Since Peyton Manning’s retirement in 2015, the Denver Broncos have been rudderless. Whether its poor draft selections or the inability to find a lead QB, this current Broncos era feels off. With Vance Joseph gone, the franchise finds itself once again at a crossroads. But one thing is for certain, John Elway needs to to nail 2019 and right the ship, otherwise the future will continue to look bleak.
Football, like most sports, is all about what have you done for me lately. The Super Bowl 50 victory feels like a lifetime ago due to just how unprepared and inept the team has looked recently. Vance Joseph, who was recently released, was pegged as the next head coach after Gary Kubiak stepped away due to health concerns. There was cautious optimism during the first year for Joseph as the team won four straight, then proceeded to nose dive, only winning one game for the rest of the season.
Now, it would be difficult to blame Joseph for all of the Broncos struggles during his first year. There was no starting QB to be found on the roster, Trevor Siemian was serviceable, but with Paxton Lynch being the heir apparent, Joseph was forced to play musical chairs. The offensive line was bad and outside of Demariyus Thomas and Emmanual Sanders, the Broncos were devoid of outside playmakers. So it wasnt difficult to see why the first year would be a struggle.
Year 2 of the Joseph regime was more puzzling as even though the team didn’t have their QB of the future, the team had a number of opportunities to win. They failed miserably to capitalize on the weak teams slated on their schedule as the Broncos were upset by the Jets, Raiders, and 49ers. Joseph made some poor decisions that cost the team wins, but he still wasn’t working with a roster that was built for sustained success. Elway traded away Demariyus Thomas to Houston and Keenum was forced to play with an inexperienced cast and it showed as the season progressed. The injuries didn’t help, but some of Elways draft picks, like Bradley Roby and Garrett Boles struggled mightily.
A second losing season coupled with Joseph’s inexperience as a head coach saw him relieved of his duties. Now, Elway has a difficult choice to make moving forward. The team is paying for his decisions and while the 2018 Draft Class has been his strongest, he took less risks and went the safer route with accomplished personnel, Elway needs to lock down a QB for the future and a head coach the franchise can rally around. It’s obvious that Case Keenum needs significant help to be successful and Elway needs to find a coordinator that plays to his strengths.
What Elway and the organization need to admit is that Broncos are in a period of rebuilding. There are a number of key players that will help the team transition, but Elway will need to continue his draft success from 2018. Every time he drafts a player considered to be a project, whether its Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch, they seem to flame out as soon as they hit the field. Finding players who have found significant success in college seems to be the right course of action for this team. Philip Lindsay, Courtland Sutton, Royce Freeman, Josey Jewell, Isaac Yiadom and Daesean Hamilton were all significant contributors in college and all of them had relatively strong years. If this is the blueprint for the rebuild, then Elway shouldn’t deviate from the success the team found through the draft.
Needless to say, but 2019 is going to be huge for the Broncos. Case Keenum has one year to prove to the brass that he’s more than a stopgap solution. This year isn’t particularly strong as it relates to QB so Elway will have a difficult decision when it comes to the draft. Reaching for a prospect could be problematic moving forward and there are other a number of other holes to fill. Free agency will be filled with difficult decisions as Emmanuel Sanders, Derek Wolfe, and Matt Paradis are all key contributors who will be looking for long-term security.
John Elway finds himself in an unenviable position. While he should be applauded for the success he found early in his tenure, he deserves a fair amount of criticsm for recent failures. Any questionable decision or misstep will find Elway at the mercy of a restless fan base, who continues to question whether or not he can recapture the magic that made him successful early on. These questions and lingering doubts are fair however, as the Broncos are one of the most successful franchises in the NFL as before this season, there hasn’t been back to back losing seasons in over 40 years. For better or worse, John Elway hold the future of the franchise in his hands.