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The Broncos need to stop taking the safe route at QB

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Some people like to make things more difficult than they need to be. Someone within the Broncos organization is apparently one of those people.

There’s no other way to explain the hoops that the team keeps putting in front of Drew Lock. This week, with no reason not to name the rookie as their starting quarterback, Denver couldn’t help but make things more complicated than they needed to be.

Coming off of a game in which they scored three points at Buffalo, which included five-straight three-and-outs to end the game, it seemed pretty obvious that a change on offense is needed. Given that quarterback Brandon Allen went 2-for-12 for four yards in the second half against the Bills, it was also pretty clear where the move needs to be made.

But on Monday, the Broncos didn’t announce that Lock would start on Sunday against the Chargers. Instead, they let it be known that he’d have the chance to earn the job.

The rookie will get 75 percent of the first-team reps this week during practice, providing him an opportunity to show Vic Fangio and the rest of the coaching staff that he’s ready to go. It’s the latest example of Denver making a young quarterback jump through hoops in order to get a chance to play.

It’s the same routine that occurred in 2016, ’17 and ’18, when the Broncos refused to play Paxton Lynch. Instead of going with the player they traded back into the first round to draft, allowing him to learn on the job, John Elway and Company kept putting roadblocks in front of the young quarterback.

When Lynch struggled to navigate those obstacles, the team went with safer options. As a result, Denver endured two seasons of Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Then, it was a year of Case Keenum behind center. The results were 9-7, 5-11 and 6-10 seasons.

Surely, the Broncos would learn their lesson from that mistake, right? It has been painfully obvious to everyone watching the team since they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 50 that a franchise can’t win without a big-time quarterback.

It was understandable that Denver tried to patch things together in 2016. After all, they were defending a championship; that’s a tough time to turn things over to a rookie quarterback.

However, they did give the reins to Siemian, who had never thrown an NFL pass. If they were truly trying to take the safe route, playing to their defense and trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice, the Broncos would’ve gone with Mark Sanchez to start the season. The veteran gave them the proverbial “best chance to win.”

It kind of made sense in 2017 that they once again went with Siemian. After all, Vance Joseph was in his first season as head coach, so he wanted to go with the more experienced quarterback. Most people in that situation would’ve done the same thing.

Along those same lines, it can be excused in 2018 that the Broncos went with Keenum. They were trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in four decades and Joseph was trying to save his job. Playing a QB who had just taken the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game seemed like the more prudent route.

And this year, it seemed smart to trade for Joe Flacco. The former Super Bowl MVP would bring some veteran stability to the most-important position in football, making the one or two plays per game that ultimately make the difference between winning and losing.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

All of those excuses are poppycock. It’s been nothing but utter balderdash for three-plus years, as the Broncos have talked themselves into one bad move after another.

Those are decisions made by people who are more concerned with immediate results than long-term prospects. Those are choices made by executives who don’t know what it takes to win at the highest level.

The Broncos shouldn’t have had to endure either of these problems. They should’ve been immune to both.

After winning Super Bowl 50, John Elway had a grace period. A championship parade through downtown Denver provides a pretty decent honeymoon in the Mile High City. Throw in the fact that the Broncos general manager was having to replace a Hall of Fame quarterback and there was no reason to worry about immediate results; he had time to reboot, reload or whatever they wanted to call it.

The Broncos could’ve drafted Lynch, adjusted their system to fit his talents, played him as a rookie and seen where things went. If after two seasons it wasn’t looking good, they could’ve parted ways. Then, they could’ve tried again in the quarterback-laded 2018 NFL Draft.

There was no reason to chase the low ceiling that Siemian offered. Elway wasn’t in a position where he needed to post a 9-7 record. After a Super Bowl win, he had time to find the right guy.

And if anyone should be able to spot that type of player, it’s No. 7. After all, he was that quarterback. For 16 years, he gave the Broncos a chance to win every Sunday, and be a contender every season, because he had immense talent that few others possessed.

On top of that, he witnessed what a great quarterback could do to a franchise. After the miraculous 8-8 season that Tim Tebow posted in 2011, a year that by all accounts should’ve resulted in another 4-12 campaign, Elway watched Peyton Manning turn the Broncos into instant title contenders.

For four years, Denver was vying for the best record in the AFC. Along the way, they went to two Super Bowls, won one championship and set all sorts of records. And it was almost entirely due to the guy playing quarterback.

Yet for some reason, Elway doesn’t understand this fact. Despite being a firsthand witness to two decades worth of evidence that it’s all about the player behind center, the Broncos general manager keeps taking a “safer” route when filling that position.

He allows coaches to keep more talented players on the bench, while those who know the offense and excel at the whiteboard get to take the field. And in the end, the end result continues to be the same; less-talented quarterbacks can only lift their teams so far.

This lesson still hasn’t been learned. If it had been, the Broncos wouldn’t be putting hoops in front of Lock this week.

They’d realize that he’s the most-gifted player signal caller on the roster, put him on the field and see if they can develop him into the QB of the future. They give him every rep possible in practice this week to get ready for his debut.

Instead, they make him jump through hoops. They leave the door open for Allen to get the nod on Sunday against the Chargers.

Seriously, what would be the point of that decision? Denver is 3-8 and going nowhere. Allen has been cut by the Jaguars and the Rams. Why continue the charade of playing him in a season that is lost?

The ceiling with a player like Allen is the same as it was with Siemian and/or Keenum. And 9-7 isn’t something that Broncos Country gets excited about.

That’s why Denver needs to keep searching for someone who can lift them to greater heights. They need to look under every stone for the next Elway or Manning.

Is that Lock? Probably not. But he certainly has more of a chance to be that player than Allen.

And if it’s not, the Broncos can use a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to try again with another young quarterback. They’ll have an answer and can move on.

It’s not difficult. Being slightly above average isn’t the goal. The Broncos need to stop going down routes that offer that as the best-possible destination.


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