For as long as anyone can remember, it’s been said that being the starting quarterback for the Broncos is the most pressure-filled job in Colorado. More than any other athlete. More than any coach or general manager. Heck, even more than the governor.
And it’s tough to argue. On a Monday morning in the fall, there’s a much better chance that the public at large is ticked at Denver’s QB than miffed about anything Jared Polis has or hasn’t done recently.
This was the case before John Elway became an icon. Long-time fans will remember the Hall of Fame quarterback being under tremendous scrutiny when he first arrived in the Mile High City, enough so that No. 7 once told Sports Illustrated that he felt “smothered” by all of the attention.
Well, throw in a couple of Super Bowl titles and enshrinement in Canton and the stakes were raised even higher. Couple that with four off-the-charts seasons from Peyton Manning during the second chapter of his career and expectations are now through the roof.
Broncos fans are tough on quarterbacks, especially if they’re high draft picks, well-compensated or come with a lot of hype. If the signal caller is a plucky seventh-rounder from Northwestern, however, they tend to grade on a curve. For awhile.
That’s why Drew Lock is about to make his life a whole lot more difficult.
By all accounts, the Broncos second second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft won’t be on hand when the team reports for training camp today. Instead, the quarterback out of Missouri will be holding out, looking for more money on his rookie contract.
Strike one. Fans tend to dislike when completely unproven players demand more dough.
According to reports, Lock is looking to make more than what the NFL’s rookie salary structure has him slotted to make as the No. 42 overall pick. He thinks he deserves a “quarterback premium” on his deal.
That’s not necessarily outrageous, given that he plays the most important position in sports. But since the Broncos took Dalton Risner at No. 41, it puts the franchise in a bad spot; they can’t pay 42 more than they pay 41.
Risner avoided a holdout by signing yesterday. The local-boy-made-good will be on hand from day one of training camp.
Strike two. Coming across as someone who thinks he’s better than the kid from tiny Wiggins, Colo., won’t endear Lock to anyone.
That means the next misstep the quarterback makes will already be strike three, at least in the minds of the fans. He’ll receive no benefit of the doubt, as people will be ready to pounce on every mistake he makes.
It happened with Elway. There once was a time when sports talk shows were inundated with callers who wanted Gary Kubiak to start ahead of No. 7.
It happened with Manning. Remember those annual reports about “zip” (or lack thereof) on his passes? Or the debate about whether to go with PFM or Brock Osweiler in the 2015 playoffs?
Those two guys survived the pressure. Others weren’t so fortunate.
Jake Plummer won a lot of games in Denver, but he infamously succumbed to the boo birds when he flipped the middle finger to the fans in the west stands during a home game. Apparently, getting criticized for driving a Honda Element eventually gets under a guy’s skin, even one as cool and laidback as Jake the Snake.
Brian Griese had some great moments as the starter for the Broncos, but he could never escape the burden of replacing Elway. Nor could he dodge the label that his interception in Week 4 against the Jets ultimately ended the career of Terrell Davis.
Paxton Lynch is the most-recent example, who crumbled in much more dramatic fashion than Plummer, Griese or any others. The burden of being a first-round pick, and the stigma that came with getting beat out by Trevor Siemian, completely destroyed the quarterback’s confidence. He never played any better than his first regular-season appearance, when he was thrust into the lineup when Siemian got hurt at Tampa Bay. It was all downhill from there.
Lock could have avoided all of this pressure and scrutiny. He’s a second-round pick, which reduces expectations a ton. And he’s not seen as the immediate savior, with that role falling to veteran Joe Flacco.
So the rookie quarterback could’ve hung out, learned the pro game, and then stepped in when and if Flacco flames out. He’d have been a breath of fresh air at that point, a player with nowhere to go but up.
But now, the pressure is on. Now, he’s right there in the proverbial crosshairs of Broncos Country just like every big-name, marquee quarterback who has come before him.
And for what? To get a few extra thousand bucks that will turn out to be a small fraction of what he eventually earns in the NFL if he can actually play.
Here’s hoping Lock is as good as he thinks he is. If he’s not, trying to succeed in the state’s biggest job will eat him alive.
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