The Denver Broncos are in an unenviable spot. The team, according to most metrics and analysts, currently has the worst starting quarterback in the AFC West.
While Drew Lock did not play well for the majority of the 2020 season, a big reason the previous statement is true is simply due to the incredible talent currently in the AFC West.
With arguably the best quarterback in football playing for the Kansas City Chiefs in Patrick Mahomes, the now all-time rookie season passing record holder in Justin Herbert on the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Las Vegas Raiders' Derek Carr, a top-10-15 quarterback who would likely be making more noise if his team’s defense wasn’t perennially bottom-10 in the NFL, the Broncos will have to close the QB gap to avoid a painful existence in the immediate future.
This does not mean that Denver is 'doomed' or that a future with Lock has no merit. Things can change quickly in the NFL. If Lock plays like he did in 2020 again, he'll be out of a job. But remember, he's still young and has enough athleticism and arm talent to warrant true optimism.
However after a, for the most part, clunker of a 2020 season from the former Missouri quarterback despite the Broncos essentially going 'all in' on him by surrounding him with talent in free agency and the draft, new GM George Paton must pivot his team's strategy. Unlike last season, it sounds like Lock is going to have to earn his starting gig if given the chance in 2021.
At least, that is the current plan in Dove Valley according to NFL insider James Palmer. Palmer recently acknowledged that the decision-makers in Denver hold optimism for Lock’s future as a franchise-caliber QB, the third-year signal-caller will not simply be handed the starting gig and will have to compete with a veteran free-agent addition at least.
Over the next couple of weeks keep your eye on Denver because the expectation I have gathered is that they are going to bring in competition for Drew Lock. And that was not their mentality a year ago when he was coming off of his rookie season with just five starts. They did not bring in any competition for him last offseason. That is going to be different this offseason. Listening to people in the building, it is 'we want to bring in competition at all positions.' The quarterback is not an exception to that. Until Drew Lock proves he is the next great quarterback in Denver, and they have had some great ones from John Elway to Peyton Manning, they are going to bring in competition. Now, right now, the thought process is that a veteran is coming in, but the draft is still in play in some sense.
Palmer's remarks go hand-in-glove with what 9NEWS' Mike Klis reported last week about Paton 'promising' to add a 'proven' veteran to push Lock and serve as a true fail-safe in the event of the young QB failing to seize his opportunity.
Given the state of the QB position in the league today, the Broncos will have some choices on the free-agent market but there is a reason that these players are set to become available. The gamut runs from the former highly-drafted busts like Jameis Winston and Mitchell Trubisky (and potentially a trade for Sam Darnold or Marcus Mariota) to the aging obvious backup types you hope you don’t see starting like Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Nick Foles. There are options galore, but this isn’t like choosing a meal at Shanahan’s Steakhouse.
Further, Palmer leaves the door open for a rookie without going into specifics. Picking at No. 9 overall, could the Broncos be tempted by a top-10 pick at quarterback? Possibly, especially after Paton traveled to NDSU's pro day to scout Trey Lance in-person, but perhaps not a high probability.
But at the same time you look at a veteran coming in to compete with Drew Lock there are three aspects of it. They believe competition could bring out the best in Drew Lock. Also, they improve their backup quarterback situation which was abysmal this past season… At the same time, they are able to find what they could do to bridge the gap if Drew Lock is not the guy moving forward.
John Elway jumped in on Lock with both feet last season, throwing resources at the offensive side of the football to help the young QB succeed and, in theory, give the Broncos the best chance to evaluate him on whether he was going to be The Guy or not. However, after a season marred by the pandemic and injuries the jury is still out.
The only thing Denver did not try? Making the young quarterback earn his starting gig.
Fans can hope this move unlocks Drew’s ability in 2021 and going forward, or else the Broncos will once again be back in the quarterback market, wandering the proverbial desert pf fielding a team without an answer under center.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickKendellMHH.
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