In his annual end-of-the-season press conference yesterday, Broncos general manager and president of football operations John Elway was asked if the playoffs were a reasonable expectation next year. After a short pause, Elway answered with a definitive, “Yes.”
It was a simple, yet strong statement from a man whose team finished under .500 for a third-consecutive season. In previous years, I probably would’ve written his response off as disingenuous. But this time around, I think he’s right on the money.
For the sake of his job, and his franchise, Elway has to be.
At first glance, the Broncos 7-9 finish was another disappointing one. We heard all offseason about how the organization was in “win-now mode” and everything they did leading up to Week 1 of the 2019 slate fell in line with that plan. Except they didn’t do much winning through the first 12 weeks of the year.
The Joe Flacco experiment was an objective failure, Emmanuel Sanders forced his way out of town, and a collection of injuries on the defensive side of the ball threw a massive wrench into what was supposed to be the team’s winning formula. The fans lost interest, multiple media members (including myself) suggested the team should tank for a top-five draft pick, and the season was all but over even before Thanksgiving.
And then, it wasn’t.
Enter Drew Lock as the starting quarterback, a dominant red zone defense, and a couple lucky breaks here and there. All of a sudden, it was the best of times.
If you completely ignore the first two-thirds of the season, this Broncos team was a force to be reckoned with. And before you decide to hit send on your “BUT YOU CAN’T IGNORE 11 GAMES!” comments, stop.
You can ignore the misery that was the beginning of 2019 in Broncos Country. For all intents and purposes, it was a completely different year.
Does it look that way in the standings? No. Are the Broncos hosting a playoff game this week, or next? Also no, but that’s okay. It doesn’t matter.
The future of this team is built on Lock, Phillip Lindsay, Courtland Sutton and a talented young defense. That’s the foundation that picked up four wins in the final five games, and it’s the blueprint for what the Broncos will do next year and beyond.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good enough blueprint to get you into January next year. Add in five top-100 draft picks and a boatload of salary cap space to work with, and all the pieces are there to convince me that we’re turning a corner here in Denver. There’s finally some real hope to latch on to.
Am I guaranteeing a Lombardi trophy next year? Goodness, no. Joe Ellis said it best today: “Hope’s not a good strategy.”
The Broncos brass will have to come up with a better plan; hopefully one that involves bringing in a couple new offensive linemen, a complimentary wide receiver and some depth in the middle of the defense. If they can execute that plan, there won’t be another losing season in Denver any time soon, I guarantee it.