The Denver Broncos are a quarterback away from contending

Sep 26, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos general manager George Paton before the game against the New York Jets at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos found themselves in the middle of a real playoff run. The team is 7-7 after a tough loss to fellow playoff hopeful Cincinnati Bengals.

The team’s clear improvement this year over the past few seasons does not stop conversations about the hole at quarterback.

Before the 2021 NFL Draft, Denver shopped for veteran quarterbacks such as Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. Neither deal worked out for general manager George Paton and the Broncos.

However, the Broncos’ connection to big-name quarterbacks has not stopped. Just a few weeks ago, reports surged suggesting Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson.

There is no question the quarterback is the most important position in professional sports. Having an elite play caller is often correlated to the success of an offense and the outlook for the team’s success.

The NFL’s top seeds are all teams with accomplished franchise quarterbacks or at least one that is headed in that direction (Packers, Cardinals, Buccaneers, and Chiefs).

If the Broncos can muster enough to reach the playoffs, it is because everything fell into place. The current model calls for suffocating defense, a flawless kicking game, a punishing rushing attack, and a passing game that does just enough. So far that plan has not worked consistently for Denver.

The path to a Super Bowl is littered with have-nots. Those who hold up the Lombardi Trophy are usually the teams with superb quarterback play.

This offseason the Broncos will look to move from a playoff bubble this season to a Super Bowl contender moving forward.

Denver is one of the few teams that believe they are a quarterback away from being an elite team in the NFL.

But is that assessment accurate?

Not many teams acquire a quarterback and moved from a middling team to a Super Bowl contender in one offseason. Here is how this team compares to two teams who went from hovering around .500 to contending for a championship

Reviewing the last two teams that were truly a quarterback away, the 2011 Broncos and 2019 Buccaneers

To land a franchise quarterback, Denver first must accurately assess it’s current roster. If the team is not in a championship window, Paton may lean towards finding a young quarterback in the 2022 draft.

Over the last decade, two teams sat in a similar position as the Broncos and elevated with the acquisition of a quarterback. Those two teams were the 2011 Denver Broncos and the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 2011 Broncos famously rode the back of a solid defense, a strong running game, and the magic of Tim Tebow.

That version of the Broncos finished the season 8-8, powered by the NFL’s top rushing attack.

The roster was flooded with young talent. From the late, great Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the outside to a young and talented offensive line with All-Pro left tackle, Ryan Clady.

Defensively, the team had a veteran group led by Hall of Famers safety Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey. Rookie Von Miller burst on the scene to compliment Elvis Dumervil.

Famously, then-general manager John Elway snagged Peyton Manning the next offseason and instantly raised all boats. The Broncos would go on to win at least 12 games in each of the next four seasons while appearing in two championships and winning Super Bowl 50.

The 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the year with the league’s No. 1 offense. Powered by a dynamic set of receivers and Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and a young up-and-coming offensive line.

Defensively, boasted a young but underachieving group. The defense ranked 29th in the NFL in 2019. Just a year later, Tampa added Tom Brady and saw their offense remain potent, ranking third while seeing the defense reach eight out of 32 in points scored against. The 2020 team would win the Super Bowl and is currently own the best odds per the Fanduel Superbook.

So how does this group of Broncos stack up to two teams that were truly just a quarterback away?

How Denver’s current situation match the 2011 Broncos and 2019 Buccaneers

One thing is clear, the Broncos do not have a quarterback to build around. Bridgewater does not have the skill set to threaten defenses and Drew Lock lacks the consistency to keep his team in good positions.

The two aforementioned teams were truly a franchise quarterback away. The additions of an elite quarterback catapulted the early 2012 Broncos and last year’s Buccaneers to the NFL’s peak.

The current Broncos roster compares favorably to rosters of the past.

Defensively, before Sundays matchup the 2021 Broncos ranks second in points per game, seventh in yards allowed, ninth against the pass, and 10th against the run.

The difference between the Broncos roster from a decade ago is the youth this year’s team possesses.

The Broncos have young playmakers on all three levels of the defense. Dre’Mont Jones, Baron Browning, Patrick Surtain II, and Justin Simmons are all playmakers who are set to be with the team for years to come.

Offensively, the 2021 Broncos have a young and talented offensive line who seems to be gelling at the right time. This sits right in line with the situations Brady and Manning walked into.

Finally, Denver has a talented group of playmakers. The decision to lock up Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick provides the Broncos with a deep group of skilled players. All of which have different sets of skill sets and are being wasted with the current quarterback situation.

Overall the Broncos roster seems set and ready for a quarterback to lead the way. When you add Denver’s abundance of cap space, $49,941,784 to be exact, and five top-100 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft this team truly is one player away from Super Bowl contention.

This team is as equipped as any in the league to nab their franchise quarterback this offseason. With a top-tier roster per the likes of CBS Sports and PFF, Paton should feel confident these Broncos are just a quarterback away and set his sights on the likes of Wilson or Rodgers to elevate this team like Manning’s Broncos or Brady’s Buccaneers.

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