Vance Joseph has been given another year.
And that’s all he’s been given.
Joseph survived a 5-11 season. He survived despite being hugely unpopular among Bronco fans. He survived the last Sunday of 2017 when just about everyone believed he would be fired.
Now, Joseph must deliver. If the Broncos don’t climb to at least nine wins in 2018, Joseph will not be given 2019.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall spoke Sunday for just about everyone associated with the Broncos. And I’m talking coaches, players, execs and fans.
“I think the season in general is a sad story,” Marshall said. “We just couldn’t get it done a lot of times this year in all phases. It was just kind of sad. It is not like us.”
Marshall is correct, in a way. The Broncos have won more than five games 25 times since 1990. The norm for the franchise is high above this season’s futility.
But in a crucial way, the Broncos of 2017 were similar to the Broncos of 2016: The offense was weak, especially when it mattered most.
In 2016, the Broncos finished 22nd in the NFL in points scored but that number is deceptive. In the final five games of the season, the Broncos averaged 13.4 points. (Even the 1-15 Browns averaged 16 points.) During three season-killing weeks in December, the Broncos scored only 23 points total against the Titans, Patriots and Chiefs.
It was a sonic boom warning for this season, but no one paid attention. A mighty defense could not rescue a weakling offense at the end of 2016, and we endured an even more extreme version of the horror show in 2017.
A year ago, I didn’t understand why John Elway and the Broncos chose Vance Joseph over Kyle Shanahan. The Broncos offense was broken, and Shanahan was an offensive mastermind. Joseph specialized in defense, and the Broncos already had Wade Phillips, a defensive genius.
Since then, Joseph has done little – close to nothing – to cause me to understand his hiring. The Broncos weren’t going to earn a playoff spot this season. The roster is filled with gaping holes, almost all on the offensive side.
But the Broncos shouldn’t have tumbled to 11 losses.
Elway must rebuild his roster in the offseason. He must find a quarterback. Some are suggesting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. I’d suggest searching instead among underachieving or overlooked quarterbacks currently on NFL rosters. The chances of Mayfield being ready next season are remote.
Beyond remote, really. Even a quarterback destined for NFL greatness is seldom ready for dominance in his first season.
Elway in the past tense has been magnificent. For the past two years, Elway has not even approached mediocrity. Starting today and stretching into late August, Elway must prove himself again as a roster builder.
And Joseph must then prove he’s a worthy head coach in the fall.