Posted Sat Jan 1st by Monty
Another year has come and gone at Dove Valley. 2010 was a year of change in Denver — it’s something Broncos fans have been hearing for years, but just think and marvel on how very different this team is from the group that started the year 364 days ago. New coach. New quarterback (it is assumed), and more changes from top to bottom on the near horizon. It was a chaotic year filled with controversy, hope, disappointment, and tragedy. Here is the conclusion of our list of the Top 10 Stories that defined the Denver Broncos in 2010. View Part One (10-6) here.
Was this earth-shattering news at the time? No. It didn’t even get its own headline here (the acquisition of QB Brady Quinn in the trade did). But we covered Hillis’ disillusionment with Josh McDaniels in the weeks prior to his trade, and openly hoped the running back wouldn’t change teams in 2010. He did, and went on to have a phenomenal season for the Cleveland Browns.
Meanwhile, the Broncos ranked in the bottom five teams in the league in rushing offense all year long. Apologists will claim Hillis “didn’t fit McDaniels’ system,” but we’ve always maintained a coach should fit his scheme to maximize the talent of his players, and not make personnel decisions solely based on how players fit into the scheme. McDaniels’ failure to capitalize on Hillis’ talents in 2009 was only expounded by his failure to recognize them in 2010, and it resulted in him sending Hillis, along with two draft picks, to Cleveland in exchange for a backup quarterback who didn’t take a snap in 2010. If trends extend beyond 2010, it will go down in history as one of the worst Broncos trades of all times. The disappointing truth is that if Hillis had stayed, and if McDaniels had learned how to utilize him, one can’t help but dream of the two-back threat he and Knowshon Moreno could have provided for years for the Broncos.
A franchise-worst final score, at home, against the team’s most bitter longtime rival really tells you everything you need to know. The Broncos just weren’t that good in 2010, and the 59-14 loss suffered at the hands of the Oakland Raiders will be a painful burden to bear as the rivalry moves forward. Furthermore, the Broncos’ 5-11 or 4-12 record (depending on the result of the season finale against the San Diego Chargers) will be the worst the club has experienced in 20 years and the entire tenures of three head coaches.
Putting a number next to this story, any number, feels cold and heartless. The loss of Kenny McKinley to his family, friends, teammates and fans cannot be quantified, and ranking this story any higher or lower won’t make a bit of difference. Discussing this today, on the anniversary of Darrent Williams‘ murder makes it all the more somber. Add the sudden death of Damien Nash in 2007 to the mix, and the Broncos have had a lot of heartbreak to deal with over the years.
His loss on the football field may be felt for years to come, even though McKinley had yet to really contribute at the NFL level. McKinley wasn’t a starter for the Broncos, but he had incredible college success and had real potential as a special teamer and more. At the very least he would have driven competition among his wide receiver teammates during training camp in 2011, and it’s undeniable he had potential for more.
But those are all “if’s” and discussions of “potential.” No one knows what McKinley could have been, and no one ever will. The impact of this story is really felt from his youth and the heart-wrenching manner in which McKinley died.
I had a lot of trouble ranking this story. It started at #1 and dropped to #4 before I settled here, and maybe that itself is the point. How significant is this move to the Broncos and the future of the franchise? Is it too early to crown him the quarterback of the future? Yes. Is it foolish to write him off as anything less? Yes. Tim Tebow, without a doubt, has the potential to be the next great quarterback in the NFL. While his two starts have been thrilling — particularly his second half comeback win against the Houston Texans (and the must-see inside look from Tebow’s perspective, courtesy NFL Films, that could honestly find itself forever placed in Broncos lore) — there are still plenty of questions surrounding the on-field abilities of Tebow as a quarterback at the professional level. What isn’t in question is his heart, work ethic, and on-field bravado. The question this franchise is left asking is, Will that be enough?
The End of an Error… not the most original line, but a debatable conclusion to nearly two years of chaos at Dove Valley. Things never settled around Josh McDaniels. From the start with Jay Cutler to the end with Spygate II, the 33-year-old’s tenure as Broncos head coach was filled with controversy.
But McDaniels did well in a lot of areas, too. He traded Cutler, but he received a plethora of compensation, including Kyle Orton, who outplayed Cutler in 2009 and will stay pay dividends to the Broncos in some form or another in the future. For every mistake (Alphonso Smith), there’s a success story (Brandon Marshall), and he very well may have left the Broncos with a franchise-changing farewell gift by drafting Tim Tebow.
Controversies aside, McDaniels’ undoing was ultimately tied to his personnel decisions and inability to put a respectable defensive unit on the field. To put it simply, McDaniels was in over his head, and when the effects began to seep into gameday (particularly his terrible playcalling in the end), it was too much for Pat Bowlen to bear. McDaniels was too inexperienced and perhaps too young to wear all the hats of Mike Shanahan — GM, head coach, and offensive playcaller.
Bowlen and company have learned. With John Elway set to take the reigns as a top executive with the Broncos starting in 2011, the next man in charge will only have to wear one.
How would you rank the top stories of 2010? What did we miss? Dish it out in the comments, and thanks for reading in 2010. We’re excited as hell to see what surprises 2011 has in store.