Gut Check Time

Mr. Elway had to get this right. There’s no middle ground for the Broncos anymore.  There’s no “Plan B.” Three playoff-less seasons in a row, back to back losing records for the first time since the 70’s and nearly half a dozen failed QB’as places the pressure solely on #7: fair or unfair.  I’ve been adamant about SB 50 giving John Elway and the Broncos somewhat of a grace period but at some point, that grace will dissolve and Broncos fans will be left wondering if  signing Peyton Manning was truly  the only positive thing the Duke did in his time as VP/GM.  Sure, I can point to all his hits and misses all day, but in the end, sports fans struggle to look at the details and elbow grease it takes to build a 5 year SB contending team.  I know Manning wasn’t the only thing Elway did for this franchise but as time moves on and the losing continues, it certainly gets easier to point at that signing as the overwhelming factor in the Broncos success between 2012 and 2015.  The “good thing they had Manning” way of thinking is supported by life without the Sherriff: 9-7, 5-11 and 6-10.  QB busts like Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and FA signing Case Keenum only highlights the Broncos inability to find talent at the quarterback position post Manning.  If you are going to be bad at something in the NFL…..don’t let it be at finding QB talent.   It happens to a lot of GM’s.  Finding a QB is easier said than done.  However, most of those GM’s are given a very short leash….say 2 to 3 years.  Year 4 for Elway has to be a success.   Playoffs have to be a thing in 2019.  Joe Flacco has to be successful.  Vic Fangio has to be a solid head coach.  No playoffs? No Elway.  As much as it pains me, it’s the truth and we all must be ready to face that in 2019 if the worse case scenario plays out.

It’s May as I write this so how do we feel about the immediate future for the blue and orange?  What has Elway and company done since the season ended to insure the Broncos get back to competing at a high level? Will a new coaching staff, a new QB, some new DB’s and some interesting draft picks be enough to contend with what should be a very tough AFC West?  Joe Flacco was actually not off to a bad start in 2018 before getting injured which essentially ended his time in Baltimore to make way for Lamar Jackson.  As a starter, Flacco hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011 and isn’t exactly in his prime.  However, if he has a solid line to work with and a productive run game, Average Joe might be able to reignite his career.  We already know the Broncos have some young, extremely talented RB’s in Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker and with Denver landing former K-State RT and captain, Dalton Risner (Wiggins, CO) in the second round, they are certainly on what seems to be the right track.  And yes, even though I hate trading a 10th overall pick, Elway did find  a solid weapon for Flacco in Missouri Tight End, Noah Fant at 20.  Courtland Sutton and Emanuel Sanders should be a great pair of wideouts assuming Sanders can come back fully from injury and Sutton can avoid a sophomore slump.  Way too soon to tell, but the Broncos are doing the right things in terms of mending that offense.  But again, so much depends on that sacred QB position.

Now back to that 10th pick trade.  Like I’ve said a dozen times so far, if you have a top 10 pick, you use it.  So I was disappointed in the move.  That being said, the Broncos did about as well as one could expect AFTER moving on from #10.  Noah Fant is certainly 1st round talent, not top 10, but first round talent for sure.  So I would expect him to add significant value and production as soon as next season.  A tight end is also a safe pick.  That’s a position that doesn’t necessarily need to stick out like a QB, Edge rusher or WR.  If he does storm onto the scenes then consider that a bonus but more than likely he will be a solid receiver and a blocker in training as Denver hopes he can improve in that area.  Loved the Risner pick up and moving up to get QB Drew Lock seemed to be a perfect get with a second pick in the second round.  Elway is taking it very slow with “future” and “franchise” QB talks and that’s exactly what he should be doing.  Barring injury, we don’t need to see Lock on the field for at least a year or 2.  It wasn’t until the 3rd round (4th pick) Elway took a defensive player; a side of the football Elway is almost always guaranteed to pick in the 1st or 2nd round.  Ohio State DL, Dre’Mont Jones, should be an early contributor and with any luck, a stand out player even in his rookie season.

So the draft as a whole was a job well done in my book.  Now, if you were to say I could have Michigan LB Devin Bush for Fant and Lock then tell me where to sign because I believe Bush will be an elite LB.  But aside from that, I applaud Elway and the Broncos as I truly felt they did get better since the draft.

Onto the next BIG question for Elway.  Trade, resign or stay the course with Chris Harris Jr.?  I say you have to find room for him but where?  He wants to be paid slightly more than Josh Norman ($15 million/year) and Denver simply doesn’t have it.  They will have to move a player or two to make that work.   That puts Denver in a very complicated spot.  I won’t blame Elway for moving on but if he can get this done, not only will Denver’s Defense be poised for another solid year, it will be considered a crowning achievement in terms of negotiation victories.

All in all, I suppose the offseason hasn’t been all bad.  I like Fangio’s demeanor and philosophy.  Flacco was a SB Quarterback at one time so at least he knows what it takes to win big games. The draft prospects certainly seem like they fit what Denver is trying to do.  Then again, it’s May.  There’s a lot of work to do before Elway and his galloping Broncos can get out of the mess we’ve all witnessed since SB 50.  It’s Gut check time in Denver.  The Broncos made some big changes this off-season…..let’s just hope they work out.

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