INDIANAPOLIS — The Broncos own an 11-20 record over the past two seasons. They have missed the playoffs three consecutive years. They insist they are not in a rebuild, but it is no longer the reboot described prior to the 2017 season. Under new coach Vic Fangio, the Broncos must address multiple needs to regain traction in the AFC West.
Fangio brings an encyclopedic knowledge of defenses, his share of quirks and plenty of dry humor. He likes doing things his way, and a certain way. He doesn't suffer tardiness well. Death by inches, remember? A no-nonsense approach, the team's brass hopes, can help an underwhelming team reach its potential after a 6-6 record dissolved into a four-game, season-ending spiral that created a job opening for Fangio.
The Broncos arrived at the Combine as strangers to recent success and stability. Fangio is the team's fourth coach in six seasons. When the Joe Flacco trade transpires on March 13 — he has already been to Denver and passed his physical, flying private out and commercial back (his choice) — it will mark the franchise's fifth starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season.
How does Fangio balance a team in transition with the fans', if not his own GM's, impatience for losing?
"We are too (in win-now mode), but we just don't want to do anything to jeopardize the immediate future of the team also," Fangio said Wednesday. "You can be in a win-now mode without giving up future assets that are going to tie you up in two, three or four years from now."
Because the Flacco deal is not official, Fangio could not address the issue or even comment on what he liked about Flacco when facing him in the past. The Broncos need him to play well, and made the move because he was viewed as an upgrade over Keenum.
"I am going to delay on answering those," Fangio said.
Fangio indicated he expects receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive end Derek Wolfe to return. Both have contract options that must be exercised next month. Sanders presents problems to a defense with his speed and toughness. He ruptured his Achilles after the 12th game last season, and the Broncos must decide whether to pick up a $1.5 million option bonus by March 12. Sanders turns 32 in March. His $10.25 million salary includes no guarantees for injury, so Denver could slow play his situation into training camp, if necessary. Wolfe is a core player, one of the few remaining stalwarts from the Super Bowl 50 win. However, he has 3.5 sacks over the past two seasons after battling through wicked injuries. General manager John Elway is expected to address the futures of both Tuesday afternoon.
"No. 1, (Sanders) can still play good football. You've got to be able to play your position well. The leadership, the example and the experience, those are all icing on the cake as long as you're playing well," Fangio said. "We're looking for him to come back to the way he was playing and picking up right from there. If he can do that, then he brings other things to the table. ... (As for Wolfe), Sure. I don’t see anything changing our stance there with him.”
The Broncos' issues go beyond the quarterback position, even if it remains the most important on the field. Flacco owns a 10-5 playoff record, his wins ranking third among active quarterbacks behind Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Flacco has played 16 games in nine of his 11 seasons. His resume and lack of injuries should make him an upgrade over Keenum. But by how much? Flacco hasn't won a playoff game since 2014, and boasts a 24-27 record in that span. Simply put, he needs weapons as Ravens analyst Qadry Ismail told me recently.
"Guys in the locker room loved him, but he was at his best when he had guys like (receivers) Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin," he said.
One thing is known: Flacco is not mobile. The Broncos need improvement from their offensive line. Fangio hedged when asked about center Matt Paradis returning. He is a free agent. The Broncos and Paradis' camp had productive talks last summer, but were unable to reach a deal. Paradis, an iron man, broke his right fibula on Nov. 4, ending his streak of 3,850 consecutive snaps played. His agent will meet with the Broncos at the Combine. But if he attracts top dollar on the open market, he will not be back in Denver.
"We definitely would like him back, but John can give you more details on that when he's (talking on Tuesday)," Fangio said.
The Broncos could use Connor McGovern at center, but they still have a void at right tackle. Jared Veldheer is a free agent. He was solid when healthy, but there's no guarantee he returns. That could lead to Billy Turner getting re-signed — there's interest on both sides — or another free agent play. The Broncos need more consistency from Garett Bolles. The former first-round pick has shown flashes of brilliance, but has struggled with penalties in pass blocking.
This is where new offensive line coach Mike Munchak comes in.
"Mike can make a big difference for him. Again, with the o-line, the biggest thing is getting all five guys working together as one, and having the trust and confidence in the guy next to you that you guys are working together as one seamlessly," Fangio said. "Mike has a way of getting that done, and I'm very confident that Mike will help Garett a lot."
Fangio seemed comfortable in his first time through the NFL Combine carwash — podium presser, national radio, cable TV, local beat writers scrum. Nothing about him changed. He remains authentic and committed to his principles in building the Broncos. Some of his highlights Tuesday:
On Living in Denver
"Great community. The sun does shine there as much as they say it does, they didn't fib on that. They didn't tell me about my skin drying up, even my greasy Italian skin (laughing). I love it. It's been a great experience."
On playing in the Hall of Fame Game as a fifth preseason contest
"It wouldn't matter if I was open or not, I'm not part of that decision (laughs). But I do think it's probably a safe bet that we will be in it. I think every time an owner has gone in, that team has played in it. We'd be honored to do that, and to be honest with you, I look forward to it. It gives us an extra week of camp and it gives us more chance to prepare for the season and we'll use it to our advantage."
On need for multiple CBs to pair with Chris Harris Jr.
No. First off, you can never have enough of them. The biggest difference in the NFL in the last several seasons, compared to before, is teams are playing three wide receivers or more a lot. This past year in Chicago, we were in the low 80-something percent of facing three wide receivers or more on the field. So, we've got to have three corners on the field. To me, that's a big, big difference and you never have enough of them. Corners come in all shapes and sizes. I think if you only want to draft or acquire certain types of players, there just aren't enough of them. You'd better just take any corner you can get that can play the game and cover, regardless of size, speed, etc. You can't pigeonhole yourself."
On adding at inside linebacker with team expected to move on from Brandon Marshall
We need to add to that group, but I like some of the players we do have available there in Todd Davis, Josey Jewell and other players that have played in backup roles. But I'd like to see us add a player or two there to be competitive.