The Denver Broncos have fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett after just 15 games, one of the fastest coach firings the NFL has ever seen. He finished with a 4-11 record, tied for the highest number of losses they’ve sustained in a season since 2010. With two more games left to go, there’s a good chance he could have incurred the highest loss total in franchise history at 12. Here’s a look at the top three reasons why the Broncos fired Hackett.
Nathaniel Hackett Had No Control Over the Team
The primary job of an NFL head coach is to keep the team on the same page and moving in the same direction. The biggest element of that is making sure there is buy-in from all of the players. Hackett not only had issues keeping the locker room in line over the course of the season, but he also couldn’t keep the team in control on the sidelines during games.
The product on the field for the #Broncos was bad. The QB play was bad. The fighting on the sideline was just as bad or maybe worse — a sign the coach had no control over anything. Thus, the firing of #Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 26, 2022
A big part of that might be what looked like an inability to take ownership of the team’s failures. After a loss in London to the New York Jets, Hackett said. “I always look at myself, first and foremost. If there’s something that we all agree that I might hold the team back or anything like that, sure. I don’t think that’s the case.”
He added that the issue has been execution, which places the blame more on the players than on the coaching. This has been a somewhat persistent issue throughout the season.
Not only that, Hackett couldn’t enable quarterback Russell Wilson to lead the locker room. Multiple reports indicated that Wilson had lost the locker room in Denver.
Add in his poor game management, including embarrassing usage of timeouts, end-of-game play-calling, and poor overall team prep for two-minute situations, and it’s easy to see why Hackett was on the outs.
Hackett Led Almost the Worst Broncos Offense in History
Hackett headed towards the Broncos after spending time with the Green Bay Packers as the offensive coordinator and was expected to be the play-caller in Denver, meant to kickstart Denver with the trendy Shanahan/McVay-style offense that has taken over the NFL. The offense is his primary job.
There was a rumor that the Broncos would trade for Aaron Rodgers, but that either fell through or was never going to happen. So they traded for Wilson from the Seahawks instead. As a former multiple-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winner, there was an expectation that the offense would take off.
Instead, Denver has averaged 15.5 points per game, the lowest in the NFL by a good margin. They rank dead last in points per drive and have the third-lowest points per game in franchise history, ahead of just their 1971 and 1966 squads. When accounting for their NFL environment, it’s the second lowest — scoring just slightly better compared to league average than the 1966 team.
MORE: Broncos Head Coach Candidates Following Hackett Firing
The issue is not talent. The Broncos have made investments at wide receiver and have had promising seasons from Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and even K.J. Hamler. The Broncos themselves were so comfortable with that talent level that they traded away tight end Noah Fant as part of the trade for Wilson, and they’ve seen excellent stuff from rookie tight end Greg Dulcich to make up for it.
The offensive line has done well as a pass-blocking unit. They rank 11th in ESPN pass-block win rate, 13th in our offensive line power rankings, and 16th in PFF pass-block grade. Wilson’s high-pressure rate is a product of him holding on to the ball too long, not the offensive line blocking poorly.
The issues are Wilson and Hackett.
Hackett Took the Fall for an Impossible Situation
Denver has perhaps the worst team situation in the NFL and was simply not good. While it’s true that Hackett played a big role in getting the Broncos there in the first place — general manager George Paton wouldn’t have traded for Wilson without Hackett’s blessing, if not outright advocacy — Denver is in an awful bind and can’t get out of it.
If the team could choose between getting rid of Hackett and getting rid of Wilson, they might choose Wilson. But if they cut him after the 2022 season, they incur an impossible cap hit of $107 million, forcing them to cut half their roster to make things work.
Still, that means they have to deal with a $22 million cap hit from Wilson next year, and they only have $16 million of cap space next year to work with. And they’ll need free agency to boost their roster because they don’t have many valuable draft picks.
Denver traded away a first- and second-round pick to the Seahawks along with Fant for Wilson. They were able to recoup a first-round pick when trading away Bradley Chubb to the Miami Dolphins, but that’s the 49ers’ pick and currently worth the 26th overall selection. It also cost them their best pass rusher, and it’s one reason why the defense has fallen off.
Before the Chubb trade, they ranked second in points allowed per game. After the trade, they ranked 23rd in points allowed per game. Despite having depth at pass rusher, good performances from linebackers like Josey Jewell and top-tier talent at safety and cornerback with Kareem Jackson and Patrick Surtain II, the Broncos could not sustain the loss of their premier pass-rushing talent.
They’re left in a situation where they need to anticipate upcoming needs on offense and defense without cap space, or appropriate draft picks to resolve those issues. They couldn’t fire Wilson or the scenario as a whole, so they let go of Hackett.