Both prospects seemed like very real possibilities. In the hours prior to the draft, multiple reports surfaced that Denver was about to acquire Green Bay Packers signal caller Aaron Rodgers, a guaranteed future Hall of Famer, in what might have been an even bolder stroke than the deal involving Manning, who, after all, was coming off a severe neck injury. And when that didn't happen, the Broncos had a chance to use their number-nine pick on one of two much-touted QBs: Ohio State's Justin Fields, whom many prognosticators rated the second-best hurler available, and Alabama's Mac Jones.
Instead, new general manager George Paton selected Alabama's Patrick Surtan II, who plays cornerback — hardly the highest position of need for the unit.
The Twitterverse's response to the move can be summed up in three words. What. The. Fuck?
To understand this reaction, a little scene-setting is in order. At 1:19 p.m. on April 29, ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted: "Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is so disgruntled with the Green Bay Packers that he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team, league and team sources told ESPN on Thursday."
This bombshell set off a frenzy of speculation about a potential trade, and Denver quickly became the consensus landing spot even before Mark Schlereth, a former Bronco turned Fox Sports broadcaster and 104.3 The Fan host, offered up a tweet of his own: "I’m hearing @AaronRodgers12 to @Broncos is close to a done deal... still could fall thru but fingers crossed."
In the run-up to the draft, Schlereth's colleagues at The Fan were going absolutely apeshit over the prospect of Rodgers in blue and orange. But their celebration was quashed by a message from 9News Broncos insider Mike Klis, who's well known as the team's water carrier; when execs want to send a message, they pass it to Klis to deliver. His tweet: "While there are various reports out there on Aaron Rodgers and Broncos, I'm told Broncos are not in talks with Green Bay. All Broncos brass in war room gearing up for draft."
If a Rodgers blockbuster was to happen, an announcement would have arrived before the Broncos went on the clock for the ninth pick — and it didn't. But with Fields, especially, still on the board, fans were still excited. Paton had just acquired veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who looked like an ideal mentor. Hence management could dump last year's starter, Drew Lock, who seemed to get worse as the 2021 season dragged on.
Against this backdrop, the Surtan acquisition was a supreme disappointment. True, he's one of the best defensive players in this year's crop, and he will probably become a solid pro. But the Broncos inked another cornerback, Kyle Fuller, last month, and the gifted (but oft-injured) Bryce Callahan remains on the roster. And if Denver was going to go with defense, the organization could also have nabbed linebacker Micah Parsons, an O-wrecking stud who would have addressed one of the Broncos' weaker spots.
Other franchises leapt to take advantage of Denver's quizzical decision. Chicago moved up to snare Fields, Dallas reached out to Parsons and New England brought Jones aboard. Should any or all of them become a superstar, Paton will look like a grade-A moron. And while some fans were still clinging to the idea that the Broncos picked Surtan in order to include him in a trade for Rodgers, the Packers' selection of a different cornerback, Georgia's Eric Stokes, with the 29th pick essentially put that theory to bed.
Granted, there remains a slim chance that a trade for Rodgers can be engineered prior to the start of the draft's next round later today, April 30, or at some point down the line, even though the powers-that-be in Green Bay adamantly insist that he's not going anywhere. But for now, it looks as if the Broncos will move forward with either Lock or Bridgewater under center — a recipe for another losing campaign.
Which didn't make for a happy draft day.