Questions with offense, quarterback dashed Broncos' big expectations

DENVER -- The Denver Broncos ended the season with a 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Below average. This team was 3-1 a quarter of the way into the season and still watched it all crumble with an unproductive offense, unreliable special teams and a defense that statistically was among the league leaders, but surrendered far too many touchdowns.

Season in review: The Broncos (5-11) could never escape their quarterback issues -- they played three different quarterbacks and each of the three started at least two games and was a game-day inactive at least once during the season. That's all you need to know. Toss in repeated troubles with turnovers, consistent failures in big moments and you have the recipe for the Broncos' worst finish since 2010. First-year coach Vance Joseph even felt he had to take the uncommon step of firing his offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, during the season and McCoy was just in the first year of a three-year contract. Beyond left tackle Garett Bolles, who showed some growing pains in the lineup, the Broncos also got little impact from their rookie class along the way. But overall, as quarterback Brock Osweiler's outburst on the sideline against the Redskins showed, to largely teammates who had no reaction, the Broncos never seemed to have the kind of edge that carried them to five consecutive playoff trips, or what they had at times in last season's 9-7 finish.

Biggest play of season: Aqib Talib's 103-yard interception return for a touchdown in the closing minute of the Week 2 rout of the Cowboys was the emotional high point perhaps for both the team and the fans. The home crowd was in a frenzy as the Broncos had briefly shown the teeth on defense that had a 2015 feel to it.

He said it: "What is Bronco football? We have to find that. We have to grind and get back to whatever it is." -- Broncos linebacker Von Miller after the Dec. 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Key offseason questions

Biggest draft need: A lot of it depends on what the Broncos' real opinion is of Paxton Lynch as they move into the offseason. But the Broncos expended a first-round pick on Lynch in 2016 and this season had four players at the position they drafted, including Chad Kelly on injured reserve, and yet are still poised, having scouted the top quarterbacks in the draft with great interest, to potentially use their top pick on a quarterback once again.

Free-agency targets: The Broncos will look with great interest at the available quarterbacks and see if that kind of potential investment fits the plan. If the Redskins don't use the franchise player tag on Kirk Cousins for a third consecutive year, he's just the kind of veteran player who would be on the Broncos' radar, but they will likely be looking at the offensive line, wide receiver and inside linebacker, as well.

Hazy future: The Broncos have two front-line starters with two years remaining on their contracts in Talib and running back C.J. Anderson who have each openly wondered about their future with the team. Talib was recently named to his fourth Pro Bowl in his four seasons with the Broncos and counts $12 million against the salary cap next season. His deal also carries just a $1 million dead money charge in '18 if the Broncos decide to release him. Anderson, who had his best season as a pro, counts $4.5 million against the cap in '18, but has no dead money charge if the Broncos chose to release him for any reason.

What, again? The Broncos will go into their fifth consecutive offseason with plenty of uncertainty on the offensive line, and they don't have any of their own homegrown prospects at any of the five offensive line positions on their practice squad. Four of the nine offensive linemen who finished the season on the 53-player roster were drafted by the team. Until Denver builds a line of its own that fits its offense, the team may hinder any quarterback it puts behind center.