ENGLEWOOD – It appears the Denver Broncos are all getting a mulligan for 2020, their fourth consecutive losing season and fifth without a trip to the playoffs.
Vic Fangio, Drew Lock and Pat Shurmur will try to engineer an end to the organization’s playoff drought in 2021.
General manager John Elway reiterated earlier this week that Fangio will be back next season even though he’s 12-19 as head coach, marginally better than the 11-21 mark that got his predecessor fired.
Elway and Fangio also indicated the Broncos remain all in on Drew Lock, who has 14 touchdown passes to go with 15 interceptions and whose 72.5 passer rating ranks 35th in the league, ahead of only Sam Darnold among qualifying quarterbacks.
“I think he’s continued to show his talent. He’s capable of making very good throws, he’s done that throughout the season,” Fangio said. “Obviously, we have to cut down on the interceptions.”
Fangio also reaffirmed his support for Pat Shurmur, who will stay in charge of the NFL’s 27th-ranked offense that’s averaged 19½ points per game, better only than the Jets and Giants.
The Broncos had high hopes heading into the season but were done in by an injury epidemic (Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, Jurrell Casey) and the pandemic (they played one game without any QBs and another with a 31-year-old “COVID-19 kicker” who missed three of four kicks, and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was out all of November).
The Broncos (5-10) host Las Vegas (7-8) Sunday and instead of playing for a playoff spot they’re jockeying for draft position. They can finish the weekend anywhere from the fifth pick to the 15th selection.
“I have no idea where we may fall in regards to the draft at this point,” Fangio said Friday.
What he does know is there won’t be wholesale changes this offseason
Although radio hosts have debated Fangio’s future for months, his return in 2021 wasn’t much in question given the spate of injuries the team endured.
Fangio was asked Monday if upper management has told him he’ll be back for a third season, and he said, “That’s been the indication all along, yes.”
For good measure, Elway told the team’s flagship station, KOA News Radio, that Fangio’s job is indeed safe.
Lock’s league-leading 18 turnovers includes 15 interceptions, tied with benched Eagles QB Carson Wentz for most in the NFL. He’s 4-8 this season after going 4-1 last season.
“You look at the roster, there’s a lot of good, young football players we believe in, and Drew showed some flashes,” Elway told the team’s website this week. “Obviously, he’s been very inconsistent but showed some flashes. And we still have high hopes for Drew that with a good offseason, a lot of hard work this offseason, a lot of film study, that he can come back and be a very good quarterback in this league.”
As the season went along, Shurmur showed flexibility in adapting his philosophies, and Fangio said this week that he believes his old-school offensive coordinator is a good fit for Denver’s fresh faces.
“Yes, I do. I think Pat’s a great fit,” Fangio said. “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. I think he’s got a calm demeanor. He has been doing a good job of mixing our run/pass plays on the early downs, both what type of runs we’ve run and short, intermediate, and deep throws.
“I think it’s been a learning process for all guys. The players learning the system and Pat learning our players and what’s the best formula, what’s the best approach with the guys we have. I’m excited about what Pat can bring to us moving forward.”
What about Miller, who missed the entire season with a freak ankle injury?
The Broncos have a club option that must be exercised by the first day of the new league year in March that would guarantee him $7 million. Miller is due $17.5 million in salary in 2021, the final year of his seven-year, $114 million contract he signed months after his Super Bowl 50 MVP performance.
“I’m sure I’ll be asked that, and I like Von,” Fangio said Friday about whether he’ll give Elway his input. “I think one of the most disappointing things of this season was when he went down, because I really, really thought he was going to have a really good season for us and for himself.
“He put a lot of time and effort into the offseason. He had a great vision and focus, and I think if he does the same thing this offseason that he did last offseason, that he can get back to that same point.”