State of the Broncos: Quarterback remains the team’s biggest problem
The Broncos finished the 2021 season with a 7-10 record. It was the team’s fifth-straight losing season. It also marked the sixth-consecutive year in which the franchise failed to make the playoffs.
As a result, Vic Fangio was shown the door. The head coach was 19-30 during his three seasons in Denver. A coaching change is on the way.
What will the new head coach inherit? What will his new staff have to work with in Denver?
The “State of the Broncos” series is a position-by-position look at what went well in 2021, what didn’t and what needs to change for ’22 and beyond. In this installment, it’s time to take a look at the most-important position in all of sports – quarterback.
Pro Football Focus Grades
Teddy Bridgewater – 73.5
Drew Lock – 60.0
Brett Rypien – 44.0
Heading into the season, the biggest topic in Broncos Country was the team’s quarterback battle. It was a fan base divided, as there wasn’t a consensus. Some wanted the veteran option, Teddy Bridgewater. Others were leaning toward the young upstart, Drew Lock.
Ultimately, Vic Fangio chose Bridgewater. He was trying to save his job, so he went with the safer option.
All in all, Bridgewater was fine. On the season, he completed 66.9 percent of his passes, amassed 3,052 yards, threw 18 touchdowns and tossed just seven interceptions. It was exactly what the Broncos were looking for when they made their choice.
But it wasn’t good enough. Once again, the Broncos had one of the worst offenses in the NFL, averaging just 19.7 points per game. In an offensive-minded league, that’s just not going to cut it.
As a result, the Broncos went 7-7 in games that Bridgewater started. Four of those wins came against the NFL’s bottom feeders, with wins over the Giants, Jets, Jaguars and Lions.
Denver was even worse when Lock started, albeit against tougher competition. The third-year quarterback was 0-3 to finish out the season, losing to the Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs.
Lock’s numbers weren’t good. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes, threw for just 787 yards and two touchdowns, and tossed two interceptions. He also had a disastrous fumble during his relief appearance against the Bengals.
A Look Ahead
The Broncos only have one quarterback under contract for next season. Lock will be entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, a deal that will count just $2.2 million against the salary cap in 2022.
As a result, he’s definitely an option to be the team’s quarterback next season. The Broncos could talk themselves into wanting to see what Lock can do when he’s coached by people other than Vic Fangio and Pat Shurmur.
Bridgewater is an unrestricted free agent heading into the offseason. He’s not expected to return.
Rypien is a restricted free agent. Barring a big offer elsewhere, which seems unlikely for a player who appears to be a backup at best, he’ll probably stay in Denver.
So the Broncos are in a good position to upgrade, if they want to go that route. And based on what’s happened since Peyton Manning retired, there’s no reason they shouldn’t.
Trading for a big-name veteran is the surest route. But it’s also the hardest.
The Packers saw what life without Aaron Rodgers would look like. It wasn’t pretty. Same with the Seahawks and Russell Wilson.
That leave tier-two QBs. Kirk Cousins may not be in the Vikings plans. The 49ers might be ready to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo. Those could be options for Denver.
Another trade route could come up if San Francisco goes deep in the playoffs. If they win the Super Bowl, hypothetically, do they move on from Jimmy G? Or would they stick with the veteran and try to recoup some of the assets they gave up last year to draft Trey Lance?
Speaking of the draft, the Broncos could go that route in 2022. They didn’t last season, however, in what was considered a much better QB class. But Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral are two quarterbacks they’ve scouted a lot.
The final option is the free-agent route. Denver could sign someone to come in and compete with Lock. But they’d probably take a different approach this time around.
Instead of seeking a safe veteran option, they could try to take on a reclamation project. The Broncos could sign a QB that once had a lot of promise, hoping a change of scenery jumpstarts their career.
Mitchell Trubisky would be an option. Marcus Mariota would be another one. Both have led teams to the playoffs in their careers. And both are looking for another opportunity to be a starter.
Either one could be an option in Denver. If they’ll take a short deal, they could be a potential bridge to a better QB draft class, insurance for Lock or the eventual answer if they find the magic that once made them high first-round picks.
There’s a lot of ways George Paton can go. Whichever path he chooses, the Broncos quarterback room figures to look a lot different in 2022.