Nearly two seasons have passed since Peyton Manning helped lead the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl victory. Riding off into the sunset after winning a second Super Bowl, Manning is destined for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the first year he appears on the ballot. By the time that comes around, the Broncos merely hope they have his replacement as a franchise quarterback in place.
With the 2017 season winding down, the Broncos must address the question of who should be the quarterback for the future of the franchise. More importantly, this offseason, Broncos GM John Elway must figure out what all of his options are for the position this offseason. There are a number of options to weigh, including signing a free agent veteran or going back to the draft and hope for the best.
The Broncos probably thought they solved this issue in the 2016 NFL Draft. Denver used the 26th overall pick in the first round to draft Paxton Lynch out of Memphis. In the same NFL Draft that was kicked off with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz going in the top two picks, Lynch was the third quarterback taken off the board.
During Lynch’s rookie season, he played a backup role to Trevor Siemian and filled in on multiple occasions when the starter went down with an injury. There were some positive signs at times from Lynch, but the negatives seemed to outweigh the positives.
It did not help that fourth-round draft pick Dak Prescott was thriving with the Dallas Cowboys, helping to lead the Cowboys to an NFC East division crown after replacing an injured Tony Romo early in the season. Wentz had also been thrown into the starting role right off the bat of the season and this year was playing like an MVP candidate until a season-ending injury last weekend.
Goff may have taken a while to get on the field, but he has played a key role in the quick turnaround season with the Rams this season. While other quarterbacks in the Class of 2016 have been having success on the field, Lynch continues to struggle to just step foot on the field. Lynch started the season with an injured shoulder and left his only start of the year with an ankle injury in Week 11. There is a possibility Lynch does not play another game for the Broncos this season, although he could return for one of the final games on the schedule.
On Thursday night, Siemian left the game against the Indianapolis Colts with a shoulder injury. It just so happened to be the same shoulder that required surgery to repair previously. With Siemian’s season likely done, it appears the Broncos will have to play out the final weeks with Brock Osweiler, who was once expected to be the successor for Manning.
Osweiler didn’t want to wait around for that time to come in Denver and signed a four-year contract with the Houston Texans. Things went so poorly in Houston, the Texans traded him to Cleveland this past March in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Cleveland, being the brilliant team they are, cut Osweiler in favor of rookie DeShone Kizer. That led Osweiler to return to Denver, where he still managed to secure nothing more than a backup role to Siemian and could not jump ahead of Lynch when the team needed a different starter in Week 12.
The quarterback situation may not be as desperate as it constantly seems to be in Cleveland, but the Broncos have moved into position in the 2018 NFL Draft where the possibility to start over at the quarterback situation should be an intriguing one to consider. Even after taking a shot on Lynch two drafts ago, the quarterback position is essential to have right.
Denver is in line for a potential top 10 pick, and there will be some quarterbacks to consider when that pick comes around. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and UCLA’s Josh Rosen will all be worth evaluating for sure. The question is which direction should the Broncos go?
After two years of quarterback ineptitude, how much longer is Elway willing to let the position grow. Or will he be more likely to worry about drafting a franchise quarterback in 2019 or 2020 if he can find a good veteran fix in free agency?
As we previously discussed, the New York Giants are in a similar position when it comes to the quarterback position. With the Eli Manning era with the Giants likely coming to a close, the Broncos could potentially go back to the Manning family to fill its quarterback need if they feel good enough about getting a couple of good seasons out of Eli Manning. That feels like a decent possibility, if Eli Manning can embrace having to play in his brother’s shadow. Peyton delivered a Super Bowl. could Eli do the same?
Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post suggests the team should absolutely pursue a veteran free agent instead of going back to the draft two years after drafting Lynch. As Kiszla suggests, signing a veteran may be the best way to save head coach Vance Joseph’s job.
If the Broncos truly want Joseph to succeed, it is paramount Elway finds a quarterback that can make an inexperienced Denver coach look smart. By drafting a rookie QB in the first round, the lone way to let anyone from Sam Darnold of Southern Cal to Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma grow would be through trial and many errors. That would likely result in another last-place finish by the Broncos in 2018, which would regenerate the same unpleasant speculation about Joseph’s job security.
That’s fair to suggest, but the counterpoint here is that no general manager should make a roster move with the intent of saving a coach’s job. In this case, Denver needs the talent to rely on for years of future success, and not just a shot at a playoff run just to save a coach’s job. Stability on the sideline is a nice luxury to have, but having prolonged stability on the field is even better.
Elway has a call to make. Does he test the free agency waters with possible targets like Manning and Kirk Cousins, or is it time to admit the Lynch experiment has not panned out and find the next franchise quarterback in the draft? If the Broncos were ready to make a deep playoff run now, the answer would be to find a solid veteran to step in and get the team over the hump. But none of the players that may be available in free agency are likely to accomplish that with the Broncos. There are good pieces on the Broncos roster, but this is not a team that is a quarterback away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy again.
Denver doesn’t need to embrace a “trust the process” mentality, but there is value in finding the best possible fit at quarterback in the draft. With a top 10 pick at their disposal, anything else would be a mistake.