Drew Lock has come a long way since Week 13 when the Denver Broncos activated him off injured reserve. Up until that point, he was the quintessential unknown quantity with upside but he was a quarterback taken in the second round whom many draftniks believed had franchise tools.
Lock has now started four games since his debut. He's 3-1 as a starter with the chance to finish his rookie year 4-1, which has never happened in Broncos history, if he beats the Oakland Raiders this weekend.
When it comes to long-term implications of Lock's body of work, we've heard head coach Vic Fangio say that Lock has shown that he "definitely could be the guy". But what does the rookie himself think?
The energy inside Dove Valley has shifted since Lock ascended to the starting job. Guys are playing with more passion and intensity and a swagger has permeated the locker room. Surely, those are signs?
“I think I still have stuff to prove going into this week, but I think I’ve done a good job up to this point, especially because of the guys around me, the way they’re playing and the way everyone’s been helping me along the way," Lock said on Thursday. "My goal was to prove it to them and in the end, that’s going to be their ultimate decision at the end of this year. I put my best foot forward and I feel like it was definitely good enough.”
Lock believes he's been "definitely" good enough to prove to the Broncos' brass that he has what it takes to lead this team into the future. But what does that mean?
Make the Endorsement
First off, it would mean that the Broncos would get out in front of the issue publicly, and declare, as it were, Lock as the starting quarterback in Denver heading into 2020. An endorsement of Lock as the starter could happen as soon as next week when GM John Elway holds his end-of-season presser alongside Coach Fangio.
Part Ways With Flacco
Second, that would mean that something would have to be done about Joe Flacco. The Broncos acquired Flacco via trade from Baltimore this past spring and restructured his contract on the doorstep of the season in order to free up salary cap space for 2019.
In so doing, the Broncos converted $17M of Flacco's 2019 salary into a signing bonus, then added two voidable years after the end of his deal. The move created $13.6 million in cap room and added $3.4 million in cap space to Flacco's 2020 and 2021 contract years.
Basically, the Broncos put Flacco's 2019 cost on a credit card. Instead of paying for it in the present, the team charged it and plans to pay it off in the ensuing years. That's where the two additional (but voidable) years come into play.
Flacco's 2020 cap number is an untenable $23.65M. With Lock playing a high level, there's absolutely no way the Broncos will be willing to pony up that type of money for Flacco next year, even if the veteran quarterback is willing to serve as Lock's backup. The sooner the Broncos part with Flacco, the better, which brings me to the next point.
No More Open Competitions
The Broncos can't make the mistake of pitting Lock against another veteran QB in an 'open competition', and once again, turn the offseason into a Team [insert QB's name] vs. Team [insert QB's name] duel. No, it would be best for Elway and Fangio to christen Lock as the starter for 2020 as soon as next week, so that the QB can go into the offseason knowing he has the full faith and support of the organization.
I'm not saying that Lock shouldn't have to compete. Life as a pro in the NFL is a constant competition. But true franchise QBs aren't pitted in open competitions. That doesn't mean that the QB doesn't have to constantly justify his job, though.
Buttressing Lock could have a huge effect on the confidence of a young quarterback still blazing his path in the NFL. It also sends a message to the locker room that the team brass isn't trifling this year. It would bring clarity and a unified vision to the team.
Build The Nest
From there, it's all about building that nest around Lock. The Broncos are projected to have as many as 12 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. And before draft day even rolls around, Elway could have north of $70M in cap space to sign veterans in free agency to fill roster holes and build around Lock.
Even if the Broncos lose this last game to the Raiders, and even if Elway and Fangio don't get out in front with their public messaging and anoint Lock as the guy in 2020, he's going to attack the offseason with the mindset that it's his job.
“No, I’m going to approach it like I’m the guy," Lock said. "Once I took my first step out on the field as a starter, that was just my mentality. I wasn’t going to lose it, I was going to keep it. That’s the kind of mindset I had, that’s the kind of guy I want to be for this place and that’s the kind of guy I think this place deserves.”
If Lock's viability as the Broncos' future franchise QB isn't even a question in the minds of players like Von Miller, then it likely isn't in doubt up the chain of command either. The sooner the Broncos give him that endorsement for 2020 the better. To not do so would be akin to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.
"He’s going to be the quarterback," Miller said on Thursday. "He’s going to be the future of the Denver Broncos.”
As Coach Fangio said earlier this week, the Broncos are looking for Lock to be the guy. The question is, has his 2019 body of work been enough to put a stranglehold on the job?
Considering all of the records and both team and league historical precedents Lock has set, and the fact that he's 3-1 as a starter, I'm not sure what more the kid could do to telegraph to the team brass that he's the guy they're looking for.