The Denver Broncos are moving on from Nathaniel Hackett after just 15 games. (Photo by Dustin ... [+] Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The Denver Broncos are finally moving on from Nathaniel Hackett. After entering the season with bright hopes following a major blockbuster trade involving Russell Wilson, the Broncos are firing their first-year head coach following a 4-11 start to the season, as reported by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. The firing comes just hours after the Broncos suffered their worst loss since the 2010 season, falling to the lowly Los Angeles Rams, 51-14. Denver has lost six of their past seven games and have regressed after losing most of their early season games by one-score margins. Following the Broncos' humiliating loss to the previous four-win Rams, Hackett admitted his team wasn't prepared. "I think they're upset for all the losing, we all are," Hackett said of the blowout loss. "Every one of us, that's unacceptable, that's not what we're about, that's not what we want to do. We went in with a mindset we were going to win this game, but in the end we weren't ready. ... It wasn't good, it's all of us.
The Broncos appeared to reach rock bottom as the No. 3 ranked defense finally buckled. The defensive unit gave up scoring drives on eight of their nine possessions. After weeks of carrying a league-worst offensive unit — Denver's offense is averaging just 15.5 points per game — the defensive unit finally gave in to a Rams offensive unit led by free agent pickup Baker Mayfield. Emotions over a frustrating season finally boiled over as Broncos linebacker Randy Gregory punched Rams offensive lineman Oday Aboushi following the game. To top it off, starting offensive guard Dalton Risner was seen during the game shoving and yelling at backup quarterback Brett Rypien. While Hackett was certainly willing to admit his mistakes — game management miscues that should never happen under a head coach in the first place — he was never ready to be a head coach. Not only did he show an inability to jump-start an offense full of talent as a former offensive coordinator, he showed zero ability to adjust throughout a game.
Most importantly, he had little control over the locker room as a disciplinarian, as you can see from the dust-ups involving Broncos players during their loss to the Rams.
Broncos team owner and CEO Greg Penner addressed Hackett's dismissal in a statement released by the team.
"We recognize and appreciate this organization's championship history, and we understand we have not met that standard,' said Penner. 'Our fans deserve much better, and I can't say enough about their loyalty during such a challenging stretch for our team. Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise's winning tradition.'
The firing of Hackett caps off arguably the worst season in Broncos history. Denver is one defeat away from breaking the franchise record for most losses in a single season. The Broncos are completing their sixth consecutive losing season. For perspective, Denver never had a back-to-back losing season from 1973 until 2016.
While the Broncos are able to easily move on from Hackett, they won't be able to do so with Russell Wilson. Denver made a disastrous move prior to the start of the season when they gave Wilson a $243 million contract without playing a single snap with the team.
The 34-year-old quarterback had his worst performance of the season, throwing two early interceptions on the Broncos' first two offensive drives versus the Rams. The head-scratching turnovers resulted in Denver trailing 17-0 within the first 11 minutes of the game.
He finished the game with a season-low 54.2 passer rating while throwing three interceptions and taking six sacks. In other words, Wilson looked as lost as ever while facing a depleted Rams squad playing for absolutely nothing.
There is no quick fix for this Broncos squad. They'll seek a more experienced head coach heading into the offseason, but it's unrealistic to expect a coach such as Sean Payton to take over this mess.
Denver will return much of its offensive talent and they'll be healthier heading into next season. But the Wilson contract — where they pay him $49 million annually — and the draft capital loss in the trade with the Seattle Seahawks is a real problem moving forward.
If Wilson can't prove to be a franchise quarterback, this Denver team is in real trouble moving forward — regardless of who the head coach is.