The Broncos acquire quarterback Kyle Orton in exchange for Jay Cutler.
A FAST START, AND A DEPRESSING FINISH
Three months after Josh McDaniels replaced Mike Shanahan as head coach, he stunned the league by trading Jay Cutler to the Bears in exchange for Kyle Orton and draft picks. In one swoop, McDaniels had placed his stamp on the Broncos, believing that Orton could effectively run the offense he had orchestrated with Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in New England.
The overall results of McDaniels’ first season — and the Broncos’ 50th — were promising at first. Although the offense struggled to get going early, it made enough plays to win — none bigger than the 87-yard, tip-drill Orton-to-Brandon Stokley touchdown pass to give the Broncos a 12-7 win at Cincinnati to open the season.
But at midseason, the Broncos began crumbling, losing four consecutive games by a combined 80 points. A two-game winning streak followed before the Broncos collapsed entirely in December, dropping four games, including narrow losses to Oakland (20-19) and Philadelphia (30-27). A 44-24 defeat to Kansas City in which Jamaal Charles trampled the defense left the Broncos in the same place they were a year before: 8-8 and out of the postseason.
Without Cutler’s howitzer right arm, the offense declined, falling from second in the league in 2008 to 15th. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was capable of almost anything, from a league-record 21 receptions against the Colts in Week 14 to getting in trouble by punting a ball instead of handing it back to an equipment staffer in the preseason.
Eventually, Marshall would be suspended for the final game of the regular season, and would be traded the following offseason. Nolan departed for Miami after a mutual decision to resign his position, despite the defense’s across-the-board improvement from the previous year.
The optimism of the first six weeks of McDaniels’ regular-season tenure had evaporated, and the Broncos would not be able to reverse the momentum in 2010.