ENGLEWOOD | Vance Joseph was admittedly enamored of the idea of a towering, chuck-it-or-tuck-it quarterback with first-round pedigree and a lightning bolt for a right arm leading the Denver Broncos in 2017.
Even more captivating for the rookie head coach was the notion of his egghead seventh-rounder with the sneaky fastball and penchant for making the right decisions calling the signals.
So, it’s Trevor Siemian and not Paxton Lynch who will start for the Broncos.
Joseph made the announcement Monday following a five-month audition that represented the biggest position battle in the NFL this offseason.
Joseph suggested Lynch may still represent the future in Denver, but with a team that’s just 18 months removed from a championship parade and so good on defense, he had to think about today, not tomorrow.
So, Siemian is his guy.
Just as he was Gary Kubiak’s choice a year ago.
“It’s all about performance, not potential,” Joseph said. “And Trevor is ready to lead our football team. We’ve got two receivers that are All-Pro caliber, we’ve got a great backfield, we’ve fixed the offensive line. So, we need a guy who can operate at a high level all the time.”
The book on Lynch coming out of Memphis’ spread offense was that he needed multiple years of seasoning at the pro level and Joseph said what’s holding Lynch back is “probably experience.”
“It’s tough to play quarterback in this league. A lot goes into it and it’s not simply about how tall you are or your arm strength, how fast you run,” Joseph said.
Joseph demurred when asked if he felt Lynch was right where he should be on his developmental arc.
“I can’t say that. But he is a guy that again has rare talent and he works at it. He does work at it,” Joseph said. “Some guys need more time. He’s a young player. So in a year or two, he might be ready to take over the reins. But right now he’s not.”
Siemian beat out veteran Mark Sanchez last summer then went 8-6, throwing for 3,400 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2016 despite playing three-fourths of the year with a sprained left shoulder that required offseason surgery.
Siemian found himself fighting for his job again after Kubiak retired from coaching in January and was replaced by Joseph, who brought in Mike McCoy to author the Broncos’ new playbook.
“Honestly, I think you have to compete for your job every day, every week,” Siemian said.
Although Joseph declared it a “50-50 competition” this spring, Siemian’s edge in experience was a major factor in him pulling away from Lynch, the 26th overall pick in last year’s draft.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a close call, however.
Joseph said there was some debate among the group of decision-makers that included himself, McCoy, QB coach Bill Musgrave, GM John Elway and player personnel director Matt Russell.
“There was discussion because obviously it was a four- to five-month evaluation and when you watch Paxton’s physical traits, I mean, they’re fun to watch,” Joseph said.
“So, for a coach, to have a 6-foot-5 guy with a big arm who can run zone-read and scramble, that’s exciting for us. So, it was close.”
Lynch showed more comfort with the new scheme and new coaching staff but still proved inadequate at decoding defenses while Siemian was steady and solid, consistently making the correct calls and right reads.
“Obviously I believe in myself to be the starter,” Lynch said, his voice cracking. “But the coaches made a decision and that’s what we’re going with.”
While Siemian will get all the attention now, Lynch won’t exactly be shunted aside.
“We’re all going to support Paxton moving forward,” Joseph said. “He’s a young player. He’s got a bright future still. In my opinion we have two quarterbacks. Most teams can’t say that.”
Joseph said he wasn’t worried that Lynch would lose focus as the backup.
“Trevor and Paxton are really close. They’re buddies. So, I don’t foresee him checking out,” Joseph said. “We have great coaches on this staff and to keep him involved won’t be hard.”
Like many fans, Lynch figured he’d be starting by now after Elway moved up in the draft last year to select him, but he said he’s pleased with his progress and how he fought for the job this summer and will be ready whenever called upon.
“I really want to get better and not sit around and pout and be upset about this,” Lynch said, “because that’s not going to make anything better.”
Notes: Joseph declared Denver’s 2017 first-round pick, LT Garett Bolles, the starter and said Max Garcia or Allen Barbre will be the LG but that Ron Leary will stay at RG.