Denver Broncos: 2020 is the start of a critical window

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 1: Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos passes under pressure by Melvin Ingram III #54 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter of a game at Empower Field at Mile High on December 1, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 1: Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos passes under pressure by Melvin Ingram III #54 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter of a game at Empower Field at Mile High on December 1, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos are entering into a critical window for the franchise starting in 2020. John Elway has assembled the pieces.

The Denver Broncos’ window to compete for a championship starts now. In the NFL, teams are built-in ‘windows’. The current structure of contracts provides the organizational flexibility to move on from bad contracts or keep ascending players on good deals as the salary cap continues to rise.

With the team as it is currently constructed, this group of Broncos has a two-to-three-year window to challenge in the AFC. Now, that does not mean they can only compete for those years, but the roster may look quite different after that window closes.

John Elway reminded Broncos Country that his plan was not only to win now but to win from now on. Only a few teams have done this successfully over time (Patriots, Packers, and Steelers in recent memory).

As I wrote last week, the Denver Broncos have their most exciting roster in quite some time. Both offensive and defensively, there is a lot to like.

Denver Broncos fans are accustomed to winning and the time to do it is now. The Broncos enter an interesting time as their team is geared to win and win now. Broncos Country and national experts identify the Broncos as an up and coming team.

So, how did they get here and where can they go? It is easy to get caught up in the present hype but may be helpful to examine the team’s future to better understand Elway’s vision for how this team will look from now on.

The Broncos transitioned from the defense-first, “shadows of Super Bowl 50” window, to the 2020 team. Let’s look at how this team was constructed as there were several moves there were made and some that weren’t.

First, the Broncos saw a generational quarterback retire in Peyton Manning at the end of the 2015 Super Bowl-winning campaign. The Broncos’ brass assumed Brock Osweiler would take over and let negotiations get away from them, and eventually watched Osweiler leave for Houston.

Elway couldn’t come up with an agreement with Colin Kaepernick on a contract reduction.

He then sent a conditional seventh-round pick for Mark Sanchez and then moved up in the 2016 NFL Draft to select Paxton Lynch, the quarterback out of Memphis. Both moves failed before they ever really took flight.

Elway, scorned by the whiff on a young quarterback and desire to win now saw the Broncos move from stop-gap to stop-gap.

The Broncos then moved from one stop-gap to another in Case Keenum before entering the 2018 draft. With another opportunity to grab a long-term answer at quarterback, many thought the Broncos had two choices. One, to overpay with draft capital and trade with the Indianapolis Colts to select Sam Darnold, or sit tight and draft the likes of Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, or Lamar Jackson.

Instead, the Broncos decided to focus on building core pieces of the team instead of selecting a quarterback they did not feel could be the answer and selected Bradley Chubb to complement Von Miller. The Broncos then selected gifted but raw wide receiver Courtland Sutton out of SMU in the second round.

Following the 2018 season, the Broncos moved on from Keenum and brought in Joe Flacco, another stop-gap option. Preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft, the Broncos expressed feeling content about Flacco’s ability to play, thus dousing the fire on the connection between Elway and Drew Lock.

The Broncos read the draft perfectly and traded with the Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping back from pick 10 to 20 and shocked many by grabbing tight end Noah Fant. That move provided the ammunition necessary to trade back in the 2nd round and select Lock one selection after cornerstone lineman Dalton Riser.

How different would the team look if any of the quarterback options worked out, or well enough to delay the assentation of Lock?

From 2017 to 2020 the Broncos let the old core of the team jettison freeing up significant amounts of cap space while brining additional draft capital. Again, the Broncos were armed with the resources necessary to make waves heading in the 2020 offseason.

The Broncos brought in free agent impactful free agents to support a young core of offensive talent.

Let’s dive into how this team is constructed, and how they are built to compete now and down the road.

First, the Broncos defense is made up of proven veterans on short term deals. According to Over the Cap, Von Miller, Kareem Jackson, Bryce Callahan, and A.J. Bouye can come off the books by the end of 2020.

Jurrell Casey has three years left on his deal but can be released or traded with no cap penalties.

The Broncos are projected to have over 50 million in cap space, before figuring in any cuts that may occur.

The issues for the Broncos will arrive in 2022 when extensions for Cortland Sutton and Bradley Chubb come due. Then, 2023 Drew Lock and Dalton Risner’s deals expire. However, The Broncos have constructed this team in waves.

Meaning that the Broncos bring in an influx of cheap offensive talent now and complement that with a veteran defense capable of supporting the team if the quarterback and running game struggles.

Over the next few years, expect the team to flip its strategy and re-up offensive talent and begin to replace veteran defenders with young drafted talent (McTelvin Agim for Selby Harris for example).

Utilizing this type of wave structure allows the team to remain competitive over time and reduces simultaneous imbalances on both sides of the ball.

Mind you, this all works out if Drew Lock is the guy. The NFL is built on quarterback success and teams rarely maintain competitiveness if their quarterback isn’t Pro Bowl Caliber.

Fans may want to prepare themselves for the many iterations of this team, surrounding Lock (assuming he is the long-term answer). Players may move on around him ala Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers.

Next. 9 WRs competing for 2 roster spots in Denver. dark

But one thing will be clear starting this year, the Broncos are building a team to highlight the quarterback, but prepare yourself that the composition of the team will look different if this window is missed.