The Broncos quarterback situation took another comical turn on Tuesday when the team announced its latest acquisition. In the wake of Drew Lock being sidelined for two to six weeks with an injured right shoulder, Denver signed the player who has been the punchline to almost every NFL joke in recent years – Blake Bortles.
That’s right, the same guy who went 24-49 in 73 starts with the Jaguars, throwing 75 interceptions in 75 career games in Jacksonville. That’s the one. That’s the latest “answer” for the Broncos at the most-important position on the field.
But this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, it’s been one misstep after another for Denver since Peyton Manning retired. They’ve made mistake after mistake since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 50.
First, John Elway decided it was time to move on from Manning, wanting to turn the page to the handpicked successor – Brock Osweiler. Unfortunately, the GM had alienated the former second-round pick to the point where the quarterback took the money and ran to Houston in the offseason.
While that might’ve been a blessing in disguise, it did leave a void at the position. And the Broncos had to scramble to fill it.
Initially, their plan was to go with Mark Sanchez. But after the veteran QB struggled in the preseason, he was released in a cost-cutting move.
That meant the Broncos went into a season in which they were trying to defend their Super Bowl title with a pair of quarterbacks who had never thrown an NFL pass. Trevor Siemian had at least taken a snap, having done a kneel down in Pittsburgh the season before. Paxton Lynch was a rookie. The team did add veteran Austin Davis as insurance, but he never saw the field in Denver.
Talk about hubris. Elway actually attempted to defend a championship with quarterbacks who had not only never thrown an NFL pass, but they’d never even handed the ball off in a regular season game.
The Siemian-Lynch experiment last two seasons, with the former seventh-round pick starting 24 games and posting a 13-11 record during that time. The first-round selection went just 1-3 in his four starts. Osweiler would go 0-4 after returning to the Broncos when things didn’t work out with the Texans.
That led Elway to open up the team’s checkbook in the offseason. Despite owning the No. 5 overall pick in a quarterback-rich draft, Denver decided to fill their quarterback void in free agency, signing Case Keenum to take the reins in 2018.
The journeyman had gone 11-3 after stepping in for the injury-riddled Vikings, which was enough for Elway to give a two-year, $36-million deal, with $25 million guaranteed, to a QB whose name he didn’t even know. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work out very well.
During his one year in Denver, Keenum went 6-10, throwing 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in a forgettable season. He was traded to Washington, where he spent one year before signing this offseason in Cleveland. That’s seven different teams for Keenum, a clear sign that he’s not anyone’s long-term answer behind center.
That failed experiment didn’t deter Elway, however. He still wanted a veteran quarterback, so the Broncos traded a fourth-round pick for Joe Flacco.
After 11 years in Baltimore, the former Super Bowl MVP was available because Lamar Jackson had emerged as the heir apparent. That came about because Flacco had 24-27 during his final four seasons with the Ravens; they were ready to move on.
Elway didn’t let the record, nor the fact that Flacco had thrown 64 touchdowns to 46 interceptions during that span, deter him. He believed the 34-year-old quarterback was still in his prime, well worth the $18.5 million the Broncos paid him in 2019.
Flacco went 2-6 in eight starts, throwing just six touchdowns and tossing five picks, before being sidelined for the season with a neck injury. He was released after one season in Denver.
That injury, however, opened the door for Drew Lock, the Broncos second-round pick a year ago, who would show promise as a rookie. At least, that’s how the team would spin things.
In reality, Denver never had any intention of playing Lock last season. After suffering a minor thumb injury during the preseason, the quarterback was placed on the Injured Reserve list, a move that prevented him from even practicing with the team during the first half of the season. Even when he was eligible to be activated, the Broncos didn’t make the move, instead deciding to replace Flacco with two quarterbacks who’d never taken an NFL snap – Brandon Allen and Brett Rypien.
Lock only got his chance once Allen bombed. He was thrust into the starting lineup with barely any preparation, but performed well, going 4-1 in five starts. As a result, he was anointed as the Broncos starter in 2020.
That lasted two games, as Lock was injured during the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. When the young quarterback hurt his shoulder, who did Denver turn to? Not surprisingly, they didn’t have a very good option.
Jeff Driskel had gone 1-7 during his eight career starts, posting a 1-4 mark with the Bengals in 2018 and 0-3 with the Lions last season. Yet he was the lone option behind Lock, a player who hadn’t proven that he could withstand the rigors of an NFL season.
During the offseason, they could’ve inked Andy Dalton, Cam Newton or any number of veteran quarterbacks. Instead, they chose to roll the dice on Lock and Driskel.
It was a gamble, one that the Broncos lost. Now, they’re in a position where they’ve having to sign Bortles.
It’s just the latest move in what has been a comedy of errors. For four-plus years, Denver has been scrambling to find a quarterback. And they’ve yet to fill the void.
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