Great teams win championships but in order to get a ticket to the big dance, a team likely needs to have an elite quarterback. It’s not by accident that outside of the fluky run by the Joe Flacco led Ravens to XLVII, the AFC representative from 2004-19 was headlined by a future Hall-of-Fame QB in Tom Brady (New England), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), and Peyton Manning (Indianapolis/Denver).
Unfortunately for the Denver Broncos, that torch of AFC QB supremacy now has appeared to be passed to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, who've represented the AFC in back-to-back years. More than not in the actual Super Bowl, the better 'team' wins the whole thing, but to even get a chance to win it all, odds are you have to field an elite quarterback.
The path for Denver to regain relevance in the AFC becomes even more daunting when considering the Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert just broke a number of rookie passing records and has a chance to be another of the incredibly young and talented quarterbacks in the conference.
Can Drew Lock reach the level of play required for Denver to even have a chance outside of a blip defensive watershed year? From early reports out of Dove Valley under the George Paton regime, the Broncos are not betting against Lock but they are also not entirely going 'all-in' on Lock either.
In reality, the 2020 offseason was committing to Lock to best evaluate him as a passer. Former GM John Elway used a majority of the team’s resources in free agency (Melvin Gordon and Graham Glasgow) and the draft (Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Lloyd Cushenberry III) to surround Lock and get a clean evaluation.
Denver even went in on Lock to the point they did next to nothing at quarterback to compete with Lock. When your next best options are Jeff Driskel and Brett Rypien, it’s easy to see Denver was not about adding competition to the room and instead all the moves pointed toward empowering Lock to be the best he can be.
There have been a number of names floated around for the Broncos to add a veteran hedge. One name it sounds like the Broncos may have to take off the table is that of Ryan Fitzpatrick. After kicking around the league for years, the former Harvard quarterback is apparently leaning towards hanging up his cleats and calling it a career according to NFL insider John Clayton.
“Ryan Fitzpatrick looks like he’s going to retire. The Broncos did make some contact with him. He’s been with eight teams and played a long time. But it looks like he’s going to be out of the mix.”
With so many teams in pure desperation at the quarterback position such as the New England Patriots, Washington Football Team, Chicago Bears, as well as aggressive teams looking to upgrade in the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers, one less viable name on the market in Fitzpatrick could alter the market even if slightly, resulting in a domino effect.
By all current indications, outside of the Broncos making a seismic move trading for disgruntled star quarterback Dashaun Watson, it seems like the Broncos are going to be content to roll with Lock on the third year of his rookie contract (counting just under $2 million against the cap). Doing so would give Denver incredible flexibility from a roster-building standpoint as well as flexibility point of view) while adding a veteran hedge.
Hopefully, this works out, because if Denver passes the chance for a great quarterback in the draft and Lock never develops into a perennial top-10 to 15 caliber quarterback, the Broncos will likely be stuck where so many others in the AFC have been over the last decade-plus: looking up at the teams that can shuffle their roster around elite quarterbacks giving themselves a great chance to win it all year after year.
Some call for the likes of a Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. — two still relatively young quarterbacks with draft pedigrees and some believe that either could have a Ryan Tannehill renaissance on a new team. Both would likely come into Denver and have a greater than 50/50 shot at being the Broncos’ starting quarterback Week 1. Both of those options are likely to be a bit more pricey though.
Some other options on the table include the high floor veteran that can compete with Lock, but odds are is more of a player that would “compete” and become more of a mentor, only coming in to replace Lock if he plays as poorly as he did until Week 14 last season or if Lock missed time due to injury for a third straight season. Alex Smith? Tyrod Taylor? Nick Foles? Andy Dalton? All possibilities.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
Subscribe to Mile High Huddle on YouTube for daily Broncos live-stream podcasts!