The Broncos have to solve their QB problem with their HC hire

Jan 21, 2022, 10:50 AM
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 26: Offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell of the Los Angeles Rams...
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

It’s bound to happen on Sunday night. It’s like clockwork.

If Josh Allen shines in the Divisional Playoff game between the Bills and Chiefs, Broncos Country will lament the “one who got away.” Social media will be filled with fans bemoaning the fact that Denver took Bradley Chubb with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft instead of the Buffalo QB.

Inevitably, this will be followed up by the same refrain. “If the Broncos would’ve taken him, he’d have never developed in Denver.”

This is problematic. For multiple reasons.

First, it’s a loser’s lament. “We would’ve screwed it up, so we shouldn’t have even tried” is a terrible way to go through life.

That said, there are reasons for the pessimism. It’s grounded in history.

The Broncos have never drafted and developed a quarterback. Ever. Only one QB in the history of the franchise has ever won a playoff game in orange and blue. That was Tim Tebow.

The closest the organization has come to drafting and developing a quarterback is Jay Cutler. He had a Pro Bowl season during his final season in Denver, throwing for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns. After an 8-8 season, however, the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan and replaced the head coach with Josh McDaniels, who promptly traded Cutler to Chicago for Kyle Orton and two first-round picks.

Recent attempts haven’t come anywhere close to being that successful. The last two quarterbacks the Broncos have tried to develop have turned into a bust and a disappointment, respectively.

Paxton Lynch was a first-round pick in 2016. Gary Kubiak had no interest in playing a young QB. And he has no track record of developing one. When he was in Houston, the head coach chose to stick with Matt Schaub instead of pursuing Peyton Manning. In Denver, he forced The Sheriff to play under center, roll out and do other things that were outside the Hall-of-Fame quarterback wasn’t comfortable doing. Kubiak was preferred a QB who was good at the whiteboard; he wanted someone to run his system, like Trevor Siemian.

Vance Joseph wasn’t equipped to develop a young QB, either. He and his offensive staff – Mike McCoy and Bill Musgrave – also preferred the “safe” option behind center.

As a result, Lynch got a grand total of four starts during his two seasons in Denver. Would have been a bust regardless? Probably. He didn’t help himself with work ethic. But the fact remains that if the Broncos were truly trying to develop him, they would’ve tailored the offense toward his skillset, given him coaches who understood that system and invested multiple starts in seeing if he could get it done. They didn’t.

Fast forward to Drew Lock. The Broncos selected the quarterback in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Almost from the outset, they undermined his development.

Vic Fangio had no interest in building up the young QB. He called him out during training camp, calling him a “hard thrower” who wasn’t yet a “pitcher.” Then, they buried him on the injured reserve list for 11 weeks, relegating him to virtual reality sessions rather than the practice field.

Nonetheless, Lock shined when he got a chance as a rookie. He posted a 4-1 record as a starter, throwing seven touchdowns to just three interceptions in Rich Scangarello’s offense.

Fangio’s response was to send the offensive coordinator packing, replacing him with Pat Shurmur. The new OC installed a system that wasn’t as well suited for Lock’s skillset, doing so via Zoom calls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not surprisingly, the young quarterback struggled in 2020. Of course, he was the only one scapegoated for the Broncos 5-11 season. Everyone else – Fangio, Shurmur, other starters – kept their job, while Lock was replaced by Bridgewater in 2021. Once again, the Broncos offense was putrid, proving that the young QB wasn’t the entire problem.

Would Allen have blossomed in Denver? Not in those scenarios.

The Bills started small and built up. They allowed Allen to do things he was comfortable with as a rookie, added more things in his second year and went from there. As a result, he’s grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

The Broncos didn’t do that with Lynch. They didn’t do it with Lock. So there’s no reason to believe they’d have done it with Allen.

Thus, the doom-and-gloom crew is right. The loser’s lament is accurate.

Moving forward, that has to change. The Broncos have to build a culture that is suited for developing a young quarterback.

That starts with the head coach they hire to replace Fangio. They need to have someone in place who is QB friendly.

If the draft Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral, they need someone who can turn them into an NFL quarterback. If they keep Lock, they need someone who can maximize his talents. If they try the reclamation project route with Marcus Mariota or Mitchell Trubisky, they need someone who can rebuild their confidence. If they get lucky and land Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson in a trade, they need someone who won’t screw that up.

That’s why the need to hire an offensive guru. That’s why they need to break their trend of hiring defensive-minded head coaches or someone so beholden to their “system” that they’ll force a square peg into a round hole.

Kevin O’Connell made it work in Los Angeles with Jared Goff. He’s also helped Matthew Stafford maximize his potential.

Nathaniel Hackett created an offense that allowed Blake Bortles to win games. He’s also been a part of Aaron Rodgers posting back-to-back MVP seasons.

Brian Callahan has been a part of turning Joe Burrow into a rising star. His offense in Cincinnati is built upon young players who are blossoming.

Eric Bieniemy has been to the last two Super Bowls and might make it a third. He’s been a part of the development of Patrick Mahomes from the No. 10 overall pick to a future Hall of Fame selection.

That’s the route the Broncos need to go. One of those four head coach candidates need to be the selection.

Jonathan Gannon? Aaron Glenn? Those selections have Fangio and VJ written all over them. First-time head coaches from the defensive side of the ball who have no track record of maximizing a quarterback.

Dan Quinn? That reeks of Gary Kubiak. He has his way that he wants to play on offense. He’s a DC, but he wants his team to run the West Coast offense. It’s square-peg, round-hole once again.

The Broncos have to develop a quarterback. That’s the bottom line.

In order to do so, they need a head coach who is up for the job. That means being bold with their next hire.


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The Broncos have to solve their QB problem with their HC hire