Since winning Super Bowl 50 during Peyton Manning’s final year, little has gone well for the Denver Broncos. The team produced just one winning record and no playoff appearances in the five seasons since and has undergone multiple coaching changes. The latest, longtime defensive guru Vic Fangio, has compiled a 12-20 record while guiding the Broncos to the bottom of the AFC West in 2020.
Entering 2021, the Broncos look like a team at a crossroads. Their various attempts to replace Manning have all come up short and most of the defensive talent that drove their last title run has departed. Meanwhile, the division has swelled with contenders as the Kansas City Chiefs seem prepared to dominate for a decade or more while the Los Angeles Chargers have a path to regular contention thanks to Justin Herbert.
But the future doesn’t necessarily look so bleak. The roster has more talent on paper than it has in several years and other major player-acquisition opportunities might soon follow. The Broncos have also moved longtime GM John Elway into a less hands-on role while bringing on former Minnesota Vikings executive George Paton to run the personnel department.
5-11, 4th in AFC West
Points: 27.9 points per game, rank 25th
Yards: 5.6 yards per play, rank 16th (tied with 3 teams)
Football Outsiders ranking: 13th
Points: 20.2 points per game, rank 28th
Yards: 5.2 yards per play, rank 24th (tied with 2 teams)
Football Outsiders ranking: 30th
Super Bowl: +2800
AFC/NFC Champion: +1300
Win Total: 8.5 (Over -134, Under +110)
With Lock failing to establish himself as the long-term answer under center, the Broncos perused the alternatives available in free agency and the trade market. Ultimately, they landed on Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a solid but unspectacular veteran who should provide a higher floor than Lock. Barring a speculated but unlikely signal-caller acquisition before Week 1, Bridgewater will have every opportunity to win the job during training camp and the preseason.
Meanwhile, the Broncos revamped their secondary. New general manager George Paton signed cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby during free agency and selected Patrick Surtain II in the draft. Fuller became an All-Pro in Fangio’s defense back with the Chicago Bears while Surtain should provide immediate impact across from him. Additionally, Denver managed to maintain a longtime defensive stalwart Von Miller despite the league-wide cap crunch.
Biggest question entering training camp
The Broncos have plenty of receiving talent on paper, but whether they can take full advantage of that group remains unclear. Courtland Sutton appears almost fully recovered from last year’s ACL tear and Jerry Jeudy looked electric by all accounts during minicamp. The receiving corps also returns athletic tight end Noah Fant and the sure-handed Tim Patrick. Denver seems to believe Bridgewater, despite his somewhat pedestrian track record, can help unlock their talents.
What needs to happen for the Broncos to win the Super Bowl?
The current Broncos roster does not appear capable of making a Super Bowl run. Of course, some believe that the team will find a way to add reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers to the mix this season. If Denver pulls off a deal to bring Rodgers into the fold, the team has a shot at adding a Lombardi Trophy to the trophy case even with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the division.
The Broncos have improved their overall talent and will see a key player on both sides of the ball return from injury. Still, they lack a field-tilter at quarterback and probably can’t address the position until next offseason. A wild-card berth does seem plausible. However, given the competition in their division, that won’t come easily.