Last offseason, after a 5-11 record with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch under center, general manager John Elway went out and signed Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal. Denver won six games in 2018, Vance Joseph was promptly fired and Keenum was one of the league's worst passers, according to Football Outsiders.
Elway, meanwhile, offered more specificity about Keenum's future.
"[W]e've got to -- Case is probably a short-term fix -- find the long-term guy for us," Elway told Peter King of "Football Morning in America." "When we do find that guy, we've got to have the continuity on the offensive side to where we can train him and develop him and get him there. This is our fourth offense in probably three or four years. Quarterbacks need to be developed. You don't find one ready-made. We got to have a solid system in place for when we do go after whatever guy it may be, a young guy or a trade or whatnot."
Elway may be a two-time Super Bowl champ and Hall of Famer but that hasn't translated into his ability to develop a quarterback in Denver, where he's now been an executive for eight years. Lynch was a first-rounder, Osweiler was a second-rounder, and Keenum was a high-priced free agent -- none have come close to meeting expectations. Only Keenum, who has one year left on his deal, remains.
And so too does the losing; the Broncos endured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972.
"... [T]he bottom line in this league, it's about winning. Forget about anything else. You want to do things the right way and we work on everything else. It's very difficult to do it year in and year out unless you find a franchise quarterback," Elway continued. "And, you know, we drafted Paxton Lynch in the first round [in 2016] and [head coach] Gary [Kubiak] was on board with Paxton and I thought he was a good fit with what Gary did. And then Gary gets sick and can't do it anymore. Now all of a sudden we change a whole system that we had drafted a quarterback for. And once that [public] tidal wave started against him, he is getting bashed, and it's hard for a 23-, 24-year-old kid to beat that."
This explains why John Elway was so interested in Oregon's Justin Herbert during the college football season. Herbert decided to stay in school and while the 2020 draft class looks to be stacked -- Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm -- the Broncos aren't in any position to wait around. It's why, in our latest mock draft, we have them taking a quarterback with the 10th selection, grabbing Duke's Daniel Jones one pick ahead of Missouri's Drew Lock, who we've compared to Jay Cutler (incidentally, Cutler was the Broncos' first-round pick in 2006).
"As a GM, it's a lonely spot," Elway said. "You have to make those tough decisions that aren't necessarily gonna be liked at the time but might be the best thing for two years down the road. But when it works out two years down the road, people are not coming back and going, 'That was a helluva decision by Elway back there two years ago!' As a GM, the upside comes from you doing the best you can and feeling like you've done the right thing."
Elway and the Broncos won the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, Peyton Manning's last in the NFL, but three years later and the franchise continues to search for his replacement.