Note: This story originally published in the August issue of Mile High Sports Magazine. With the Cleveland Browns announcing that Case Keenum would start this week against the Broncos and Denver now on a three-game losing streak, this historical lesson has relevance for this week.
Heading into Broncos training camp, it feels a little bit like fans are making a trip to the movie theater to watch the latest installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise. A different story might provide a bit of a fresh feeling, but overall, the premise is the same. Ever since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos have seemingly acquired a “franchise” quarterback on an annual basis. The problem has been that all too often a veteran (or a “safe option”) has joined the team to provide competition and the Broncos have failed to make the logical choice. Let a young draft pick go out and sink or swim. Rather than kicking the can down the road, it would provide a clear answer as to whether or not the Broncos have the quarterback of the future or need to go back to the drawing board. This year is no different. And if the Broncos haven’t learned from past mistakes already, there’s no reason to believe this year will be any different, assuming the Broncos don’t pull of the miracle trade for Aaron Rodgers.
Let’s forget for a minute that Paxton Lynch is probably the worst draft choice John Elway has ever made. When the Broncos traded up five spots to get the Memphis quarterback, he should have been given the keys at that very moment. Instead, the Broncos brought in Mark Sanchez and let those two compete with second-year player Trevor Siemian. Siemian became a fan favorite simply by not doing much. He eventually won the job and Sanchez was released.
What happened: The Broncos went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Coach Gary Kubiak refused to play Lynch and cited health concerns when making a decision to step down at the end of the year. Thus began the era of mediocre (to poor) quarterback play for the Broncos.
What should have happened: Sanchez should have been the starter at the beginning of the year and if the Broncos struggled, Lynch would finish out the year and get some experience to head into 2017 as QB1.
Paxton Lynch vs. Trevor Siemian
The Broncos went into the post-Kubiak era dead set on getting Lynch to crack the lineup as the starting quarterback. After seeing action in just three games (two as a starter) in 2016, Lynch was nowhere near ready to supplant Siemian and started the year on the bench. Again.
What happened: The Broncos went 5-11 and the quarterback play was less than stellar. It got so bad that Denver even brought back Brock Osweiler to start a few games.
What should have happened: Lynch should have been given the keys and the front office should have gone with the belief that if he wasn’t ready, it was time to start from scratch.
Paxton Lynch vs. Case Keenum
Case Keenum’s one good year in the league earned him a $36 million contract from Elway. The Broncos also failed to draft a quarterback in the first round despite Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson being available when they picked at No. 5. The Broncos were going full steam ahead with the 2018 version of Kyle Orton at the helm. Paxton Lynch was cut before the start of the regular season.
What happened: The Broncos “improved” to 6-10. Vance Joseph was fired and Case Keenum was shipped off to Washington DC.
What should have happened: None of it. Keenum should have never been signed and the Broncos should have gone quarterback in the first round of the draft. (Note: We like Bradley Chubb, but he should be playing in somewhere like Buffalo.)
Joe Flacco vs. Drew Lock
The Broncos finally made the decision to draft a highly touted quarterback in the 2019 Draft. Then they bungled the move by acquiring Joe Flacco from Baltimore. While the move to bring a veteran to not overwhelm the rookie seemed smart, it was the same play the team made in 2016. This time, however, the veteran did everything he needed to do to make the team and earn the starting job.
What happened: Flacco started the season and a preseason injury to Lock landed the rookie on short-term IR. Despite missing valuable practice time, Lock was activated from IR and started the final five games of the season, going 4-1.
What should have happened: The Broncos shouldn’t have put the rookie on short-term IR as he missed practice time that could have helped his development. If healthy, he should have started in Week 9 after Flacco was lost for the year due to a neck injury.
Drew Lock vs. COVID and Pat Shurmur
In an offseason where there were no OTA’s and limited training camp, Drew Lock entered his first full year as the starting quarterback at an extreme disadvantage. After going 4-1 in Rich Scangarello’s offense, Lock was also forced to adjust to a new offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur. Whatever consistency Lock could have retained from his first five starts as a Bronco was washed away with Scangarello’s firing and the COVID-19 pandemic.
What happened: Surprise! Lock struggled with no in-person offseason program and a new offensive coordinator. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and had fans clamoring for another change at the position.
What should have happened: Aside from letting Lock keep the offensive coordinator that led him to success in five games of 2019? Not much else. He got the time and experience he needed.
Drew Lock vs. Teddy Bridgewater
This should be Lock’s sink or swim year, but the Broncos just can’t help themselves. New general manager George Paton passed on drafting Justin Fields suggesting he might be encouraged by what he sees in Lock. He also brought in Teddy Bridgewater, suggesting he thinks the Broncos are a quarterback band-aid away from competing for a playoff spot.
What’s going to happen: Bridgewater’s management ability will lead to fewer turnovers in the preseason and it could let him steal the job from Lock. The team will then sink in average to below-average play and once again start from scratch at quarterback.
What should happen: Lock should be the starter and there should be no other thoughts otherwise. If Teddy Bridgewater is the starter, the Broncos will be looking for a new quarterback next year. If Lock is the starter, the Broncos might be looking for a new quarterback next year. But if Lock can be the guy, the question will be more definitively answered.