Trevor Siemian. Paxton Lynch. Brock Osweiler. Case Keenum. Joe Flacco. Brandon Allen.
The route from Peyton Manning to the next franchise quarterback in Denver has been a long and winding road. It’s featured twists and turns, switchbacks and steep hills. But one thing it hasn’t been is very scenic.
Along the way, the Broncos have suffered through historically bad seasons. They haven’t made the postseason since winning Super Bowl 50. They’re a combined 27-37 since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy to cap the 2015 season. And they’ve suffered through three-consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1970-72, including two years with double-digit loss totals.
In 2019, it appeared as though the road of misery was going to continue. The Broncos sat at 3-8, having gone 2-6 with Flacco at quarterback and 1-2 once Allen replaced him. Making things even worse, Denver was averaging just 16.0 points per game, making them the third-worst offense in the NFL.
The Broncos were bad. And they were boring. That’s a lethal combination, the type that leads to 20,000 no-shows at Empower Field, an unheard of number in the Mile High City.
And then, seemingly out of the blue, the skies parted, the sun started shining and hope returned to Broncos Country.
Drew Lock was named the team’s starting quarterback in Week 13, a move that rejuvenated the franchise. With the rookie behind center, Denver went 4-1 down the stretch, including an impressive win on the road at Houston, and they were suddenly fun again. The Broncos scored 23 points against the Chargers, 38 in beating the Texans and 27 in a victory over the Lions, totals that had become rare sightings on the scoreboard in Denver.
But it wasn’t just the statistics. Denver also had a different feel, as Lock’s enthusiasm for the game was infectious. His teammates, both young and old, responded and the team played at an entirely new level.
As a result, it came as no surprise when big-name veterans endorsed Lock after the season. Von Miller couldn’t say enough about the kid, while Chris Harris Jr. admitted being a part of the resurgence made him more likely to return to the Broncos next season.
Suddenly, all was right in Denver. Right?
The franchise had their quarterback, giving them the leeway to work on solving other issues. Elway could address the offensive line that’s been a perennial problem. He could also find another wideout to go alongside Courtland Sutton, replace Todd Davis at middle linebacker and shore up the team’s overall lack of depth.
Everyone thought that would be the offseason plan. But then, Elway addressed the media after the season and gave an extremely lukewarm endorsement of his young quarterback.
“I don’t see any other options right now,” the Broncos president of football operations and general manager said about Lock. “I think it’s unrealistic to say that we’re going a different direction.”
Yikes. That certainly provides a wet blanket on top of the fire that was starting to brew in Denver.
That said, it could perhaps be explained away as Elway being Elway. He’s known to make gaffes during press conferences. Heck, he welcomed the media to the presser announcing John Fox’s departure by thanking “John Elway.”
So maybe he just didn’t say it perfectly. Perhaps he’s all in on Lock, but was just leaving the window cracked for a long-shot addition like Tom Brady. It was also possible that Elway was just trying to keep expectations in check, while also reminding his young quarterback that there was still plenty of work ahead.
That was the hope. But there are increasing signs that Elway really isn’t sold on Lock.
The latest example came earlier this week when ESPN published an article outlining the biggest offseason need for all 32 NFL teams. In the piece, long-time beat reporter Jeff Legwold said this about what the Broncos need to do between now and the start of the 2020 campaign:
Figure out the full answer at quarterback. Broncos boss John Elway said the day after the season it would be “unrealistic” to say Drew Lock isn’t the starting quarterback in 2020. But Denver has nothing but questions about the developing Lock, who has just five starts under his belt. Joe Flacco doesn’t yet know if he will need surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck, and his contract includes cap figures of at least $23.65 million in each of the next two years. The Broncos may have to address quarterback depth both in free agency and the draft.
The Broncos have nothing but questions about the developing Lock? Really? They didn’t learn anything during the five-week revival at the end of the season that kept Elway and head coach Vic Fangio off of the hot seat?
That seems preposterous, but Legwold isn’t just throwing this notion out there. He’s as plugged in at Dove Valley as anyone. So if he’s saying the Broncos aren’t sold on Lock, then it’s pretty likely Denver is keeping its options open at quarterback.
What does that mean? Well, it could be any of the following:
1. Keep Flacco – This would be disastrous on so many fronts, as Flacco looked old, slow and disinterested during his eight games in a Broncos uniform, but he is under contract. The Broncos liked his game enough to trade for his last offseason, as well as rework his contract prior to the start of the year. And there’s no doubt that an old-school coach like Flacco would prefer at veteran quarterback to one who has made five career starters.
2. Add a Veteran – If the Broncos release Flacco and take the $13.6 million cap hit that will come with the move, they could decide to replace him with someone with similar experience. Brady and Drew Brees are pipe dreams, as is someone like Philip Rivers. But maybe he tries to pry Andy Dalton away from Cincinnati, where the Bengals are clearly rebuilding. Or perhaps he throws free-agent dollars at A.J. McCarron, a player he seemed to like in years past.
3. Draft a QB – What happens if a quarterback that Elway likes falls to the Broncos at No. 15? On Thursday, FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt suggested that Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa might be available for Denver. And a lot of recent mock drafts have Oregon’s Justin Herbert falling out of the first round. That being the case, Denver will have multiple opportunities to grab another young quarterback if they so desire.
If the Broncos go with Option 1, the 20,000 no-shows they witnessed on Dec. 1 will be a drop in the bucket to what transpires at the start of the 2020 campaign. That move should cause an outright revolt by the fans.
Going with Option 2 isn’t much better. This is a path Denver has been down already, with Keenum and Flacco, in a desperate attempt to get lightning to strike twice. Peyton Manning isn’t happening again. It’s time to move on.
And while Option 3 isn’t as ridiculous, it still makes no sense. It puts the Broncos right back into a position where they go into a season not knowing who their starting quarterback will be. It’s “The Decision” all over again, which was an unmitigated disaster.
The Broncos need end the madness. They have found their quarterback. It’s time to stop flirting with other options.