DENVER — Dalton Risner knows Drew Lock as well as any member of the Broncos. The two became fast friends during rookie mini-camp two years ago. Risner admired how Lock called out plays and recorded them into the notes app on his phone at night after practice. He watched him evolve from an injured rookie to a starter with Buzz Lightyear celebrations as he posted a 4-1 record.
Then came the hard part. Repeating success.
Nothing went as planned last season. Lock went 4-9, missed time with a right shoulder issue, took longer than expected to gain traction in Pat Shurmur's offense, tied for the league lead in interceptions (15) and bottomed out with the lowest completion percentage (57.3, down from 64.1 as a rookie).
Risner believes in Lock. He's been working out with him five days a week for much of the offseason. He remains convinced a second year in the same system will pay huge benefits as Lock can analyze film of himself in the offense.
"I think it can help a lot. I just had a conversation with Drew the other day about it. His first year he went 4-1, and then we switched up a lot of the offense. A lot. Especially for Drew. I think the whole year he was trying to get a grip on that and figure it out," Risner said. "I don't make excuses for him. I just think it will be great to have Shurmur again so he can really focus on his craft."
General manager George Paton and Broncos coach Vic Fangio have not bailed on Lock, but both indicated he must improve, explaining Denver's wandering eye this offseason. For Paton, that means bringing in competition. Broncos fans would rejoice if it involved the pipe dream scenario of acquiring Houston's Deshaun Watson — an MVP-caliber player — but Houston has not made him available. And there's no indication the Texans will budge before the draft.
As such, the Broncos must be prepared to add a veteran when the free agent legal tampering period begins Monday with new contracts permitted to be signed Wednesday at 2 p.m., marking the start of the new league year.
I have written repeatedly, discussed on air for Denver7 and 104.3 The Fan that the most realistic scenario for the Broncos is to bring in a veteran to push or even supplant Lock. But who? Let's take a look at the options:
Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys, 33
Dalton is a game-manager with high football IQ. A three-time Pro Bowler, he projects as somebody to keep the seat warm, but remains capable of winning games. He went 4-5 for the Cowboys last season with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The case for Dalton is simple: He is capable of beating out Lock, and provides protection if Lock is injured -- which he has been each of his first two seasons -- or ineffective. He also figures to command somewhere between $7-to-8 million over one year or $14 million over two, a reasonable investment that can be moved on from easily.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears, 26
The Bears desperately need a quarterback and have shown zero interest in keeping Trubisky. Of course that should concern a future employer. However, the NFL is littered with stories where a fresh start revives a career, most recently with Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee. Paton appears ready to trend younger as he rebuilds the Broncos' roster through the draft and free agency. Trubisky is three years older than Lock. Trubisky has shown the ability to win, compiling a 29-21 record, but frustrating fans with his inability to play well against good teams. Trubisky connected on 16 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season, but was benched in favor of Nick Foles. He is serviceable, probably more as a backup, and boasts an upside. Broncos coach Vic Fangio worked with Trubisky in Chicago, and Trubisky owned a 5-2 record against Paton's former Vikings team. If Trubisky stays affordable -- two-year, $12-$15 million -- a flier could make sense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins, 38
Fitzpatrick is not a quarterback, he's an experience. Fitzmagic waves wands and flicks pixie dust (Just ask the Raiders). It only seems like he has played for every NFL team. He has aged well, finding a niche as a proven backup and a capable reliever. He plans to play this season, and Denver is expected to have some interest. The former Harvard star went 4-3 in seven starts for the Dolphins last season, losing his job to Tua Tagovailoa despite playing well. He took over for the rookie on multiple occasions, including during the second half at Denver. Fitzpatrick could be a good fit on a one-year deal. It would give Fangio an option if Lock slumps -- Jeff Driskel was a mess last year outside of his bullpen performance at Pittsburgh -- and there is no need to commit much money even if there is competition for Fitzpatrick. Ideally, he can be signed for one-year between $6-$8 million.
Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers, 28
Paton knows Bridgewater from his days in Minnesota. He is a leader, a player of high character. However, he doesn't move the needle, posting stats similar to a more expensive Case Keenum. He played arguably his best game last season against the Broncos -- completing 30 of 40 passes for 283 yards. However, Carolina is openly trying to move on from Bridgewater, a telling sign, after he boasted 15 touchdowns with 11 picks. He is owed $17 million this season. Any trade for Bridgewater would have to include a reworking of his contract. I would not give up picks and mess with his salary given the other available options. If a player like Bridgewater is desired, the Broncos would be better off pursuing Alex Smith as a free agent where no draft pick acquisition is required.