Denver Broncos 2021 offseason: Quarterback position preview

Dec 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) looks to pass during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) looks to pass during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

After the 2019 season, things seemed to be looking up regarding the Denver Broncos and the quarterback position.

Drew Lock finished his rookie season strong, helping lead the Denver Broncos to four wins in their final five games. It seemed like everything was finally on the right track before the team made the decision to fire offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello in favor of veteran coordinator and coach Pat Shurmur.

Shurmur was fired from his job with the New York Giants but the Denver Broncos obviously viewed him as an upgrade to their previous situation.

No one could have anticipated what the next two months would bring as a pandemic hit the globe and everyone was forced to adjust everything about their lives. In the NFL context, it was especially tough for teams changing quarterbacks or changing offenses (or both) but the Broncos’ situation was particularly rare.

Not only were the Broncos changing offenses and philosophies, but they were trying to break in a bunch of young players on that side of the ball. Having the youngest offense in the NFL, the Broncos obviously expected the veteran coordinator Shurmur to help bring things along, and they also expected Drew Lock to take a leap forward.

Unfortunately, none of that happened. At times, it looked like Shurmur was trying to get the offense to do things they simply couldn’t. Lock didn’t take a “leap” forward at all. In fact, he seemingly regressed in the first half of the season before finally showing progress down the stretch.

How will the Denver Broncos evaluate the quarterback position in the first year of the George Paton era? This is undoubtedly Paton’s most important decision yet.

The Broncos have been connected to pretty much every quarterback this offseason, including veteran Matthew Stafford who was the first big QB domino off the 2021 offseason board.

After the Indianapolis Colts’ trade for Carson Wentz, one less team is looking for its solution at the quarterback position for 2021 and beyond.

Denver Broncos 2021 offseason preview: Quarterback

Drew Lock (3rd season, age 24)

The conversation for the Denver Broncos starts with Drew Lock, the incumbent starter who has given the team plenty of reasons to consider moving on at this point.

Lock has 18 interceptions and 11 fumbles in 18 (really 17) career games. How is a team supposed to sustain success with that kind of erratic play from the quarterback? Further, Lock’s completion percentage dipped from 64 percent in his five games in 2019 to under 58 percent in 2020.

He has had obvious struggles in his transition from Missouri to the NFL in terms of being a ‘gunslinger’ type of quarterback who is willing to put the ball in harm’s way if there’s a chance a play can be made.

On top of it all, Lock has missed fairly substantial time in his first two NFL seasons with injuries.

Those are the negatives with Lock, but what about the positives?

Well, Lock has just about every physical and intangible trait you would want in a quarterback. He has plenty of arm talent. He isn’t Lamar Jackson, but he has good mobility. Even though they can fail him at times, he plays with his instincts, which could be a huge asset in his favor if he learns to use them within his understanding of reading defenses and playing within an offense.

Lock has had some really big games and big accomplishments thus far as an NFL quarterback as well. He has proven he has the clutch gene at times and has given the Broncos some really exciting moments. In his final five games of 2019 and the final six games of 2020 (when he showed some nice progression), he posted very respectable numbers for a young quarterback.

When you look at his overall package, it’s hard to fathom how things would not work out, but there are details to Lock’s game and skillset that need refining and fast.

It’s not out of the question to think Lock can make the necessary improvements to be the Broncos’ franchise quarterback, but the hope for improvement is not exactly something in Lock’s favor to stick as the team’s starting quarterback in 2021. Some continuity could be good for everyone.

The Broncos and new GM George Paton have to decide if they are going to buy into the “good” this team has seen from Lock. At this point, there has been quite a bit of that but it has not been consistent.

The circumstances surrounding Lock in 2020 were virtually unprecedented. Losing Courtland Sutton was a killer for him and the Broncos’ offense as a whole. How many of those factors from last year will Paton view as legitimate reasons why Lock’s growth may have been stunted early on?

Will Paton buy that Lock can grow in a second year of running Pat Shurmur’s offense? Will he buy that Lock can cut down on turnovers?

There are a lot of unknowns there, and Paton is really going to need to lean on the opinions of the coaching staff and pro scouting department to make his ultimate decision.

Brett Rypien (3rd season, age 24)

The former Boise State star got an opportunity to start for the Denver Broncos on short notice in a prime time game against the New York Jets, and despite throwing three interceptions, he helped lead the Broncos to a pretty entertaining win.

The long-term upside with Rypien is as an obvious top-end backup quarterback. He came into the league with Drew Lock and the team likes how those two work together in the QB room and the relationship they have developed.

At this point, even if the team decides to move forward from Lock, Rypien should stay. He looks like he could be a really strong backup in this league for a long time and is an obvious asset to that quarterback room.

Jeff Driskel (6th season, age 27)

The Broncos brought in Jeff Driskel on a pretty modest two-year free agent contract in 2020. The former spot-starter for the Bengals and Lions was replaced after his relief appearance for Denver last season by Brett Rypien.

With one year left on his contract, the Denver Broncos will almost assuredly move on from Driskel this offseason and upgrade at the position.

So what are the Denver Broncos going to do at QB?

The Denver Broncos will be in on Deshaun Watson if the Texans make him available. Heck, they might even be able to make a competitive offer.

They weren’t in on Carson Wentz, but they were in on Matthew Stafford. That shows you that the Broncos are obviously taking a level-headed approach this offseason. If the player is not a clear upgrade over Drew Lock, they’re not going to pay a ridiculous price to get him.

Even with Stafford, the Broncos had drawn a line in the sand.

The fact that the Broncos weren’t willing to jump into the Carson Wentz trade sweepstakes given the relatively low price he went for (a 2021 third, future conditional pick) shows that this team is going to be smart with their assets and patient to pursue a player like Watson, or maybe Sam Darnold down the line.

Expect the Broncos to plan on Drew Lock being back as the starter unless the Texans are willing to listen to their offer for Deshaun Watson. The 2021 NFL Draft is not out of the question at this point either.

As far as veteran free agents, the names that make the most sense are guys like Mitch Trubisky, Andy Dalton, or Jacoby Brissett. Perhaps they could swing a trade for someone like Gardner Minshew of the Jaguars.

There are options out there to provide Lock with competition, but the big question right now is if the Broncos just want someone to compete with him or come in and take his job.