Denver is 14-25 over the past 2.5 seasons. That’s the worst three-year stretch for the franchise in nearly a half-century, since going 14-26-2 (in a 14-game schedule) from 1970-72. The Broncos can equal it (probably will, in fact) with a loss at Indianapolis in Week 8.
The bell may begin to toll for John Elway soon. The Broncos are 2-5, and their remaining road schedule alone would seem to make it highly likely they will finish under .500 for the third straight year.
Elway was hired by the late owner, Pat Bowlen, to restore the greatness of the Broncos last seen under Mike Shanahan. His first major move, convincing Peyton Manning to sign with the team in 2012, worked well: Denver won the AFC West in Manning’s four seasons and won the Super Bowl in his last season. But his other significant quarterback moves? Not so good.
• 2012: Brock Osweiler (second round, 57th overall). Retired last week. At least Elway didn’t give him a second contract.
• 2015: Trevor Siemian (seventh round, 250th overall). Best value of the bunch: 13-11 in two post-Manning years.
• 2016: Paxton Lynch (first round, 26th overall). Total bust.
• 2018: Case Keenum (UFA). Paid $25 million for a year, and Keenum was the NFL’s 29th-rated QB.
• 2019: Joe Flacco (acquired for a fourth-round pick, 113th overall). Looks old, unmotivated and through.
• 2019: Drew Lock (second round, 42nd overall). Incomplete. On IR. Had a shaky training camp.
Man, other than signing Manning, that is one ugly quarterback résumé. Credit where it’s due: Wrangling Manning to Denver was one of the best free-agent wins of the decade. But the QB misses and the recent draft record is at best spotty; first-rounders Garett Bolles (2017) and Noah Fant (2019) both look terrible.
If I’m Elway, I’m putting Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris Jr., on the block, hoping to get two picks in the first five rounds for them. Then I decide whether the best plan is to go all-in on Lock as the quarterback of the future. If so, you use the 2020 draft to build around him, particularly on the offensive line. If not, you use the top-10 pick Denver will have and supplement with the extra picks (Denver has Pittsburgh’s three from the Devin Bush trade-down last April) and move up to get in prime passer position. Another quarterback after acquiring Keenum, Flacco and Lock in the last 20 months seems almost malpractice. But if Elway and his staff don’t have the confidence in Lock, they’ve got to be aggressive to get one of the good guys in the ’20 draft.
It’s a tangled web. Elway might not have many more drafts to run to get the quarterback right.