When John Elway took over as VP of Operations for the Denver Broncos back in 2011, he inherited a very unique situation at the quarterback position. Kyle Orton was the starting QB thanks to former Broncos head coach, Josh McDaniels. McDaniels traded Jay Cutler, a guy once thought to be the next big thing in Denver, to Chicago for Mr. Orton, probably one of the most average QB’s in the history of the game. A year later, that same coach drafted star Florida player, Tim Tebow, in the first round. Talk about a contrast in guys under center; one average pocket passer and one run first project. Suffice it to say, McDaniels did John Elway no favors.
However, with the aid of the HC at the time (John Fox) Denver was able to restructure their offense to fit what Tebow could do. Run. They did a lot of that. Just when you thought Tebow might pass….he ran….and then ran some more. It’s worth mentioning that the Broncos retooled an Orton like offense to that of a run first scheme all in midseason and because of that tinkering, they won the AFC West and even a playoff game against the Steelers. Yes, Tebowmania proved to be a nice welcoming season for the Duke of Denver but even the most die hard of Tebow fans had to know it wasn’t sustainable…right? Well, Elway sure did and that’s why he jumped at the chance to take one of the best quarterback to play the game.
Enter Peyton Manning, The Sherriff, the offensive coordinator on the field, if you will. Perhaps the most popular free agent of all time chose Denver and thanks in no small part to John Elway. He assembled a team that could win with fundamentally the worst QB in the league, and convinced Manning that they could win in Denver and further cement his name as one of the best of all time. Four AFC West titles, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl victory later, I’d say the Tebow/Manning transition worked out OK for #7.
Since then, Elway hasn’t fared so well when it comes to finding the right guy under center. After acquiring Manning through free agency, Denver drafted Brock Osweiler to ideally carry the torch when Peyton called it quits. After a pesky heel injury forced Manning to sit out for nearly half the season, Denver went with the second round pick out of Arizona State and he did well in keeping the Broncos above water, insuring that Denver would not only make the playoffs, but lock down the #1 seed in 2015. It was starting to look like Osweiler would not only be the QB of the future but perhaps the man that would lead them through the playoffs. When Manning was given the green light to suit up, he did so in the final game of that season against the Chargers….but for the first time in his career, he did it as a back up. However, after an average half of football against San Diego (at the time) Head Coach Gary Kubiak sent the future hall of famer out to replace Osweiler at the half. From that point on we watched Manning lead the Broncos to and through SB 50 by basically becoming a glorified game manager, allowing the leagues best defense to win down the stretch. Brock was not thrilled with being pulled in that Chargers game and felt he was unfairly cast aside for a lesser QB (at the time). After Denver won their 3rd SB title and 1st since 1998, Osweiler chose free agency over the Broncos and eventually wound up in Houston. So Denver would be forced to elevate their 2015 7th round pick, Trevor Siemian….and it only got worse from there.
A season after winning SB 50, Gary Kubiak entered his second year as the Broncos HC. Rumors were already swirling about his health and overall interest in being an NFL HC and the fact he didn’t have #18 running the offense made 2016 look a bit shaky for the Blue and Orange. Nonetheless Denver pressed on with the qb from Northwestern, Siemian, even though they drafted a QB in the first round of the 2016 draft in Paxton Lynch. Lynch wasn’t ready so it was Siemian’s job to lose. It was an average year for the Broncos and their guy under center. Denver went 9-7, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and the QB of the future put up some very pedestrian numbers: 289 completions out of 486 attempts, 3400 yards, 18 tds and 10 ints. Lynch did get to start 2 games that season due to an injury to Siemian but the Broncos brass didn’t walk away from 2016 campaign feeling particularly great about the foreseeable future….especially when Gary Kubiak officially resigned from his head coaching position. 2017 would prove to be full of challenges.
Enter Vance Joseph; a first time head coach coming from a defensive coordinator job with the Dolphins. His first major task? Determining who would be his starting quarterback. Going into his second year, former first round pick Paxton Lynch had his eyes on the prize…or so we thought. Major media outlets dubbed 2017’s training camp as “the decision” but for me, there was no discussion to be had. Elway called on an old friend, or at least acquaintance; Brock Osweiler was back and this time, he was humbled. His time in Houston was mixed. Though he won a playoff game as the starter, he never cemented himself as the QB of the future for the Texans so he arrived in Denver to compete for the starting job. I thought the job should have went to Brock but in the end, it was Siemian yet that would earn the job. It was a bit of a musical chairs type season at quarterback. Siemian started 10 game while Osweiler took the job for 4 and Lynch saw 2 contests as the #1. Yea, the QB situation in Denver was not good and didn’t appear to have a quick fix in sight. However, the Broncos had more issues than just the starting QB and would miss the playoffs for the second season in a row, winning only 5 games. Elway had seen enough from his former 7th round pick and, though it was a small dose in his 2 seasons with Denver, Paxton Lynch as well. Brock’s second chance in Denver was short-lived and he made his way to Miami. The Duke decided to go back to what won before; free agency. But this time, there were no Manning’s on the shelf.
After 1 solid season with the Minnesota Vikings, Case Keenum suddenly emerged as one of the hot free agents going into 2018. So Elway pulled the trigger and preyed that 1 good year out of a handful of seasons would be enough to prove he could be THE guy going forward. Denver also took a chance on a QB with a troubled past in Chad Kelly with the final pick of the 2018 draft and Kevin Hogan was brought in to provide a bit more insurance behind Keenum. 2018 had its moments for the second year coach (Joseph) and Keenum but far from what was needed to avoid a 3rd playoff-less season in a row and the first back to back losing season since the 70’s. 15 INT’s compared to only 18 TD’s was not good enough to justify keeping Keenum on the roster and after another off the field incident for Chad Kelly, Denver found themselves without a front runner at QB and searching for a new head coach.
Who would Elway turn to next? After hiring former long time defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, John Elway dipped back into the veteran QB well and traded for former SB MVP, Joe Flacco. He drafted QB Drew Lock in the second round of the 2019 draft so it would appear the Broncos are committed to both the now and the future. But that plan hasn’t been so kind to Elway and company. Osweiler, Siemian, Lynch and Kelly were all failed draft picks while Keenum was an absolute bust from the free agency market. Elway says Flacco is in his prime at the age of 34. However, since winning the SB in 2012, Flacco has only led his team to the playoffs once. Will this gamble pay off for John Elway or will it be just another failure on the long list of QB flops in Denver? 2019 will certainly be an important one for all involved.