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Are the 2021 Broncos George Paton’s team? Or John Elway’s?

Did the Broncos just slap some paint on the old vision?

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If patience is a virtue, a lack of preparation is a sin. The Denver Broncos have reached a crossroads with Drew Lock, and what they decide to do with their presumptive quarterback of the future should have a dramatic impact on George Paton’s plans. It’s a monumental decision. One that warrants careful consideration.

To his credit, Paton did not initially commit to Drew Lock as the starting quarterback.

“I liked Drew coming out of the draft—big arm, athletic, playmaker. I haven’t studied him. I haven’t gotten into a lot of tape. I’ve only been here four days. I’ve watched enough tape to know he’s talented and he can develop, but I can’t comment on your second question.”

The response hit a homerun if the Broncos new general manager hopes to evaluate and assess the still moving quarterback landscape this off-season. Philip Rivers only retired yesterday. Drew Brees looks as if he will follow him out the door. It remains to be seen if Deshaun Watson is really going to force a trade from the Houston Texans. No one will truly know what options are available to the Broncos in the NFL Draft until April 29th.

Leaving the door open to any and all possibilities is a smart way for a general manager to do business. Building a roster comes down to risk vs. reward and hedging your bets at every opportunity. The best in the business protect themselves against future decisions. Paton’s leaving all doors open. Until I heard Paton’s sit down with 9News’ Mike Klis, I thought Paton’s views on Lock were quite a bit cooler than Elways. However, if you listen to the interview Paton’s statement about Lock closely resembles the same sentiments John Elway made about his 2019 second round draft choice: specifically how 2020 was a rookie year where Lock had no off-season and a new offensive coordinator.

Maybe it’s just a good poker ship, or perhaps it’s something more. Consider how multiple times during Paton’s introductory presser he mentioned how he’s “aligned” with Elway. There may not be a bigger Lock fan in existence than the Broncos’ old general manager.

“I’m still high on Drew. He has the physical abilities to do it. This year was essentially his rookie year, and he was put behind the 8-ball with everything that went on with COVID and no offseason, especially with a young offense and a new offensive coordinator. It was not by any means an ideal situation for Drew, but we’re going to continue to look at that position—you always are—and look at the opportunities that you have.

George will go through that whole process, and if there is an ability for us to get better at that position and better than we think we have, then George will make that decision.

There will be a lot of thought that goes into it. I still think that Drew is a young guy. He showed flashes this year, but he made mistakes. Young quarterbacks always make mistakes. I made a million mistakes my first two or three years, but it’s how you can learn from those. Those are things that George will have to look at. We’ll all be looking at them and Vic will be looking at them—trying to find that guy that can step in and be successful at that position. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the franchise guy, but he has to allow us and give us the chance to win and be able to make plays to give us a chance to win. That’s where the quarterback situation is. It’s a very difficult position to find. Drew did a nice job this year, but George will continue to look to fill that spot if we don’t think that Drew is that guy.”

Listening to Elway’s comments on Lock left me wondering about Paton’s response to an earlier question. He was asked if he could say no to Elway. There was a pregnant pause before Paton said, “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there.”

I’m 0-for-1, so we’ll see how it goes. I couldn’t say no [to the job offer]. We’ll discuss everything, and John has a personality where we could disagree, I’m sure. I’ve enjoyed talking with John—football and everything—and we’ll have no problem saying no. I think that’s part of football, that’s part of making tough decisions is the ability to say no. We’re not going to get along on everything, and so when we don’t agree, we’re going to sit down and watch the tape. If we disagree, then we’re going to move on. That’s football. That’s how you build a team.”

I couldn’t help but realize KOA’s Benjamin Allbright was probably right about the Broncos’ 2021 plans at quarterback. For weeks on Broncos’ Country Tonight, Allbright has argued for patience. He and Ryan Edwards have both said that the Broncos will let Lock have a second season with a veteran such as Nick Foles acting as competition. What’s odd about that is Paton himself said he’s yet to lay out a plan.

