By 2 p.m. Mountain Time on Tuesday Bradley Chubb should no longer be a Denver Bronco.

That’s not a knock on Chubb, who, with 5.5 sacks on the season, is having his best year since 2018, when he recorded 12 sacks. In fact, it’s a compliment; Chubb would be a welcome addition to any team in contention.

It is, however, both a knock on, and suggestion for, Broncos general manager George Paton. To some extent the Broncos are 3-5 – and not a Super Bowl contending team – because of Paton. To some extent, this is Paton’s chance to make the most of a season that awry before it ever began. To some extent, trading Chubb before the NFL trade deadline is both an admission and a solution. Holding onto the hope that the Broncos are a anything more than a pretender in 2022 – with or without Chubb – is fool’s gold at best.

That might sound harsh on the heels of a nice win in London, a victory that gave everyone in Broncos Country a new hop in their step on Monday morning. It shouldn’t be forgotten, though, that the Broncos just moved to 3-5 on the season by beating a team that’s now 2-6 – barely. There’s no doubt that Denver is better with Chubb, but “better” might be the difference between seven wins compared to eight or nine, the difference between not making the playoffs and losing in the first round. And because Chubb is a free agent to be, and expected to earn somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million per season in his next contract, keeping him and signing him to a longterm deal might hamstring a payroll that’s already challenged by its quarter-billion-dollar quarterback.

That quarterback, by the way, has not played up to expectations. While that’s a different topic for a different day, it does bring the matter back to Paton’s office. When Russell Wilson was traded to Denver, Paton was universally applauded; if anyone says Wilson was a mistake, it’s only with hindsight being 20-20. Furthermore, it’s not universally agreed upon that Wilson is, in fact, a mistake. There’s one school of thought that he’s only been lackluster because of his coach.

And Nathaniel Hackett is Paton’s mistake.

In London, Paton offered his full support for his newly hired coach. That’s fine, and that’s what a GM should do publicly, but behind closed doors Paton had better be working tirelessly to right the wrong. It doesn’t appear that Hackett is going to be fired immediately, which would be one possible way to address the mistake, but hanging onto the coach doesn’t mean progress toward cleaning up a midseason mess can’t be made.

Chubb represents progress.

On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Broncos have had a first-round draft pick offered for Chubb. While it’s not clear what year that first-rounder is, it’s safe to assume that it would be the 2023 or 2024 draft. Paton could franchise tag Chubb, and then postpone the decision to sign or trade him – and perhaps get more value – but it’s unlikely that “much more” would be offered for Chubb at any point; that’s just not generally how it happens in the NFL. Besides, there’s always the chance for injury, which would significantly reduce Chubb’s trade value. In other words, Paton has a bird in the hand right now.

Trading Chubb will not be popular – not for fans, not for Hackett, and not within the Broncos locker room, which houses the NFL’s second-best defense in both points allowed and total yardage per game. It will make fans unhappy, Hackett’s job more difficult and it could only hurt a defense that works like a well-oiled machine.

None of that matters. It’s still the right thing to do.

The job of fans is to hope. The job of players is to win, regardless of who lines up next to them. The job of any coach is to get the most out of whatever roster he’s been handed. The job of a general manager, however, is to be accurate and truthful in his evaluation of the team he’s running.

Paton’s evaluation of Hackett has already proven to be incorrect – to some extent, that’s spilt milk. He can’t afford to conclude that the Broncos are still a contending team – they’re not.

And that would be the only reason to keep Chubb, just as it would have been the only reason to keep Von Miller last year. Miller was in a similar contract situation. The Broncos, at the time of his trade, were 4-4. Miller brought a second- and a third-rounder, and the Broncos missed the playoffs. Chubb, if the rumors are true, could fetch more, and the Broncos will likely miss the playoffs again.

Even though Wilson hasn’t played like anyone had hoped thus far, his acquisition was wildly celebrated at the time. Realistically, the Miller trade – at least in part – made the Wilson trade possible. The Broncos don’t have a first-round draft pick next season. In the last draft, they used their first pick on an edge rusher, and then another one in free agent Randy Gregory. Those two moves alone suggest that Chubb was never part of the longterm plan to begin with. If he was, Paton’s draft capital might have been better used on an offensive lineman. Letting Chubb go almost looks as if it were the plan all along; letting him go for nothing more than a third-round compensatory pick (which is what the Broncos would get if he’s not re-signed at all) would be a giant swing and miss.

Nathaniel Hackett, Russell Wilson and Bradley Chubb aren’t going to the Super Bowl this season. It’s quite possible that none of them will ever go to the Super Bowl together.

George Paton’s job is to deal in reality – even if that means owning up to a few of his own mistakes along the way. As unpleasant as it might sound, Paton must realize the Broncos are sellers instead of buyers at this year’s trade deadline.

If the underachieving Broncos can, in fact, land a first-rounder for a player who was likely gone long before today, they’d better not blow the opportunity. If they do, Paton might as well be the captain of the NFL’s 2022 equivalent of the Titanic.