Despite the best-laid plans of GM John Elway, the Denver Broncos have been a losing team post-Super Bowl 50. It's not like Elway hasn't tried to move mountains to get the Broncos back on the winning track.
The front-office czar has hired two different head coaches since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and has thrown money at some premium free agents. While it might not be accurate to say it's all been for naught, Elway's maneuverings haven't moved the needle in the standings because he failed for so long to hit on a QB.
Trevor Siemian eventually careened into his ceiling and flamed out. 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch was a bust. Case Keenum was fool's gold. And Joe Flacco was a shell of his former self and not the type of outgoing leader a young team like the Broncos needed.
Without a franchise quarterback, NFL teams are dead in the water and the post-Super Bowl 50 Broncos epitomize that cold, hard reality. However, Elway is a former quarterback himself, of the Hall-of-Fame caliber, and he knew perhaps better than anyone that he couldn't stop swinging for that quarterback out of fear of missing again.
Elway took a shine to Missouri QB Drew Lock after traveling to scout him more than once last year and moved up in the draft to take him with the No. 42 overall pick in the second round. An injured thumb derailed the beginning of Lock's rookie campaign in the Orange and Blue, but he eventually debuted in Week 13 in the wake of Joe Flacco's failure (2-6 as a starter) and neck injury.
Lock has now started four games for the Broncos. His body of work adds up to a quarter of a season. He's 3-1 as a starter after taking down the Detroit Lions on Sunday, 27-17.
With one game to go, has Lock shown the Broncos' coaches and front office enough to be assured he's the guy the team can build around heading into 2020?
“He’s done enough to show that he definitely could be the guy," Fangio said on Monday from Dove Valley. "We’re looking for that to be the case.”
Fangio hedged by using 'could' there but for a coach as stingy about doling out praise as he is, and as reluctant as he is to participate in anything that even hints at hype, it's still saying a lot. The Broncos would have to be blind to not recognize that Lock brings a unique and special combination of traits and intangibles to the table.
The Broncos' handling of Lock to open the season, which led to his 10-week exile on injured reserve, might still be a sore spot of contention in the fanbase and media, but Fangio maintains that it was a real blessing in disguise.
“I think the biggest jump he made, and I think I’ve said this before, he really used that 10 weeks he was off to his advantage," Fangio said. "I think he learned more about the NFL, learned more about playing quarterback in the NFL and all the things that go with playing quarterback in the NFL, whereas I think in training camp he was a little bit inundated with everything. I think those 10 weeks were really beneficial to him.”
Some things happen for a reason. If the proverbial proof is in the pudding, then perhaps fans would be remiss to criticize the Broncos for the team's handling of Lock. After all, he's won three out of his first four games while completing 64.8% of his passes and throwing for 843 yards.
His TD-to-INT ratio? A healthy 6-to-3. His QB rating? A solid 89.4.
Lock is also coming off the first 'clean' game of his career, as he did not turn the ball over in Week 16. From the players, to the GM and now Fangio himself — the internal view of Lock seems to be one of excitement and confidence.
The Broncos believe they've found their guy after four years of wandering the QB desert. Lock will get one more game's worth of an audition to reinforce and hammer home his future place with the team.
For fans, it's a relief. Imagine now how the brass at Dove Valley must feel after swinging and missing on so many band-aid QBs over the last four seasons.
Having the QB question answered allows the Broncos to finally attack the offseason with a unified vision. Elway can now focus on building the nest around Lock and setting the Broncos up to contend finally in 2020.