The Denver Broncos have one game left to play and then it's a wrap on the season. Best-case scenario, the Broncos finish 6-10.
Obviously, that's nowhere close to this franchise's standard of excellence and suffice to say, everyone — from the executives, to the coaches, to the players — will enter the offseason with the special onus of being the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and miss the playoffs in each of the five ensuing seasons.
Some players will hit the offseason with a proverbial fire lit beneath their hindquarters. After the display that Ohio State QB Justin Fields put on Friday night vs. Clemson in the College Football Playoff, dispatching Trevor Lawrence's squad with prejudice and relative ease, Broncos fans are only eating their hearts out more in the endless, torturous act of QB envy.
Drew Lock will be one of those players whose offseason is likely to be quite active. No doubt, he'll take some much-needed R and R before getting back at it, but Year 3 for Lock is make-or-break.
It's possible 2020 was the make-or-break and that the Broncos have already decided his fate as the starter. It's possible the tonality on Lock could shift when we hear from GM John Elway on Monday for his end-of-season presser, but I doubt it. Optics suggest the Broncos will give Lock one more swing at the plate with the understanding that 2021 is a do-or-die opportunity.
On Thursday, Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was a tad reluctant to turn his gaze toward the offseason, especially with one game left to play, and he was a little tight-lipped with regard to his offseason plan or advice for Lock. But he did hint around the subject.
"I think the important thing for all players, especially guys that have been through seasons like this—in my mind, this is kind of a first-year season for him, is to go back and take a breath," Shurmur said. "Then we'll go back and dig in and reassess everything and try to put ourselves back in the mental part of each situation and say, ‘OK, let's talk about this.’"
Wait, the coach's first word of advice is to take it easy? As counter-intuitive as that might sound for the starting quarterback of a double-digit loss team, it might be just what the doctor ordered for Lock to recharge and reboot.
"I think that's it, just kind of go back and reflect on everything that happened and then we'll sit down and give him a detailed plan for how we want to proceed," Shurmur said. "Again, I don't know what the offseason is going to look like yet. I'm hopeful that we're going to get past all this COVID stuff, so we can work together here in the offseason, physically."
If it's up to NFLPA president J.C. Tretter (Cleveland Browns center), there will be no on-field OTAs, no preseason, and the Zoom life will continue. However, the NFL proved that it could navigate the pitfalls of a COVID-impacted season and keep the players safe. While many, many players contracted the virus, fortunately, there have been no extreme cases of hospitalizations or worse.
A few coaches have had a close run-in with COVID-19, including Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who missed six games and was hospitalized this season. But the players, being the world-class athletes that they are and considering their relative age demographic, have got the sniffles and been under the weather but have bounced back.
The NFL will stay in a holding pattern with regard to the Offseason Training Program but Tretter's objective of eliminating everything except training camp and the regular season remains a possibility depending on what unfolds with the pandemic over the next few months.
"I'd love to be able to shut these zooms off—I’m finally learning how to hit the unmute button and it's been since March, but just go back and reassess," Shurmur said.
With regard to Lock, Shurmur closed by saying, "Think about it and reflect—these are things I could have done better; these are things I did well. I have a list of things that we'll discuss, and I'll just keep that private at this point."
Lock said himself earlier this week that the full-season sample size of experience and game tape will be an incomparable resource for him as a tool to improve this offseason. Naturally, his first focus on improving will be to home in on the areas of his game that are still raw or imperfect. Here are a few suggestions.
- Throwing mechanics/platform.
- Knowledge of the scheme.
- Reading the defense pre-snap.
- Reading the coverage post-snap.
- Using his eyes to better manipulate and control safeties.
- Deep-ball accuracy.
- Decision making.
That last one is going to be hard to fix without time on task and increased live-bullet reps in games that have stakes. After all, there is a reason why quarterbacks often enter the league and throw a lot of interceptions only to gradually minimize them.
It takes being exposed to the fire. QBs have to go through the crisis in real-time in order to deduce how they'll react to a given situation; which are always random and unique to the time and place.
That comes with experience and maturation. The problem for Lock is, if he doesn't figure out the other stuff I listed above, it'll continue to haunt him and exacerbate his decision-making.
All he can do is eat the elephant one fork at a time. Take it by the inch, it's a cinch. By the yard, it gets hard.
We'll see how committed the Broncos are to continuing to stand by Lock while he navigates that trial-and-error learning curve. First, the team brass will be watching closely to see how Lock punctuates his second season vs. the Las Vegas Raiders.