As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
The Broncos’ season started well. They were 3-1 heading into the bye with a blowout win over the Dallas Cowboys among their wins. Then it fell apart. The Broncos lost eight in a row. The offense collapsed and they used three different quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired. The typically-reliable defense cratered a few times. There were questions about coach Vance Joseph’s job security. The Broncos are just two years removed from a Super Bowl title, so this season was ugly.
What went right: The defense had some rough days (the Broncos gave up 92 points to the Eagles and Patriots in back-to-back weeks) but overall it’s still a capable unit. Denver should feel going into next year that its defense is still a solid foundation. Everything else needs a major overhaul.
What went wrong: In Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, the Broncos rank dead last in the NFL in offense and special teams. That’s not good. Some of the issues have to fall on general manager John Elway, whose recent drafts have been poor. Some falls on first-year head coach Vance Joseph, who inspired zero confidence. It doesn’t help that the Broncos have a terrible quarterback situation. Trevor Siemian looked competent last season, then the wheels fell off this year and he was benched. Paxton Lynch, a 2016 first-round pick, has offered no signs that he can play. Brock Osweiler is Brock Osweiler. And the Broncos don’t have enough offensive talent around the quarterback to make it work.
Will the coach be back?: This is a very interesting question. Ask most Broncos fans, and they’re hoping Vance Joseph is one-and-done. Firing a coach after one season is a drastic move. Had the Broncos lost out and gone 3-13, it would have been hard to justify Joseph returning. Not that a home win on Dec. 10 against the Jets turned everything around, but it might end up saving Joseph’s job. Still, GM John Elway is hyper-competitive and doesn’t mind making a controversial coaching move, so keep an eye on Denver.
Do they have a quarterback?: Nope. Let’s address that …
Quick free agent fix: Remember that John Elway doesn’t like losing. Presumably he sees his defense and feels it can compete at a championship level. What he needs is a quarterback, and one who can step in and provide an instant boost to a moribund offense. With the 49ers presumably happy with Jimmy Garoppolo, is there a more obvious landing spot for Kirk Cousins than Denver? That assumes the Redskins don’t give Cousins another franchise tag. Denver doesn’t have a ton of cap space, but they are projected by Spotrac to have about $33 million. I think this is where Cousins lands. Signing a veteran and not using their high draft pick on a quarterback would also leave the light on for Paxton Lynch to turn around his career and become the quarterback of the future, however unlikely that seems at the moment.
Quick draft fix: There are two paths the Broncos can take, and it depends on what happens in March. If Denver signs Kirk Cousins or another definite starter at quarterback, they can use their top-10 pick elsewhere to improve the offense. And pick any offensive position — the Broncos could use help at them all. If the Broncos don’t land a good veteran in free agency, then they have to take the best quarterback available in the first round. Broncos fans would freak out if the team runs back the same trio of quarterbacks in 2018.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: It wouldn’t surprise me. The offense needs a lot of work, but let’s pretend they sign Cousins and draft an immediate impact offensive starter in the top 10. That could allow the offense to take a big leap, and the defense should still be good. This season has been ugly, but the Broncos could rebound pretty quickly.
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