This must be the last time for a while that the Broncos are deadline sellers
For the fourth time in the last five seasons, a Broncos general manager addressed media after the trade of a core player at midseason.
The first two times, it was John Elway. The last two years, it was George Paton.
In every instance — from the late Demaryius Thomas in 2018 to Emmanuel Sanders in 2019, Von Miller last year and Bradley Chubb on Tuesday — the deal was logical. It was defensible. And given the contract statuses and the age of players involved, the Broncos got fair value.
And yet this can’t happen again.
It is another freeze-frame moment in another disappointing season. For the sixth consecutive year, the Broncos sit at .500 or worse at the trade deadline. As a result, all the chatter was not about buying, but selling.
To be fair, Paton DID buy a bit. And he did last year, too.
In 2020 he traded for Kenny Young and Stephen Weatherly. Young was a needed replacement at inside linebacker, where Denver lost two starters. Weatherly was part of the collective to get by without Miller — and also with an injury-hindered Chubb struggling.
It was a similar dynamic this year. Chase Edmonds is part of trying to fill the void left by Javonte Williams’ knee injury. Jacob Martin is a depth piece at the position from which the Broncos traded Chubb.
But these newest Broncos are unlikely to become “core players.”
Chubb was one. As was Miller for 11 years. And Sanders and Thomas for six and nine seasons apiece.
Look, Paton did what he had to do. He made a rational choice to trade a player for whom there was no guarantee of re-signing. The haul was substantially more than the Broncos got for Miller, Sanders or Thomas. The 49ers’ first-round pick coming from Miami should — SHOULD — become a key starter.
But that doesn’t dull the reality of the moment: seller status for the fourth time in five seasons. (It would have been five out of five, but the regulations of the COVID-19 season of 2020 made trades rare.)
The March 2022 acquisition of Russell Wilson was supposed to change that. Instead, it only made the Broncos’ continued mediocrity more agonizing.
That being said, despite the gloom of this season, Paton has done an awful lot right.
In approximate value as calculated by pro-football-reference.com, the combined AV of 30 collected by his first draft class as a rookie was the third-highest in the NFL. Each of Paton’s first four picks became starters. One, third-rounder Baron Browning, was a significant reason why trading Chubb proved palatable. And seventh-round pick Jonathon Cooper, who started Sunday, is also part of the edge equation.
And in spite of not having a pick until No. 64 this year, Paton already has two starters from the class: TE Greg Dulcich and CB Damarri Mathis. And as with Browning and Cooper, second-round choice Nik Bonitto’s progress also helped rationalize the Chubb trade.
“We don’t make this decision if we’re not confident in the players and the coaches on our team,” Paton said. “That starts with the talented group of pass rushers I believe we have and the depth we have at that position.”
The truth is, someone will rush the passer. Someone will accumulate sacks off the edge. Nature abhors a vacuum. Browning, Bonitto, Cooper and Randy Gregory will fill it.
But this must be the last time for a long time that the Broncos look at the deadline as a chance to accumulate draft capital.
A year from now, Paton cannot address the public as a seller once again. Not with a nearly-full complement of early-round picks in the following spring’s draft. Not with Wilson in his second season, no longer with the handy rationalization of a new team and environment to explain early struggles.
The cruel calculus is simple: If the Broncos are sellers again next year, no one’s job will be safe.
Not even the man whose roster-building ensured that the Broncos could trade a player of Chubb’s ilk without creating a gaping roster void.
That’s life in the NFL. Be a deadline seller too often, and eventually you won’t have the chance to sell at all.