INDIANAPOLIS — Until Aaron Rodgers announces he’s leaving the Green Bay Packers to come play for his favorite coach Nathaniel Hackett in Denver, the Broncos must go through the motions of exploring other options.
Hackett can place a call to lure his former QB to Denver, right coach?
"Ha, ha. That’s a good little sneak in, though," Hackett said Tuesday in his sit-down interview with 9NEWS. "That’s good."
Seriously, Broncos Country, Rodgers has yet to make up his mind. There have recently been more reports hedging his return to Green Bay, his team of 17 years. This after oddsmakers and reports had been hedging his departure via trade to the Broncos.
Notice these reports only hedge. They don’t definitively declare. Nothing is certain, it seems, with the deep thinking, complicated star quarterback.
If Rodgers returns to Green Bay – which may be tied to whether his favorite receiver Davonte Adams gets a new contract extension – then the Broncos list of quarterback options could push incumbent Drew Lock further up the list. Not to the top, necessarily, but closer to it. If there is no Rodgers, and Russell Wilson doesn’t leave Seattle, and Kirk Cousins stays in Minnesota and no one in the desert can hear Kyler Murray stating his discontent, then who is the Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2022?
Jimmy Garoppolo, or Drew Lock with some time to work with his new coach? Hackett was asked what he can do to fix Lock, or elevate the quarterback’s game so that all his nice athleticism and arm strength aren’t wasted amid too many turnovers.
"I think consistency comes from the standpoint of a system," Hackett said. Indeed, Lock has been through offensive systems under Rich Scangarello, then Pat Shurmur with Hackett about to make it three offensive coordinators since he was selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. "I’ve been with a couple quarterbacks who have gone through a lot of systems and you want to implement yours, that process. It’s hard. It’s hard to have numerous different people calling plays for you. It’s hard to learn different systems, different ways to do things.
"Because as a quarterback, when you go out there you need something you can lean on. Something you believe in. When you have somebody telling you to do things different your whole career, you need something you can buy into. Just the mindset of the way I teach, the way that we built the system – because it is all about the quarterback, and adjusting it to him so they go out there and feel comfortable. That’s going to be a great start for Drew."
Problem is, Broncos general manager George Paton talked up Lock last offseason, only to have him get beat out by journeyman Teddy Bridgewater. After starting the Broncos’ first 14 games last year, Bridgewater suffered a season-ending concussion and Lock started the final three games. While Lock acquitted himself well, and enticing as a chance to work with Hackett may be, he is not the Broncos’ first choice for starting quarterback in 2022.
"It’s the most important position in sports, so we’re always looking," Paton said Tuesday at his NFL Combine press conference. "We do have Drew Lock under contract, we have (Brett Rypien). But we’re always looking. No stone unturned to find that guy. We know we need better play out of the quarterback position. So we’re going to be aggressive."
>>Video below: NFL Combine: Will the Broncos prioritize drafting a QB?
Interviewing the QB draft prospects
To begin the Combine, the Broncos were among the teams who held formal interviews Monday night with most of the top quarterback prospects. They did meet with Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who is considered the most polished in this year’s QB draft class, and Liberty’s Malik Willis, who may need a developmental year before he hits the field but also is considered to have the greatest upside.
Matt Corral, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder and Carson Strong are also included in the interchangeable top six QBs in 2022.
So what line of questioning did the Broncos use when interviewing the top QBs that may have been unique from other teams?
"I like to be, as you probably noticed, I like to be not necessarily traditional," Hackett told 9NEWS. "I think it’s how do you loosen the guys up, try to bring out who they’re real personality is? You have to understand these guys walk in, there’s probably 15 people there, everybody’s watching every move they make and they’re talking about their tape and they’re doing all kinds of different things.
"So I think it’s about trying to find out how their real personality is. You want to try to break them down a little bit, see how they can react quickly, how their demeanor is. There’s a couple techniques my father has taught me over the years to try and get that out of them."
Expect pass rusher pursuit
The buzz at the Combine is the Broncos will be looking to spend decent money on a pass rusher when the free-agent negotiating period opens in less than two weeks. While a reunion with Von Miller is unlikely, the Broncos will have enough money to buy one of the other edge rushers who are about to hit free agency, a group that will include Arizona’s Chandler Jones (10.5 sacks in 2022), the Cowboys’ Randy Gregory (6.0), the Titans’ Harold Landry (12.0), the Dolphins’ Emmanuel Ogbah (9.0) and the Browns’ Jadeveon Clowney (9.0).
There’s also a loaded group of edge rushers in the draft headed by Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.
"That’s a need," Paton told 9NEWS on Tuesday. "We have a few others. We’re excited for Bradley Chubb that he gets a full offseason where he doesn’t have to rehab. He can just work on his craft. We like the way he finished. I’m high on Malik Reed, high on Jonathon Cooper. I think when you watch these teams late in the playoffs, they all had guys who could (get the quarterback). You need three or four. Because you wave (in and out) those guys. I just think pass rush is really important especially in this league."
The Rams just won the Super Bowl on an Aaron Donald sack of Joe Burrow. The Broncos won their last Super Bowl to cap the 2015 season with four quality edge rushers in Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaq Barrett and first-round rookie Shane Ray.
Fant option would seem likely
Because the fifth-year option for tight end Noah Fant comes with a relatively affordable $6.85 million salary in 2023, it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t exercise it. After all, the Broncos picked up the $12.7 million fifth-year option for Bradley Chubb last year and Chubb was coming off an ankle injuries that require two surgeries before he could return to play at near 100 percent last year. Fant has been healthy and productive, averaging 65 catches the past two seasons.
The Broncos will no doubt wait until closer to the May 2 deadline before making their decision official.
"Noah is a talented player and we want him here a long time," Paton said.
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