The Denver Broncos are at an interesting crossroads as we head toward the 2021 NFL Draft later this month.
What new GM George Paton does at the quarterback position will speak volumes about what the new brass thinks about Drew Lock and how his future might unfold in Denver.
Do the Broncos trade up in the draft to snag one of the top signal-callers by, say, moving up to No. 4 overall? If one of the top QBs falls to No. 9, where the Broncos sit, does Paton pull the trigger? Or will Denver simply add a veteran to compete with Lock this year, perhaps a player like Teddy Bridgewater, whom Paton helped draft in Minnesota years ago?
The questions about the future at the QB position are paramount because the incumbent hasn't locked down the job. Lock's rollercoaster 2020 season left queries about whether he is the future or simply John Elway's final miss at the position before stepping into the organization's shadows.
Lock owns the arm talent to be an NFL starting quarterback, but struggled far too much last season with poor decision-making and forcing off-platform throws.
It's a critical offseason for Lock. Depending on the type of competition Paton brings in, it could be the 24-year-old's final chance to prove he can be the long-term solution. To that end, Lock is apparently getting more tutoring from Denver's last great QB: Peyton Manning.
"Peyton Manning is a big fan of Drew Lock," Risner said on The Matt Lombardo Show. "Him and Drew have been doing a lot of work this offseason and watching film. If he's on board with Drew, I've been on board with Drew, too. It's been fun."
It's not new for Manning to work in some time to aid a young signal-caller. The former Colts and Broncos great has done so for years with an array of quarterbacks. Given Manning's connection to Denver, it's notable that he'd have conversations with Lock in such a pivotal offseason, even if unsurprising.
Risner, who was drafted one pick before Lock in the second round of the 2019 draft, has often gone to bat for his draftmate. Risner again said he hopes Lock proves his worth this offseason and is the man under center Week 1.
"I hope it's Drew, I'll shoot you straight," Risner told Lombardo. "I hope it's Drew Lock. I've got a lot of faith in Drew Lock. One thing that we don't think about is, you look at some of these great quarterbacks and how much it took them to develop -- they didn't just become a great quarterback. I sat down with Peyton Manning a few weeks ago. We talked about how rough his first few seasons were. Look at Patrick Mahomes. He sat the bench the first year. I mean, there's a lot of guys that become elite quarterbacks. It takes them a year or two in the league. The league's different.
"I could tell you right now, my job is hard as hell and I wouldn't trade my job to be a quarterback in the NFL for a day. I wouldn't do it because they have the hardest job in the league -- one of the hardest jobs in the world to perform in front of everybody. And if anything goes wrong, they're the easy scapegoat. It's Drew Lock's fault ... But Drew's my quarterback. I've got a lot faith in him. I think he's a competitor. I think that last year was the first full year he played. You could treat that as one of Peyton Manning's first years or the year Patrick Mahomes sat on the bench, whatever. It was a learning year for Drew. So, obviously, we know this is a huge year. We need to have a better season than 5-11. Man, you might need to record this interview and save it in your files because I sure hope here in six months, you're like, 'Dude, you were right.' Because that's what I'm banking on."
Last offseason, Elway spent a ton of capital trying to put Lock in the best position to succeed. The injury to star wideout Courtland Sutton took some shine off that effort, but the Broncos still owned the firepower to buffer the QB.
With weapons on offense and a still-stout defense, the biggest question in Denver to leaping back into the AFC West competition remains at quarterback. Whether Lock can be that answer remains to be seen.
Paton has said multiple times that he wants to bring in competition for Lock this year, but the Broncos won't force the issue. How that unfolds in the coming weeks will tell us unequivocally how the new GM feels about Lock's future in Denver.