Broncos' John Elway would 'prefer a veteran' backup behind Drew Lock

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine, Denver Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway reaffirmed his belief that Drew Lock has the potential to be the team's long-term solution at quarterback.

And to help him get there, Elway said he'd like to add a little more experience to the quarterback depth chart.

"We'll see, [but] I think I'd like to get a veteran [quarterback]," Elway said. "Just with the youth we have at the position now and somebody that can help, you know, help in that situation. ... I think I'd prefer a veteran, but we'll see what's available."

The backup quarterback has been no small concern for the Broncos in recent years. They have used seven different starters since Week 9 of the 2017 season, and over the past five years, a Broncos quarterback has started 16 games in a season just once -- Case Keenum in 2018.

The Broncos went 4-1 over their final five games in 2019 with the 23-year-old rookie behind center, and Elway and coach Vic Fangio said after the season that Lock would be the starter moving forward.

But the overall depth chart at quarterback is still a question mark. Brandon Allen, who started three games this past season, is a restricted free agent and Joe Flacco's status is uncertain as he recovers from a herniated disk in his neck to go with a $23.65 million salary-cap charge for the 2020 season.

Flacco, who went to injured reserve after eight starts this past season, underwent an MRI earlier this month and is seeking an additional medical opinion about his recovery. The Broncos could not release Flacco -- if he's not in the plans -- until he is medically cleared.

Asked Tuesday if Flacco was part of the conversation to be the team's backup, Fangio said: "I'm not sure. Joe still hasn't been medically cleared. We think he will be. Then we'll see where he's at versus where we're at moving forward."

Should he be deemed ready to return to the field, Flacco's contract, which has two years remaining, would certainly need to be addressed if the Broncos were to even consider him as Lock's backup. Elway said Tuesday he expected to have enough information to make a decision about Flacco's future with the team by the time the new league year begins March 18.

"I don't know yet -- we're still working on that ... we don't know exactly with Joe yet," Elway said. "That's always a possibility, but we'll get that figured out before the league year [opens]."

Flacco has the second-largest cap charge on the Broncos' roster for the 2020 season, behind only linebacker Von Miller. If the Broncos were to release Flacco, they would face a $13.6 million "dead money" hit on their salary cap, but they also would save just over $10 million against the cap -- so the net hit overall would be about $3 million.

Fangio said Tuesday he believed both Allen and Brett Rypien, who was signed to a futures contract earlier this year after spending his rookie season on the Broncos' practice squad, are in the backup conversation as well.

"It doesn't have to be veteran," Fangio said. "We just want to make sure we have a capable backup behind him. [Brandon] Allen may be that guy. [Rypien] may be that guy. We'll look and see what else is out there, but I don't think it has to be veteran. 'Rip' and Allen were great guys for Drew when he took over, for him to be in those meetings beside them. From that angle, those guys could fulfill that part too."

But it's all about what's best for Lock to take the jump from his rookie year and for the team to do whatever is necessary to break a four-year playoff drought. Lock finished his five starts with 1,020 yards passing with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

In the Broncos' six games last season when they scored at least 23 points, three of those came with Lock as the starter.

"Physically, I thought he was as good as anybody coming out last year," Elway said. "Now, the big question is what's inside. That's the hardest part about figuring out that position is what's inside. ... So far he's got the it factor, he's got the confidence to play the position, because as I told him, the sky's going to fall down; it's going to come caving in and it's how you handle it when it caves in. ... I feel great about Drew, but he's got a long way to go."

There is a long list of quarterbacks set to be free agents next month, a list that includes high-end starters such as Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Dak Prescott and a former No. 1 pick of the draft in Jameis Winston.

But there are several former starters or experienced backups who will be on the market, including Chase Daniel, Marcus Mariota and Matt Moore.