ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos put a lackluster bow in Week 17 on a numbingly disappointing and often maddening 5-11 season. It followed seasons of 7-9, 6-10, 5-11 and 9-7 since a Super Bowl 50 win that grows exponentially smaller in the rearview mirror with each passing year.
In the wake of all that on-field disappointment, John Elway, who has called the football shots for the team since 2011, stepped away from his role Monday. Citing a mix of being 60, having grandchildren, seeing more people in more places and, yes, the inability of the Broncos to snap their now five-year playoff drought, Elway moved aside.
While Elway remains as team president of football operations, it is newly-minted general manager George Paton who now has the football keys to what has long been a landmark franchise in the NFL. The first decisions Paton faces will also be among the biggest he will make in 2021.
His to-do list will include:
What to do with Lock
Coach Vic Fangio has said he wants quarterback Drew Lock to get to work in this offseason, repairing all that needs to be repaired to cut down on his league-leading interception total as well a league-worst completion percentage.
Fangio has said he sees progress in Lock's play, and Elway threw his support in that direction as well at season's end.
"I still have high hopes for Drew," Elway said. "... I think he's got potential to be a very, very good quarterback in this league, and play in this league, and lead teams to victories. ... I think this offseason will be a chance for Drew to dig in and work hard, which I know he will, and see if he can make the necessary strides to be able to be that guy."
Ultimately, the new general manager's feelings on Lock will dictate what the draft looks like, what free agency looks like and what the plan for 2021 and beyond looks like at the position. But two of the guys involved in the interviews for the job -- Elway and Fangio -- believe in Lock, if Lock rolls up his sleeves this offseason.
Fangio in Year 3
Fangio is not only staying on in 2021, he had a voice in the decision to hire Paton, who now has control over the players Fangio coaches.
Fangio knows football players and he has seen plenty of them, but he also knows his own development as a head coach -- an opportunity he waited more than 30 years in the NFL to get -- requires plenty of self-examination. Particularly when it comes to game management.
The Broncos used timeouts when they shouldn't have at times, and Fangio shouldn't escape a review following a 5-11 season.
People steal Fangio's X's and O's all the time -- he's of that lofty status as a defensive mind -- but his ability to move with the Broncos into the long-term future will rest in how the job goes when he isn't calling the defensive plays. A new GM has to help him get there.
"I think Vic came a long way this year, [but] when you don't win, the mistakes get pointed out and emphasized," Elway said. "There were some mistakes that he made, and I think he'd be the first one to say that those were mistakes that he made, and he'll learn from those. Vic is a very intelligent guy and he will adjust and learn from those mistakes.
"I look at what went on, and the different things he had to deal with this year away from football were 10 times what he'd normally have to deal with. To get him back on a schedule ... and understanding what it is to be the head coach and learning how to delegate his time and spend his time in different areas. I think he'll get better."
Von Miller's future
On the business side, 2021 is the final year of the blockbuster $114.5 million deal linebacker Von Miller signed in 2016, a few months after he put nice, sparkly Super Bowl rings on everybody's fingers. There is a team option in the deal for '21 that, if the Broncos do not exercise it, could put one of the franchise's most decorated players into the open market.
The option must be exercised by the first day of the new league year in March -- the day free agency opens -- for Miller to remain and would guarantee $7 million of his 2021 base salary.
Immediately following the season, Elway said he would have input on the decision with the new GM, adding: "We'd love to have Von finish his career here. He's been a great Bronco for a long, long time, and that will be one of the big decisions we have in the offseason. The goal is to get Von back and have him end his career here."
Justin Simmons' second contract
One of the more difficult items for a player in Elway's tenure as the team's general manager was to get a second contract. Even negotiations on Miller's record-setting deal in 2011 went down to the wire after Miller had been Super Bowl MVP. Many players moved on to financially-greener pastures when they hit unrestricted free agency after their rookie deal with the Broncos ran out.
Players in the Broncos locker room know what happens with safety Justin Simmons and his potential second deal may indicate what negotiating a second deal in Denver will be like moving forward.
Simmons has played every defensive snap in each of the past three season, is the team's nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year for his off-the-field work, has been named to the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All Pro in 2019.
Simmons played on the franchise player tag this season and has made no secret he'd like to stay. But the Broncos will likely need to make him among the league's highest-paid safeties to keep him.