The Denver Broncos 2022 season has played out in a disappointing fashion after an array of off-season moves perceived the team as a potential contender. The season has been a nightmare considering expectations this previous offseason. Broncos Country wants answers and they want them now.

Broncos Country’s criticism is valid, but hold on a moment

Since Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos have struggled to make it back to the post-season and have run through a carousel of quarterbacks to attempt and get back to post-season glory. In March, Broncos general manager George Paton executed a trade with the Seattle Seahawks that gave them Russell Wilson. In return, Seattle received Denver’s 2022 and 2023 1st-round picks, 2022 and 2023 2nd-round picks, a 2022 5th-round pick, defensive end Shelby Harris, quarterback Drew Lock, and tight end Noah Fant.

The cost of doing business at the time for the Broncos who acquired the former nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback from the Seahawks. Fast forward to November 29, the expectations were much different than the reality. Denver sits at a disappointing 3-8 record with a pending matchup coming up against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens after that Denver will face the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes twice, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers once more, Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, and potentially Matthew Stafford as Denver gears up to play the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day.

The record combined with the remaining opponents doesn’t appear to be favorable as the Broncos’ offense has struggled mightily this season, and that’s putting it lightly. With rankings that put them dead last in the NFL in points scored per game, bottom on third down, and finding themselves unable to run the ball consistently, Broncos Country is rightfully outraged at what’s transpired, which has called for many to call for Paton’s job as GM.

This is the moment this author calls a timeout.

The outrage towards Paton has some validity, but it’s skewed by hindsight and revisionist history. Common responses often echoed throughout Broncos Country indicate “Paton has set this franchise back.” whereas the moment he traded for Russell Wilson, Broncos fans were ready to crown Paton and make plans for a parade in February.

Nobody in Broncos Country knew that the offense would be as historically bad as it has been under Nathaniel Hackett alongside Wilson. NOBODY. What’s lost in the emotion of anger, sadness, embarrassment, and the various other emotions Broncos fans are rightfully feeling is being able to see the forest through the trees.

Considering where the Broncos were at in the previous moment, this was the right move for Denver at the time. It’s easy to look back and say what Paton should or shouldn’t have done, but that’s the easy way out. Broncos fans are clamoring for ‘accountability’, but what does that mean? For many fans, accountability has long been to fire, cut, and trade players, coaches, or executives when things aren’t going right.

Has Paton’s trade of Wilson and hiring of Hackett worked out? So far the returns don’t suggest that. However, accountability in football and in life means admitting fault when something goes wrong and receiving the opportunity to correct that mistake. Keep in mind, the Broncos strategic general manager will speak to the media and to the fans in a state address following the end of the season.

Paton deserves the opportunity to approach this upcoming offseason that projects to feature a lot of change in Dove Valley, including with the coaching staff with breathing room to make changes. There’s no escaping Wilson’s contract at this point, but every move made going forward has to keep this in mind.

If Broncos Country wants Paton gone after previously praising him since he’s taken over, praising him for making the Wilson trade and hiring Hackett before the results of this season occurred, that does nothing but set the franchise back even further.

Broncos fans however do have some valid criticisms of where some of Paton’s moves have not worked out. Going into the previous off-season depth at wide receiver and the offensive line was in question considering the transition to the outside zone scheme, and prior injuries to players like Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Albert Okwuegbunam. Denver brought back Calvin Anderson to compete at right tackle while signing veteran Billy Turner and Tom Compton, both of whom missed a large portion of training camp due to injuries.

Are Broncos fans’ criticisms of Paton giving Wilson a record-setting contract extension valid? Absolutely. There was always a risk in committing to one player for that much money, for that long. On the other hand, Paton’s maneuvering of the deal was guided to avoid players like Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts potential extensions reset the market at a more astronomic value because that is coming, meaning that if Denver waited, the price they would have likely had to pay for Wilson would have been higher, giving Wilson and his camp more leverage in discussions. In a perfect world, it would have been ideal to wait and see Wilson play first before deciding to commit, but for years Broncos fans have wanted the organization to put their cards on the table and swing for the fences. They did just that, and as it stands today, Denver is sitting at strike two on the plate.

It was bittersweet for Broncos fans to see Von Miller depart via trade last year, but an opportunity presented itself for him to potentially return in free agency. Instead, Denver signed Randy Gregory who was providing a high level of impact while healthy through the first four weeks of the season before suffering a meniscus tear that required arthroscopic surgery. There is no timetable for his current return. Paton also traded away edge rusher Bradley Chubb to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a late first-round pick that will come from the San Francisco 49ers. In the last two weeks, Denver’s defense has struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks as they’ve been scorched in the ground game and through the air. Broncos fans wanted a first-round pick back, and they got it, but recency bias combined with the losing record and struggles have many forgetting what they’ve been clamoring for over the last three seasons and more recently after losing a first-round pick to the Seahawks.

Not a single soul projected that Denver would lose Tim Patrick in training camp to a freak non-contact ACL injury, Javonte Williams to a freak ACL tear in Week 4, Garett Bolles with a broken leg in Week 5 alongside Ronald Darby who also tore his ACL. Injuries deserve some consideration in how the Broncos’ season has gone, but that’s how the cards fall in the NFL.

Some of these injuries have created opportunities for players like rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis to receive valuable starting reps opposite of Patrick Surtain. It has officially become evaluation season as Paton’s instruction has come down to getting some younger guys at various positions the chance to play more on special teams, offense, and defense.

It appears that Nathaniel Hackett could be heading toward being one and done, and not all of the blame deserves to be thrown solely on him. His job was to make a previously bad offense better with Russell Wilson. The results have not panned out how anybody wants, but firing George Paton is the simple knee-jerk reaction that has kept this franchise in limbo since 2015.

How Paton maneuvers through this upcoming off-season and NFL Draft are steps he deserves the chance to make, to establish accountability for how 2022 has proceeded.

Cody Roark is Mile High Sports lead reporter covering the Denver Broncos — Cody covers every practice, every home and away game plus community events related to the organization. He also co-hosts The Afternoon Drive with Aniello Piro on Mile High Sports Radio and is the host of the Locked On Broncos podcast. You can follow Cody on Twitter and Instagram @CodyRoarkNFL.