“I think all those tough decisions start when I can meet with the coaches and the scouting staff, and that’s where you get your plan for the offseason.

It left me wondering if the 2021 Broncos are still Elway’s team. In the first press conference following the news that Elway would step aside as general manager, he made it clear that both Vic Fangio and the new general manager would answer to him. This is what he said when asked why he wanted to step aside as GM:

There are some other things in life that I’d like to do, but I’d still like to be involved in football. It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to move up still, talk with [Head Coach] Vic [Fangio] as well as the new GM, be a part of the big decisions and be able to give my thoughts and my experience and hopefully come out with the best decision there.”

He mentioned this a few times. When asked if he wanted to stay on after 2021, Elway admitted he would. He also explained why.

“We’ll have to wait and see. We haven’t had a chance to talk about that. Selfishly, yeah, I think that’d be something that I’d be interested in, but I think we’ll take a peek at that and where we are. Obviously, that’s not been talked about. So, as I said, it’s a world that I can look forward to being able to still be involved at that level, but just not the day-to-day. We’ll see how that goes.”

Throughout the process Elway has said he wants to remain a part of big decisions. It’s an open question where the line is drawn on big decisions and those the Duke feels is beneath him. Regardless, it will be Paton’s hand on the rubber stamp. Will George Paton just makes few moves at the margins this year as the old guard runs out the string? There’s no one I trust when it comes to the pulse of the Broncos than Allbright and it sure sounds like it.

Let me be clear that I’m not opposed to Elway being the influential voice in 2021. The team he leaves when he does decide to officially retire will be a large part of his legacy as general manager. He’s done a masterful job managing the cap throughout his tenure, twice creating windows to go all-in around a quarterback on a rookie contract. If Lock can make a Josh Allen type of jump in his third season the Broncos could become a contender this year and allow the Duke to ride off into the sunset as ESPN retires the carousel graphic with a only 10 names since Peyton Manning retired.

It’s hard to say without asking, obviously. But if I was Elway I’d want to hang on ‘til I know I left the Broncos in a better place than I found them. The McDaniels’ Broncos landed at 4-12. Paton told 104.3 The Fan that he wanted the 2021 Broncos to “make strides.” That could be as simple as 6-10 after this year’s injury marred disaster. For all his faults, I suspect that isn’t what John Elway has in mind. He admitted that the post -Manning era hasn’t been good enough.

“I’m proud of what I did. I’m not proud of what happened the last four years and the fact of the way things have gone, but this league is getting tougher and tougher and tougher. There’s so much to it. It’s competitive and there’s just so much work that goes into it. I’ve always worried about my competitive side because I think I always thought it might get a little easier the older I get, but it doesn’t. That never goes away, and it still hasn’t gone away. That’s why I’m excited about moving to the position I am and being able to still be involved and give my advice and experiences that I’ve had, and hopefully those are useful. But I’m proud of my career as a GM. It’s what I wanted to do. I appreciate Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis for giving me the opportunity to be in that position. I loved it and it’s just time for me to make that next step, and I’m excited about that too.”

As the Broncos spent their fourth season wandering in what amounts to NFL purgatory because they couldn’t win with their quarterbacks or fall far enough to land an elite prospect, a loud chorus in Broncos Country began to loudly call for Elway’s ouster. One aspect to Elway’s step aside that is helpful for the Broncos organization is that it almost looks as if Elway fired himself. No one wants to fire a legend, after all. The man has been responsible for seven Super bowl appearances as a quarterback or general manager. Now Joe Ellis and the Bowlens are off the hook. If things go poorly enough this year that it ends ugly Elway chose his own successor on multiple fronts.

Which brings us back to Lock. If you spend enough time looking over the quarterback market, it isn’t hard to see how Drew Lock may look like the only reasonable option. Andy Dalton? Nick Foles? Maybe Jerry Jones is as dumb as he is greedy? I hate to break it to you, but Matthew Stafford isn’t walking through that door gang. And yes, there are three quarterbacks who would go first overall in a normal year. But half the league may try and acquire them.

