DENVER -- Hope finally floats again.
With a straight face, the Broncos can talk optimistically about the upcoming season after winning four of their final five games. It left them with a winning home record and a meaningful road victory over Houston.
The success camouflaged an unsettling truth: the offense averaged 21.8 points during this stretch. It's OK. But OK, as we know from a popular TV commercial, is not good enough.
This point was driven home as I crunched numbers in advance of free agency and the draft. I understand the argument for those wanting the Broncos to build the offensive line -- strength from the inside out. I get it. But the reality is the Broncos allowed five sacks over their final five games. They can go Oline, but don't need to force it in the first round of the draft with a tackle if too many go off the board early and free agency at guard. Again, I respect those who believe otherwise, especially as it relates to boosting the running game.
Here are my reasons why the Broncos chasing Amari Cooper in free agency -- if the Dallas Cowboys don't place a transition tag on him -- and drafting a burner like Henry Ruggs III remains critical to success.
Where adjectives fail, numbers succeed. The Broncos averaged 17.6 points last season, ranking 28th. Why? They were awful in the second half, ranking 28th in third quarter scoring and 30th in the fourth. Once they finished the script, they too often faded to black, leaving coach Vic Fangio, who clearly has more say in matters a year into the job as general manager John Elway trusts and values his input, to fire Rich Scangarello and hire new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Shurmur aims to bring more variety to the passing game and a plethora of deep strikes. I remain bullish on quarterback Drew Lock. He brings confidence and leadership, and has humility to take coaching and learn from teammates and, of course, mentor Peyton Manning.
The Broncos' passing game needs better.
Denver's 194.7 yards per game finished 28th overall, a spot befitting a horizontal attack. The Broncos attempted 17 passes of 21-plus yards in the air for three touchdowns. Compare that to the Chiefs, who posted 33 such passes for 14 scores. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes is the primary reason, but let's not sleep on his weapons. He can punish defenses all over the field, in particular with tight end Travis Kelce and burner Tyreek Hill.
This is why the Broncos must be bold at receiver as they tweak their roster in free agency -- that hits first on March 16 -- and the draft on April 23-25 in Las Vegas.
Cooper, who turns 26 in June, brings explosiveness and production. He has eclipsed 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons. He averages seven scores per year, and can run deep and intermediate routes that would force teams to show reluctance in doubling Courtland Sutton with a safety over the top. Cooper's ability to use the entire route tree would also open the middle of the field for second-year tight end Noah Fant.
Lock is solid. For him to take a step forward, he requires help. Cooper could land a contract for roughly five-year, $95-million plus. It's hard to digest, but remember the Broncos could have as much as $75 million to spend and have devoted the bulk of their money to the defense since Manning retired.
As I have said repeatedly on the radio and other social media platforms, receiver and cornerback are positions I expect the Broncos to double up on in free agency and the draft. This is a response to the Chiefs. You need speed to score against them and equal amounts of nitromethane to cover them.
With Dallas last season, Cooper made a difference in the passing game, and he clearly helped the learning curve of quarterback Dak Prescott. The Cowboys attempted 28 passes of 21-plus yards in the air with nine touchdowns. The Giants had 10 touchdowns in this area a year ago under Shurmur and Broncos new quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. Jets receiver Robby Anderson has also been mentioned, but I don't see the Broncos pursuing him.
Denver is using its fifth coordinator in five seasons. It has led to a bit of an Island of Misfit Toys because of tweaks in the scheme. No one questions Shurmur's knowledge and experience. But you know what makes a good playcaller? Good players.
The Broncos need more of them. They must be open -- and I believe they will -- to adding a receiver in free agency and early in the draft.