Josh McDaniels’ tenure as head coach of the Denver Broncos was nothing short of a disaster. There were numerous botched draft picks and trades, personality clashes with star players, ugly losses and of course a video taping scandal that ultimately led to McDaniels’ demise. There is, however, a silver lining to the McDaniels-era for the Broncos. Without the first controversial move he made shortly after being hired, Peyton Manning would likely have never been a Bronco and John Elway likely would not be a part of the organization.
Let’s start from the beginning. In 2008, Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Early in the 2008 season, Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury and Matt Cassel stepped in to lead the Patriots to a 10-win season. McDaniels was hired by the Broncos early in 2009 and almost instantly started working on a deal to get Cassel to Denver. The problem was, the Broncos already had a quarterback in Jay Cutler, who many people around the league, himself included, considered a franchise building block. Needless to say, Cutler did not take the news well and in turn forced his way out of town. Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears for draft picks and Kyle Orton.
Orton was the starting quarterback during McDaniels’ first season in Denver which ended with an 8-8 record and McDaniels feuding with star wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall would eventually be traded during the offseason. When all was said and done, McDaniels finished his first season as head coach with a lackluster record, trading away arguably his two best players and leaving Denver fans in disgust.
McDaniels continued to shock the football world when he made the move to draft Tim Tebow in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Nobody involved had any idea just how much of a distraction having Tebow on the roster and not playing him would cause. By the start of the 2010 season, there was a definite quarterback controversy and McDaniels had clearly lost control of the team. After several humiliating losses and an embarrassing video taping scandal, McDaniels was fired before he could finish his second season in Denver.
In an attempt to restore their winning ways of the 1990s, owner Pat Bowlen hired the franchise legend in Elway to be in charge of football operations in early 2011. It would quickly become clear that Elway was a big fan of Tebow as a man but not as a football player. Orton again started the 2011 season as the starter, but he gave way to Tebow after a 1-4 start. Tebow’s play over the rest of the season gave new meaning to the phrase “better ugly than good”. Somehow, the Broncos were able to win the AFC West with a record of 8-8. Elway knew that the way the Broncos were able to win in 2011 was fluky at best and Tebow’s run in Denver was over.
A career-threatening injury and a once-in-a-generation quarterback prospect named Andrew Luck led to Peyton Manning’s release from the Indianapolis Colts. As an inexperienced NFL front office executive, Elway was able to sign possibly the biggest free agent in NFL history to be the new quarterback of the Broncos. The move was both heavily applauded and scrutinized. Manning may have been the only other quarterback outside of Brady that Elway could have signed who would have kept the delusional Tebow-followers from burning Sports Authority Field to the ground.
All Manning has done in his two years in Denver is go a combined 26-6 in the regular season, throw 92 regular-season touchdowns, led the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII, won an MVP award in 2013 (he also finished second in MVP voting in 2012) and turned in the greatest single season performance by a quarterback in NFL history.
To his credit, not many coaches around the league would be willing to take the personnel risks that McDaniels did in his brief stint with the Broncos. Had he not attempted to land Cassel and eventually run the team into the ground, the Broncos would be a vastly different team today. Cutler would probably still be the quarterback, which would probably make Bears fans ecstatic, Elway would either be an executive with another team or continuing his career as a successful businessman and Manning would be breaking records and going to Super Bowls in another city.