At what point should the reeling Broncos start playing for next year?
Kiz: One of the ugliest words in sports? Tank. One of the last words ever associated with the Broncos? Tank. So we will try not to apply that four-letter word to this reeling NFL team. But with the odds overwhelmingly against Denver turning it around and making a late push for the playoffs, at what point should coach Vance Joseph start making personnel decisions and game-planning for 2018? And how could Joseph sell playing for next year to a frustrated locker room?
Jhabvala: I don’t think the Broncos should start tanking at any point. I do, however, think they need to fix the most glaring problems (hi, special teams) or Joseph risks losing the locker room amid growing frustrations. While it’s easy to compare this five-game slide to the one of 2011 and their dreadful season of 2010, remember this team is still loaded with talent. Quitting when you have that kind of roster sends a terrible message — to players, to future players, to fans.
Kiz: There’s a real possibility a 9-7 team will sneak in the AFC playoffs. So until the Broncos lose their eighth game, I don’t know how Joseph convinces Derek Wolfe or Demaryius Thomas that next year has become more important for this team than next week. But here’s the temptation: Stumble to a 5-11 finish and the Broncos could get a top-six choice in the NFL draft. A top-six pick could allow GM John Elway another shot at finding a franchise quarterback.
Jhabvala: Maybe. But banking on the potential of a young quarterback when we see year after year that the gaudy numbers posted in college doesn’t always translate to the pros can be dangerous. We’ve seen teams whiff on great talents. We’ve seen teams jump at the chance to grab a quarterback that seems like a great fit but turns out to be a project. Relying on the what-ifs when the Broncos have plenty of veteran talent now is a waste. Plus, the Broncos’ recent track record with offensive draft picks isn’t all that comforting.
Kiz: Maybe the worst-case scenario for the Broncos is this: They rally down the stretch, find a way to finally win against soft opposition on the road, then beat a Chiefs team that has already clinched a playoff spot in the final regular-season game to finish with an 8-8 record. It would be a hollow consolation prize, allowing Elway to believe this team is only an offseason move or two away from being a serious contender again in 2018, which would only delay the start of a major rebuilding project this roster needs.
Jhabvala: Or maybe the best-case scenario is to rally. They’ve lost five straight, and each loss was seemingly worse than the previous one. But the last ones came against two of the top teams in the league. Coming up, the Broncos face a 3-6 Bengals team, the 4-5 Raiders in Oakland, the Dolphins in Miami, the Jets at home, the Colts and Redskins on the road, and then, to end it all, the Chiefs in Denver. The majority of those, on paper, can be won. Face it: This team will be rebuilt in the offseason no matter what. They’ll likely be looking for another starting quarterback, another starting tackle, they have veterans whose contracts have outs for the team. I say finish the season with some respectability. Then make the tough decisions with the roster, maybe the coaching staff in the offseason, when the options are better.