Vic Fangio is inheriting a Denver Broncos team that just suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the Nixon administration.
Bouncing back immediately from two subpar years under Vance Joseph will be tricky. Denver still doesn’t have a QB of the future on the roster, needs help on the offensive line and must regain the defensive identity that propelled the Broncos to a Super Bowl title in 2015.
All that can’t be solved in one offseason, but the 60-year-old Fangio is not preaching patience in Denver.
“If I say I’m not going to be patient, you and everybody else will think I’m going to make some knee-jerk short-term decisions that won’t have long-term benefits,” Fangio explained to The Gazette’s Woody Paige. “What we’ve got to do, I believe, is let’s go out there and evaluate this team, find out where we need help. Make some good choices for the future, not just for today, if I’m making sense. I’m not looking to go 4-12 or 5-11, thinking that we’re rebuilding. But we must realize that two years from now, three years, that what we did in the 2019 season was why we are at that point.”
To take the Broncos from mediocrity back to respectability, Fangio intends to draw from wisdom learned in Chicago, where he was the defensive coordinator for four seasons under John Fox and Matt Nagy.
“Here’s what happened to the Bears before I got there. What they were doing was putting Band-Aids on every little problem, hoping they would be a good team the next year,” Fangio explained. “By the time we got there, they sucked. They were old, no young talent, no nothing. I’ve coached on two expansions teams in Carolina and with the Texans, and our roster on defense when I was hired (by the Bears) was worse than those expansion team defenses.
“We can’t let that happen here. We can’t do everything to just get to 8-8 now and be 3-13 in 2021. Does that mean that we won’t get a veteran in free agency that will help us for a year or two? We can do that. But we can’t go and throw a bunch of (stuff) against the wall and hope it sticks.”
In the two seasons prior to Fangio getting to Chicago, the Bears ranked in the bottom three in scoring and total defense under Marc Trestman. Under Fangio, the unit improved steadily every year until in 2018 with the additions of Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, the final pieces in the front seven, the Bears ranked first in points allowed, first in takeaways and third in yards allowed.
Key to Chicago’s return to the postseason in 2018 was finding a quarterback to build around, as well. With the Bears, it was second-overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, a prospect so well regarded by the front office that it traded up one spot to draft him.
Will the Broncos, who are picking 10th in this year’s draft, do something similar?
“Do we go for a high draft choice and find out he’s not what we’d hope he’d be, or throw a ton of money for somebody (a veteran), and he turns not to be worth it?” Fangio asked. “We have to be smart.”
Keenum, signed just one season ago on a two-year deal, was regarded as one of those “Band-Aids,” a stop-gap option who, by himself, will neither tank your season nor get you far in the postseason. Before Keenum in the post-Peyton Manning era, there was Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, two Band-Aids and a bust.
The Broncos are a prime candidate, one of the few this offseason, to try to improve at the quarterback position in free agency and in the draft, and that could entail peeling Keenum away from the team.
Fangio doesn’t see himself as a patch, but instead a fixture in the organization long-term. Quick turnaround or not in 2019, the first-time head coach is in it for the long haul.
“Yes, 10 years would be a good number,” the coach said of how long he’d ideally keep coaching. “I don’t feel any different now that I did when I was with the Saints (in 1986). I don’t work any different. I just don’t run as quick as I did from drill to drill when I was younger. And I’m working harder than I did.
“I haven’t lost my stinger.”