ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick suffered a season-ending right knee injury during training camp, it was considered heartbreaking football fortune for a player who was poised for a significant role in the team’s offense.
But Patrick's injury was the first of many in what was likely an unprecedented cascade of aches, pains and surgeries for the franchise. Those injuries not only factored into the Broncos’ 5-12 finish and seventh consecutive postseason miss, but may well determine what the 2023 season looks like.
"You look at all those guys you can’t help but think how it could have been different,’’ said Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles this week. “ … We need to make additions, but think about the players who will be coming back and getting healthy, those are great players."
Overall, 30 players were placed on injured reserve this season -- guard Dalton Risner and running back Marlon Mack were the last two players to be added to the list on Jan. 3. And when the Broncos players had their end-of-season checkout procedures Monday, the team still had 22 players on injured reserve.
One of those was Bolles, a former All-Pro left tackle, who was part of the group that included starters like running back Javonte Williams, outside linebacker Randy Gregory, who went to injured reserve twice during the season after he signed a five-year, $70 million contract in the offseason, center Lloyd Cushenberry III, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones and wide receiver KJ Hamler.
The recovery timeline of those frontline players will impact decisions made in free agency and the draft as the Broncos organization has to consider what they must do to snap their playoff drought. Bolles, who suffered a fractured lower right leg that required surgery, spoke earlier this week on injury recovery.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it just because with injuries, it is hard to come back from,’’ Bolles said of his own potential return. “You know me -- I’m doing everything I possibly can to come back from it. I should be able to do some football activity in a couple of weeks."
Williams’ injury, and his potential return timeline, will certainly impact decisions as well. Williams suffered not only a torn right ACL in the Broncos’ Week 4 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, but tests later confirmed he had torn the lateral collateral ligament and suffered damage to the posterolateral corner -- an area of ligaments and tendons on the outside the knee that help stabilize the joint.
His recovery could extend well into the 2023 season. Williams said at a fundraising event for his foundation earlier this season he hoped to be back “by training camp,’’ but that would be roughly 10 months out from his injury.
In that position group, running back Latavius Murray , who led the team in rushing, and Mike Boone, who finished the year on injured reserve with an ankle injury are both free agents. Chase Edmonds, acquired as part of the Bradley Chubb trade, is under contract for the 2023 season, but he too, had a stint on injured reserve.
With Jerry Jeudy’s breakout season -- two 100-yard games over the season’s final three weeks -- and Patrick, Hamler, and Courtland Sutton returning to the Broncos, the receiving corps might not be a top priority in the roster makeover in the offseason.
“I’m taking all the right steps to get my knee right because that was the biggest challenge,’’ Hamler said this week of his knee and hip injuries. “I wasn’t really able to build strength or build muscle. I’m going to do everything. It’s time to work.’’
The day after former coach Nathaniel Hackett was fired, Paton did address the undeniable impact of the team’s injuries.
“The injuries that we’ve had … (we’ve had) four coaches in six years, and there’s been injuries for the past six years,’’ Paton said. “ … Maybe we do need to be calloused. Maybe we need to practice harder, but this has been ongoing in Denver -- the injury problems. We have had a number of head coaches, and it’s up to us to fix the problem and do a deep dive in our entire wellness, our training, our strength and conditioning, our nutrition."