It took a little less than a month and five interviews, but the Denver Broncos found their man (or men). Vic Fangio gets his first crack at being an NFL head coach after 30+ years in the league as an assistant and he’ll be partnered in Denver with former Head Coach – and close confidant of GM John Elway – Gary Kubiak as the offensive coordinator.
It’s long been rumored that no matter who was hired as the head coach, Kubiak would be brought into an offensive coordinator role. It was Kubiak’s abrupt departure as the Broncos head coach due to health concerns in 2016 that opened the door for Vance Joseph to be hired, and while Kubiak has apparently improved in that department he has no intention of taking on the full workload of a head coach, wishing to focus solely on the offense. This makes him an ideal fit for Fangio.
Fangio enters Denver after leading the Chicago Bears defense to arguably the best defensive season in the NFL. They were #1 in points against, #3 in total yards per game and #3 in takeaway margin at +12. Fangio has long been considered a strong defensive mind in the league, but at 60 years old, the clock was ticking on whether he would ever get a chance at the next level. Bucking recent trends of targeting young, rising stars (a trend Elway tried with Joseph), the Broncos went the complete opposite direction by opting for decades of experience on both sides of the ball. Reports indicate that Fangio was aware that Kubiak would be the new OC and welcomed the idea so this doesn’t appear to be a shotgun marriage.
Now the real work begins for Fangio, Elway, Kubiak and the Broncos as a team and it starts with identifying and addressing the teams personnel needs on the field this off-season. What are those needs? Glad you asked.
Pretty obvious to pick this one out but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s not true. Case Keenum is a quality game manager despite what you saw in 2018. During a six-game stretch in the middle of the season where the Broncos faced the Rams, Chiefs, Steelers, Texans, Cardinals and Chargers, Keenum threw 8 TD, 3 INT with a 90.8 passer rating and 240 yards a game and Denver went 3-3. Against the toughest competition in the league, Keenum simply managed the team and let the rest of the talent do their part and the result was three wins and three games against KC, LAR and HOU where Denver lost by only one score. His skill set is what it is. He can avoid losing you games and even win an occasional contest for you (Seahawks Week 1), but he’s not going to ever put a team on his back. The Broncos need a long term solution here, but it doesn’t have to be someone who is ready to play immediately because Keenum can capably handle the team for one more season. In fact, with only Garret Grayson in the mix as a backup right now, there is a lot of room for a mid-late round draft pick to slide into a backup slot right now.
Denver’s season took it’s final turn for the worst when All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris suffered a broken leg during a Week 13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but the secondary already had some questions before that time. Bradley Roby is a free agent and while flashing upside at times, he failed to really excel as a lockdown corner outside. Brendan Langley, a 2017 3rd round pick struggled throughout his first two seasons with Broncos and safety Darian Stewart is starting to show his age at 31. Justin Simmons and Harris are quality starters and rookie Isaac Yiadom looks like a quality contributor as does safety Will Parks, but this secondary desperately needs an infusion of premium, shut down talent. Either in the form of a lockdown corner or an enforcer at safety to compliment Simmons preferred ball-hawking role. Quite frankly, it needs both.
In all fairness, losing three starters on your offensive line is tough to recover from, especially when it wasn’t a strength to begin with. That said, there are some serious questions facing the front office here and they all start with left tackle Garrett Bolles. There were, again, moments in his sophomore campaign where Bolles looked the part of a grinder, angry offensive tackle but at others he was the penalty prone, lost lamb. It’s possible the Broncos will look for a replacement early in the draft and move Bolles to the right side. The team also needs to take hard look at the interior of the line with the impending free agency of Matt Paradis, Jared Veldheer and Billy Turner. Conner McGovern and Max Garcia should have roles, but a truly dependable center and an upgrade at guard are vital. The Broncos will also probably look to offload the bloated salary of Ronald Leary who has failed to make in impact between injuries over two seasons.
Phillip Lindsay has juice, this is undeniable. The undrafted rookie ran like a bat out of hell and seized the starting running back role, but after him, and Emmanuel Sanders who turns 32 this season, the Broncos lack true playmakers on offense. Rookie big man Courtland Sutton and slot-type DaeSean Hamilton both flashed high upside potential in their first year but neither look like the electrifying, must see types. Denver needs a true head turner on the outside to force opposing defenses to respect both facets of the game. They also need a presence at tight end where injuries have derailed seemingly every young rising contributor the Broncos have tried there. With Sanders being on the wrong side of the age line and working back from an Achilles injury, this team needs a new weapon.
The list is long enough already but there are more areas where some help is needed. Rookie punter Colby Wadman managed only a 44.7/37.9 gross/net split on his punts which was well below average. Middle linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis looked slow and soft, and although rookie Josey Jewell flashed in his first campaign, the middle of the linebacking corps could use more depth. Defensive tackle has been an inconsistent spot with Domata Peko getting older and Derek Wolfe being more suited to a pass rushing role than a run stopping role. Denver will need to reinforce the front three of the 3-4 defense if they want to be successful.
At almost every position, the Broncos will be looking to improve which is normal for a 6-10 team. There’s still plenty of young talent on this team that with the right additions the Broncos could compete in 2019, but it also won’t hurt the team to take a longer approach given that they may not have a franchise QB ready to lead them until 2020. All options must remain open for Elway and company heading into this off-season. Creativity and accurate scouting is the only path forward.