ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Change is unavoidable in the NFL.
Each year, a team's roster turns over, and it's not rare for a team to feature dozens of new players compared to the previous year's roster.
That will likely be no different in Denver, where a slew of players are set to become free agents following the 2021 season. And that expected and unavoidable change is part of what makes the Broncos' likely lack of a postseason berth more difficult for safety Justin Simmons to stomach.
"Every year your roster changes, whether you want it to or not," Simmons said Wednesday. "And I feel like we had a pretty special team to really make something happen. The final nail is not in the coffin, but the odds certainly aren't in our favor. And so it's just disappointing. You always want to take advantage of the opportunity when it's in front of you, and unfortunately that's something we did not do this year and especially in games when we needed to the most."
If the Broncos are eliminated from the postseason race this weekend or next — Denver needs nine games to go its way over the following two weeks — they'll begin to look ahead to the 2022 season. And while there will undoubtedly be change that follows, Simmons said he believes in the core pieces that will remain in Denver.
Those foundational pieces — Justin Simmons, Pat Surtain II, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Bradley Chubb, Garett Bolles, Dre'Mont Jones, Shelby Harris and Javonte Williams to name just a few — will remain in Denver. That core group of players, which doesn't include a slew of other talented players who will return to the Broncos in 2022, has given Simmons faith for the future.
"I really feel like foundationally, something positive has been built," Simmons said. "We've had a lot of meaningful games in December this year, and obviously we fell short and by no means is that acceptable or we have moral victories saying, 'Hey, this year we took a step in the right direction.' But there are some positives that you can continually build on. I think we're getting the right guys around the building, and I think just building this thing year after year, those are the little things in my opinion that help you with your success on the field. And so, this year's by no means over for us yet, but I am looking forward to a lot of the positives that have been like foundation-setting changes."
Simmons, Head Coach Vic Fangio, Surtain and Drew Lock all spoke Wednesday about the need to continue to build that foundation over the final two weeks of the season, even as the team's playoff hopes seem bleak.
"We have a group of really good fighters and great competitors, and they've shown that all year," Fangio said Wednesday. "I think we can expect to see that again."
Simmons echoed that sentiment, and he noted the importance of the final two games.
"We still have a chance to close the season out about .500, which since my first year we haven't had the chance to do," Simmons said. "Last but not least, they're both division games, so it adds a little something extra. … Both those games are super important, they're always circled on the calendar. Obviously you'd like to be playing for a spot in the playoffs or holding a spot in the playoffs, but you don't need too many more reasons to go out there and do your job."
REMEMBERING JOHN MADDEN
Hall of Fame coach and legendary broadcaster John Madden passed away Tuesday at the age of 85, and Fangio spoke at length about his respect for one of the most influential people in the NFL's history.
Fangio, who called Madden "an icon in the NFL," said the former Raiders coach had a great deal of respect for the game of football.
"I never have played Madden," Fangio said. "I've never played any video games for that matter, but John transcended a lot of things. Obviously, his successes as a coach — a lot of this new generation [are] not even aware that he was a coach. He had a love for football and a care for football that just permeated through him all the time. He cared for the game, he cared for the players, and he cared for the coaches. He just wanted the league to always do the right thing all the time. I know he had a major influence in the league office on many matters."
As Lock prepares for what will likely be his second start of the season, he continued to emphasize that he's not concerned with proving to the organization that he deserves to be a long-term starter.
"I think the most important thing is to show the guys around me, as far as players, the offensive line, the tight ends, the wide receivers, the defense and to show myself," Lock said. "Whether or not the Broncos look at it in whatever light they may, that's up to them. That's talk for after the season. It's really on my mind to go out and play this game well, get a win for this for this team, this state, for this organization. Then whatever it may be as far as analyzing my play, we'll let that ride until the end of this year."
Lock avoided turnovers in his first start and made some solid throws off play-action, but the offense will look to improve off a performance in which they recorded eight first downs and were just 1-of-10 on third down.
"I'd just like to see our offense improve, which Drew is a major part of," Fangio said. "We have to throw it better and more efficiently and complete more balls. Our first- and second-down operation has to be better, both in the run and pass. We need to get some balance back into our offense, both equally effective whether running or throwing."