The one QB that PFF’s Austin Gayle could see for the Broncos at 9 is North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. The book on the Bison is he’s a toolsy prospect with a ways to go before he’s NFL ready. When I spoke with Tim Jenkins he said if he wore Shurmur’s shoes on Draft day after a Lance pick he’d want to punch himself in the face. Throwing another project into a room with Lock would only stir up a disaster. There’s limited reps and the writings on the wall. I can’t imagine Fangio wants to deal with that.

Back in 2019 Vic Fangio created a stir when he said Lock wasn’t a quarterback yet. Do you think he wants to deal with that again while Lock remains a monumental work in progress?

“I don’t think he’s far along as far as being as NFL-ready a quarterback as he could’ve been. That’s what I mean when I say he’s got to get ready. He’s not a quarterback yet — he’s a hard-throwing pitcher that doesn’t know how to pitch yet. The faster he gets that, the better off he’ll be and we’ll be.”

Elway’s plan last offseason was to acquire proven veteran talent to support a young offense. Even amid the injuries across the oster, it sort of worked. The Broncos had the 13th ranked defense by DVOA and the only redzone defense in football that kept opponents out of the endzone less than 50% of the time. Sure, they didn’t turn the ball over enough. They also played 10 corners, eight defensive tackles, and never saw a snap from Von Miller. Beggars can be choosers.

There is no doubt in any rationale mind that Denver finished with the 9th pick in the draft because of their offense. It’s harder to cherry pick the stats they shone in than the ones they didn’t. While You can cite all the reasons why things never got off the ground and they’re all valid, at the end of the day they need to improve. With Courtland Sutton’s return and the promising talent at receiver, tight end, running back, and the offensive line, it isn’t hard to find where the X-factor is in 2021.

Fangio’s job probably depends on Drew Lock’s development over this offseason. Unfortunately for Pat Shurmur, he won’t have OTAs once again. It will be on the quarterback and OC to figure it out with less time together. When I spoke with Coach Alexander on this week’s Cover 2 Broncos he pointed out how Lock’s best year at Missouri was under Josh Heupel in 2017, so if you’re reading this Pat I suggest you start there.

If the offense fails again, the Broncos will be hard pressed to make the playoffs out of the AFC West in 2021. Brandon Staley has the pieces to remake the Chargers’ defense in his image while Gruden and Reid have another year with good quarterbacks. If Lock flames out, Paton will feel immense pressure to move on from Elway’s fourth head coach. I want to make clear that I’m not advocating for it so much as recognizing where the situation is headed. It’s as clear as day.

Canning Fangio would be a fresh start and allow Paton to make his own coaching hire without the old boss looming over his shoulder. It’d give fans their boogeymen to blame for the failure of 2021 and he’d stand as the new bastion of hope. Now free from the shackles of John Elway, George Paton could finally deliver change. It’s easy to see how that’d earn unity under a new banner.

Maybe this season is a true reset for the Broncos under a new general manager. Allbright seems to think so. I’m not sure, but I tend to be skeptical. Blame my parents, but actions will always speak louder than words to me. Right now all we know is the Broncos’ new general manager says he will evaluate the quarterback position and that he has no idea how long it will take to build a contender.

They have some good young players to build around. Now, how long it takes, I don’t know. We have to do our part, but I do think there’s some pieces in place. It’s a young football team, I think the eighth or—I’m not sure—but it’s a young team. They have a healthy salary cap position because of John, Joe and Rich [Hurtado]. Typically, in this league you don’t have a lot of time to turn things around. You don’t have the six years, it has to be quicker. I just think they have some pieces in place. I’m not going to give you a timetable, but they do have some young pieces in place, a healthy cap, so there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.”

Your Broncos’ News

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NFL News

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