his contract ends after the 2019 season, so the Broncos made a smart call for the future by sending him to the 49ers for a pair of mid-round picks.
It’s the same kind of decision the Broncos made in 2018 when they traded Demaryius Thomas to the Texans midseason for a fourth-round pick.
Cornerback Chris Harris is also in the final year of his contract and on the wrong side of 30. After the Week 4 loss to the Jaguars, he told the Denver Post “13 more weeks for me,” although he later tweeted he doesn’t want out of Denver.
I love being a Bronco, and the only thing I am unhappy about is losing. Anyone who suggests otherwise is flat out wrong #Strapharris— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisJr) September 30, 2019
If it really is the final 8 games for Harris in Denver, it doesn’t make much sense not to trade him. He doesn’t make the Broncos a contender in 2019 and he’s probably leaving in the offseason.
Tanking isn’t as easy as telling teams that they should lose. Spots in the NFL are too difficult for players to secure, and coaches get fired too often for that. If the front office in Denver decides it’s better off losing this year, it’ll have to force that to happen by getting rid of good players.
Harris is a clear candidates for a tank-oriented trade. Miller is a more drastic (and less likely) option. However, parting with those players will make the Broncos worse in 2019, and — at this point — that should be the goal.