ENGLEWOOD | Paxton Lynch inched closer to full-blown bust status Monday when he was demoted to third string after Chad Kelly’s solid debut in the Denver Broncos’ exhibition opener.
“Chad’s played well. He played well in the scrimmage. He played well Saturday night. So he deserves the chance to be the 2 right now,” coach Vance Joseph said.
Lynch was disappointed, Joseph said, “but he understands that it’s a performance business.”
“He has great potential, physical potential. But it’s got to equal performance eventually,” Joseph said. “He understands that. It’s a performance league. And everything we do, it’s graded and it’s counted.”
After a string of poor performances at training camp, Lynch was ineffective in seven series Saturday night against Minnesota, completing 6 of 11 passes for 24 yards and an interception to go with a sack.
Kelly, who missed his rookie season last year while recovering from wrist and knee injuries, completed 14 of 21 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Denver’s 42-28 loss to the Vikings.
Kelly celebrated his promotion by sticking around after practice Monday and throwing passes to tight end Jake Butt and receiver River Cracraft for more than 20 minutes.
Kelly thanked his teammates, saying they had just as much to do with his promotion.
“Those guys made the plays. They got me in the right protections and the guys with the ball in their hands made plays,” Kelly said.
When Case Keenum signed this spring and Trevor Siemian was subsequently traded to the Vikings, Broncos general manager John Elway said the No. 2 QB job was up for grabs.
Lynch, however, worked exclusively with the second-string offense until Monday, when they flip-flopped roles, leaving Lynch a sideline spectator during the two-minute drills, reflective of his new status as the team’s third quarterback.
The switch at QB is as much a reward for Kelly’s solid offseason as it is an indictment of Lynch, who hasn’t made the strides Joseph and Elway expected of him in Year 3 — especially without the pressure of having to vie for the starting job again.
“It’s really more about what Chad’s done, honestly — and Chad has played well, he’s played with poise, he’s played with confidence,” Joseph said. “He moved the ball for us on Saturday night. And it’s been that way since the spring. He had a great spring. He’s had a great camp. So, it’s his turn to be the 2. He’s earned that right.”
Lynch was beaten out by Siemian, a seventh-round draft pick, in each of the last two summers and now has fallen behind another seventh-rounder in Kelly, who was the final pick of the 2017 NFL draft.
Joseph noted that the competition isn’t over, the depth chart remains fluid.
“And it rewards guys who are playing well,” Joseph said. “It’s only right. That’s what we live by with our players: if you’re playing well and you earn it, you push up and you get it. It’s a fair league.”
Kelly could stay ahead of Lynch on the depth chart and still not win the backup job, though, if the Broncos decide to go out and get an experienced free agent instead.
Asked if he’d have any reservations about going into the regular season with the inexperienced Kelly as his No. 2 QB, Joseph said, “Things change in this league all the time. But right now, he’s our backup.”
Joseph cautioned that “we’ve got to be patient with Chad.”
“You want a guy who can go into a game and operate the offense and not beat his own football team, but also have the confidence to make some plays and lead our unit,” Joseph said when pressed for what he needs to see from Kelly or Lynch to stick with one of them as Keenum’s No. 2.
Kelly knows he’ll have his doubters.
“You’ve just got to work hard. That’s what it is,” he said. “Even the best ones are still working hard. They don’t know everything. And obviously me being in my second year, I don’t know anything. So, I’ve got to work hard, I’ve got to watch more film than I ever have before. And when your time’s called, you’d better be able to step up and go.”