When the 2021 offseason opened with John Elway relinquishing his duties as Denver Broncos GM, most local and national media outlets predicted Drew Lock's days as the starting quarterback were numbered. After all, Lock is coming off a very up-and-down Year 2 and lost his biggest supporter behind the scenes at Dove Valley.
Or did he?
Elway stayed on as president of football operations after all, which means that until his contract expires in 2022, the personnel buck ultimately stops with him. George Paton promised upon arrival in the Mile High City to be "involved in every deal" but as we inch ever closer to the NFL draft, the board in the top-5 is being set and the veteran market around the league has dwindled to near nothing.
Last week, the San Francisco 49ers maneuvered up the draft board to pick No. 3, trading with the Miami Dolphins to position for a quarterback. The latest QB off the board was Sam Darnold, whom the New York Jets dealt to the Carolina Panthers on Monday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Although many fans and media members alike pined for Paton to pursue Darnold, there never was enough empirical evidence to suggest that the former top-3 draft pick and ex-USC superstar was an evident upgrade over Lock. Denver7's Troy Renck confirmed Paton's opinion on that very issue just last week.
Why give up even a sixth-round pick, let alone a second- and fourth-rounder next year for Darnold, who, for all intents and purposes, appears to be damaged goods? Some fans might say that Lock has his own fair share of warts and dents but at least they're the Broncos' warts and dents. It's the devil you know...
What's left for Paton when it comes to upgrading the QB room or bringing in a replacement for Lock? Nothing on the NFL veteran market, unless something were to shake loose with Deshaun Watson in Houston but that situation was near-untenable to begin with (due to the exorbitant cost to acquire him via trade) and became radioactive when the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in March.
For all intents and purposes, Watson is persona non grata to Paton in Denver. It all comes down to the draft, for those in Broncos Country still pining for a Lock replacement.
Only One Option Remains
Really, to narrow it further, it comes down to the No. 4 overall pick in the draft which is currently held by the Atlanta Falcons. If and unless Paton packages a trade that will get the attention of new Falcons GM Terry Fontenot, the QB pickings will be slim for the Broncos at pick No. 9. Maybe Alabama's Mac Jones will be there. But talk about warts...
Trading up to No. 4 is the only way to guarantee Denver lands one of the top-4 signal-callers in this class, which include BYU's Zach Wilson, Ohio State's Justin Fields, and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.
But the more time that passes as we careen ever closer to draft day the more it seems that Paton is a lot more comfortable with Lock as the in-Sharpie starter for 2021. If indeed that is Paton's view of Lock, and it seems increasingly probable, that confidence is likely informed by the young QB getting a full offseason in Pat Shurmur's scheme and having the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back years for the first time since his sophomore-to-junior seasons at Missouri.
I've been trying to tell the readers of Mile High Huddle and listeners of the Huddle Up Podcast since January; if Drew Lock isn't the starter under center in the season-opener next fall, it'll be an upset. Vic Fangio needs to win now and especially relative to rookie quarterbacks, Lock is the best option to make that happen.
If Denver gets the Week 11 through Week 17 version of Lock in 2021, even as a floor, the Broncos will be a factor. If Lock is the Week 14 version of himself, the Broncos will be a sensation. If Lock is the Weeks 7 through 10 version of himself in 2021, Fangio will be headed for the unemployment line because another sub-.500 finish is probably in the cards.
Obviously, it would seem that Paton is more inclined to expect some blend of Options 1 and 2. The tools and traits are there for Lock and he's gotten the live-bullet exposure and experience. Soon comes the time he'll have to put it all together on the field of battle and produce a consistent QB product the Broncos can count on, and one that isn't a threat to turn the ball over on every dropback.
If the Broncos run it back with Lock and it doesn't work out, Paton will get the chance to either start over completely with a new quarterback acquisition in 2022 and/or a new head coach hand-selected by him. We won't know the answers for many months yet but if you trust Paton, based on how you saw him maneuver in free agency (which was roundly lauded), take it one step further and trust that if Lock is The Guy again in 2021, the Broncos' new GM knows what he's doing.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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