SANTA CLARA, Calif. — “I think so.”
“I’m not sure.”
Those are the responses of the two Denver Broncos quarterbacks Saturday night when asked if they have done enough to win the starting job.
The first response comes from the guy who went 8-for-11 for 93 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos 33-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers; the second comes from the guy who went 9-for-13 for 39 yards and no TDs.
The first, of course, is Trevor Siemian, the man who started 14 games last season and has largely outplayed Paxton Lynch throughout the quarterback competition in Denver.
The second is Lynch, the former first-round pick who has yet to live up to that billing and, to the eyes of many, appears to have lost his second straight competition to a former seventh-round pick.
Here’s the thing—that’s okay.
The second that Siemian is named the starter, you are going to hear the word “bust” become synonymous with Lynch’s name. Media members and fans alike will try to tell you that John Elway blew it with the 26th-overall pick in 2016, that Denver needs to trade the young QB, that the Memphis product will never cut it in the NFL.
It’s all part of the everlasting race to be first in today’s day in age. No matter the topic, everybody wants to say they were the original person to declare the next Michael Jordan or the next Ryan Leaf. It’s a tireless race that bears absolutely no trophy at the finish line, but yet it presses on.
My advice: relax.
Let’s hop in the time machine and go back to that fateful night in 2016, when the defending-champion Broncos traded the 31st-overall pick and the 94th-overall pick to the Seattle Seahawks in order to jump five spots and snag Lynch.
The idea, at the time, was that Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak had found their signal caller to come in and jump Mark Sanchez (Siemian was hardly on the radar) for the starting job. Elway had famously said the trade for Sanchez was only the first step in their offseason pursuit of a QB and the thought was this was the last, the move that made it all make sense. Sanchez would be the savvy veteran that would guide the young grasshopper as he took over a Super-Bowl caliber team.
As the cards have been turned over, though, it’s become more and more clear that “the plan,” whatever it was, was not that.
While the world was crafting tweets about Paxton Lynch being the next great Broncos quarterback and giggling at goofy gifs, Mel Kiper was on ESPN saying this.
“He needs two to three years to transition from the no huddle… I’m not taking anything away from Paxton Lynch; physically, athletically, arm strength wise, hard worker, he’s got it all… but he’s got a lot to learn… He’s coming into the league knowing nothing about an NFL offense. He needs a year, two years, three years to sit, watch and learn, and that’s got to be the plan for the Denver Broncos and Paxton Lynch. You force him in right away, and it’s not going to work.”
After falling on deaf ears at the time, that comment has aged like a fine wine. John Elway has always said he wants to “win from now on,” and maybe Paxton Lynch has always been more a part of the “on” than the “now.”
Here’s the thing that’s so often forgotten in this situation, Paxton Lynch is not your average first-round pick at quarterback. Why? Because first-round quarterbacks usually don’t land on playoff caliber teams. That, above all else, has altered the handling of the once highly-touted prospect.
When you’re the Cleveland Browns, you throw every quarterback you get out into the water just praying that one of them will figure out a way to swim—how’s that working out, by the way? When you have Von Miller, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Darian Stewart, T.J. Ward and Derek Wolfe on your team, you play the guy that gives you the best chance to win at that moment. For these Denver Broncos, that guy is not yet Paxton Lynch, and that may just be quite alright.
These aren’t the 1983 Broncos coming off of a two-win (strike-shortened) season, thrusting their prized first-round quarterback into action despite having a more prepared veteran on the bench. These are the 2017 Broncos, a team with far too much talent to throw caution to the wind, a team that feels if they can get into the dance, anything can happen. Ps. Even that Hall-of-Fame QB that was tossed onto the field in 1983 will tell you it didn’t all totally come together for him until year four.
Elway will also tell you that playing quarterback in the National Football League is no cake walk, and it most certainly doesn’t come easily to just about anyone.
“I’ve got confidence in the fact that they’re both young and they’re going to continue with practice and getting better,” the general manager told reporters earlier this week. “That’s why I had confidence in it. I think that looking at the guys that we have and them wanting to go and compete in practice, they don’t grow on trees. There are not quarterbacks grown on trees out there, so there wasn’t another answer. With that being said, I like the guys that we have because I know, talent wise, they can do it, it’s just a matter of they need the time and experience, and with that, they’ll continue to get better.”
This season, at least at the start, one of the Broncos quarterbacks is going to get time while the other is going to get experience. You might say Lynch needs that experience right now, but let’s go back to that ol’ fine wine metaphor again.
With the physical tools he possesses, we can all agree that Paxton has an extremely high ceiling. There’s nothing wrong with letting that vino sit on the shelf for one more year to give it the best chance at becoming a classic because, in the end, you wouldn’t want to uncork grape juice.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been heading in the right direction,” he said on Saturday night behind a pair of disappointed eyes.
We’ve seen the flashes from the second-year man since the day he stepped on the field at Dove Valley, and those flashes may have reached their peak during joint practices in San Francisco, circumstance shouldn’t change that.
So don’t be fooled by those who may tell you the wheels have come off for young Paxton, the Lynch-pin is still firmly in place.