INDIANAPOLIS -- John Elway arrived at the NFL Combine with a sense of calm. No longer is he searching behind potted plants for the Denver Broncos next quarterback.
The roulette wheel stopped at seven last season. Drew Lock is the future. And while Elway admitted he would talk to Tom Brady if he becomes a free agent he made it clear he is happy with Lock. Tuesday, he offered his most effusive praise of the former Missouri star, who is the team's seventh starter since Peyton Manning retired following the Super Bowl 50 victory.
"I thought talent-wise, he could make all the throws. He could adjust his arm angle and do all the different things. He's athletic enough to move around, make plays and throw the ball on the run. Physically, I thought he was as good as anyone coming out last year," Elway said when I asked what impressed him about Lock's 4-1 run as the starter. "Now, the big question is always what's inside? That's the hardest part of the position, figuring that out. I think Drew's got that. So far, he's got that 'it' factor. He's got the confidence to play the position."
So what would Elway do if Brady is available -- the same Brady he said he hopes spends his entire career with the Patriots?
"We’d always talk to him," Elway said. "But I think that we’re happy with what we have with Drew.”
Lock impressed teammates and coaches during his five-week audition. He threw for 1,020 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. More salient, he showed leadership, caffeinating the offense with his energy and "hunger to get better," as left guard Dalton Risner put it. With Lock in place, the plan is clear. The Broncos need to treat him like a Christmas tree and put some more toys around him.
Elway said they would like to add a playmaker, and coach Vic Fangio admitted there's a balance between finding one in the draft or free agency. Regardless, the Broncos need to be more aggressive.
“I think it’s always good to have some young, dynamic wide receivers. We’re always looking for all those. Obviously, Courtland (Sutton)’s in that class. (Tight end Noah) Fant’s going to be better. Again, we’re always going to try and surround the quarterback with people that he can be successful with and also protect him," Elway said. "There’s a deep class at wide receiver this year so we’ll continue to hopefully get better there too."
Receivers CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III and Laviska Shenault all admitted Tuesday they were intrigued at the prospect of joining the Broncos. Lamb faced off against Sutton in high school, and called him a star. Ruggs, a burner who hopes to run a 4.2 40 here, met with the Broncos. And Shenault, viewed by many as a slot receiver and running threat like San Francisco's Deebo Samuel, is good friends with Von Miller and former CU star Phillip Lindsay.
"I think it's not a comparison in this wide receiver class. I think I stand out in a way others don't," Shenault said. "I think it would be interesting (to play for the Broncos). I think it would be fun to play with some people I have been around a bunch. I know they would show me the way to live life better and show me the way to get on the field and be great."
Offensively, the Broncos swim in question marks. Their offensive line will undergo another makeover. Ron Leary, his time in Denver undermined by injuries, will not be back, with Elway admitting he will not pick up the right guard's contract option. Center Connor McGovern is a free agent, and the team would like to keep him either at center or guard, price willing. That leaves the returning starters as left tackle Garett Bolles -- Elway will not decide whether to pick up Bolles' fifth-year option until after the draft -- Risner and maligned right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who was limited to 63 snaps last season because of a torn MCL and damaged meniscus in his left knee but won't require surgery, per Fangio.
"It was like the commercial," Fangio said of the offensive line play. "It was just OK. But OK is not good enough."
The Broncos believe this is one of the deepest receiver classes. So they could sign a free agent -- Amari Cooper anyone? -- and use a second or third-round pick on a wideout (Perhaps K.J. Hill?) and take a grunt up front with the 15th overall selection. Cornerback remains a priority in the draft and free agency. With Chris Harris Jr.'s future uncertain, the Broncos could be in play for someone like's Florida's C.J. Henderson or a big-ticket item like Byron Jones. Elway explained that he has interest in keeping Harris, Shelby Harris and Derek Wolfe, but is willing to let them test the market. That makes it more likely that the Harrises find bigger offers and Wolfe, who wants to retire a Bronco, might too. The Broncos are expected to meet with the players' agents near the end of this week. Elway believes defensive linemen can be found in this year's free agent crop.
Notably, there is humility when Elway discusses the Broncos. A Type-A personality, Elway has struggled through the past four years as the Broncos have failed to reach the playoffs and posted three straight losing records. There is hope -- stability with Fangio and Lock is a big reason -- but the validation comes only from results.
"I am tempering it because I have been excited the last few years, too, and it's been a disappointment," Elway said. "I am cautiously optimistic about what our possibilities are and what we can do. I feel pretty good about where we are as an organization. And this is an exciting time because it's the start of the offseason, and we have a chance to improve."
Simmons, McManus, Davis staying put
Elway believes the team can reach a longterm deal with safety Justin Simmons. But if not, he will be franchise tagged. ... Elway said he will pick up the 2020 contract options on kicker Brandon McManus and linebacker Todd Davis. ... Fangio said cornerback Bryce Callahan feels better from his second foot surgery, saying he's ahead of where he was this time a year ago. Callahan missed the entire 2019 season and had a new screw inserted in his foot a few months ago after the first one didn't take. ... There is a possibility the Broncos add a free agent inside linebacker to help in coverage. Fangio, however, said the Broncos could play with six defensive backs more next year as a way to address the issue. ... Elway's preference is to have a veteran backup behind Drew Lock. Joe Flacco has not been ruled out, but is an unlikely option. He doesn't play the same style, and has not been medically cleared after hurting his neck last October.