ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Across the airwaves, the consensus is that Vance Joseph is about to coach his final two games in Denver. Hold on.
Although the Broncos (6-8) must beat the Raiders and Chargers to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons in 46 years, there's a strong case for John Elway to keep the coach who's won just 11 of 30 games since taking over a team that was a year removed from a Super Bowl title.
Elway reportedly flirted with bringing back Mike Shanahan a year ago but decided to give Joseph another shot after the first-time head coach went 5-11.
Game management issues have kept Joseph from making the most of that second chance, but he has made strides despite a rash of injuries that sent seven starters to injured reserve and a rugged schedule that will include nine playoff teams if Seattle and Baltimore both get in.
"Oh yeah, definitely he has a great case," Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said Friday. "I don't think we had enough players for him to really succeed. Injuries just killed us. We had a tough schedule. We lost a lot of one-score games. I mean, he definitely improved from the first year to the second year."
Joseph has declined to discuss his job situation, saying he's focused only on beating the Raiders on Monday night.
The question facing Elway is this: Did Joseph improve enough this year to stick around in 2019?
"We're a win-now organization," Harris said, "so he doesn't get a lot of time."
If Elway fires Joseph, he'll be looking for the team's sixth head coach in 12 years — and he won't have Peyton Manning as bait.
After eight double-digit losses last year, the Broncos have been more competitive this season, losing six times by a combined 23 points. Those included close calls against some of the league's heavyweights such as the Chiefs (twice), the Rams and the Texans.
Despite a sensational rookie class that includes Phillip Lindsay , the first undrafted offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl, Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, Joseph was still saddled with a roster dotted with dead weight from previous draft classes that didn't shine like this one.
Elway also traded away two of Denver's best players, cornerback Aqib Talib to the Rams in the offseason and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to the Texans at the October deadline.
Both have been sorely missed.
Cornerback Bradley Roby had a hard time adjusting to his starting role and now he's covering opponents' No. 1 receiver with Harris on IR with a chip fracture in his right leg.
"I feel like we were definitely going to make it to the playoffs if I hadn't gotten hurt," said Harris, who was injured at Cincinnati on Dec. 2, when the Broncos improved to 6-6 after surviving the league's toughest schedule through 13 weeks.
Then Emmanuel Sanders tore his left Achilles tendon at practice and the 49ers and Browns, two sub-.500 teams, were able to focus on bottling up Lindsay.
Case Keenum is playing behind a line made up of four tackles and a guard at center after losing Matt Paradis, Ronald Leary and Max Garcia. Keenum, who also lost his top two tight ends in Jake Butt and Jeff Hauerman, has set career highs with a dozen interceptions and 32 sacks to go with 15 TD passes.
That's not exactly the franchise quarterback that would attract top-tier head coaching candidates.
Other factors facing Elway as he ponders Joseph's future:
—The Broncos have the NFL's seventh-youngest team (26.2 years), the third-toughest strength of schedule (.536), the fifth-most games missed with injury (132) and the seventh-most snaps played by rookies (4,047).
—Losing the locker room is a red flag and a green light to change coaches. That hasn't happened in Denver. The Broncos haven't tuned out their coach and they've continued to play hard.
—In an era favoring explosive offenses, Denver's defense is 10th in points allowed, a testament to Joseph's defensive roots. The tattered offense, coordinated by Bill Musgrave, has averaged just 19 points since Thomas was traded.
—Joseph, who still has two years and nearly $6 million left on his contract, is one of several minority coaches on the hot seat. Joseph, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Ron Rivera and Steven Wilks could face similar fates to Hue Jackson, who was fired by the Browns this season.
If all are fired, the Steelers' Mike Tomlin and the Chargers' Anthony Lynn would be the only remaining minority head coaches, creating a crisis for a league that's worked hard to bolster those numbers.
—If Elway moves on, another team could reap the benefits.
"I don't think he's done," Harris said. "I think everybody around the league understands what situation he was put in. I can see him getting better. He's already gotten way better."
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