The pressure’s off now… mostly.
Paxton Lynch, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2016 and the man once anointed to replace Peyton Manning, has already struck out in the NFL in each of his three seasons, even though he hasn’t started the third one yet.
When the Broncos traded up to obtain Lynch, general manager John Elway warned anybody and everybody that would listen that Lynch was a project; that he’d take a couple years to congeal into the sure-fire NFL superstar that he’d certainly become.
Just so we're clear: @PaxtonLynch is not relaxing.
“He’s competing. He wants to be a great player. He’s a young player that’s getting better and better every single day.” – Coach Joseph
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) May 30, 2018
That summer, vagabond veteran Mark Sanchez was brought in to be a “bridge quarterback”; someone that could competently hold the position until the crown prince was ready for his reign to commence. But as is his wont, Sanchez couldn’t hold onto anything whatsoever, and was quickly swept aside. Enter Lynch… scratch that.
Lynch was easily bested by the man Denver selected one choice ahead of him… kind of. Trevor Siemian, the Broncos’ seventh-round pick in 2015, was far more capable and prepared for the job… even though he wasn’t all that good. It’s worth noting that Siemian wasn’t designated a project like Lynch, so perhaps one should have expected the Northwestern product — one that most draftniks didn’t consider worthy of being selected at all — to become the starting quarterback over two more highly-touted teammates, right?
Lynch rolls right throws a laser to Jake Butt who skies for a highlight TD. #Broncos
— 104.3 The FAN (@1043TheFan) May 29, 2018
Anyway, the 2016 season came and went; the Broncos unsurprisingly went 9-7 and missed the playoffs, and in the summer of 2017, it was finally time for Lynch to grace Denver fans with his countenance. All fans heard and read from most of the embedded Broncos media over that summer were breathless compliments about Lynch’s extraordinary athletic ability, his diligent study habits in the offseason; marvels about his Bunyan-esque arm strength that foretold certain greatness that fall.
And then Lynch was easily bested by Siemian again in the preseason, and by walk-on Kyle Sloter, to boot. Lynch was hurt in the third preseason game and missed most of the season. In his Week 12 return, he completed eight dump-offs and a downfield throw to gain 41 yards on 14 attempts and threw for 254 more yards against 10 Chiefs backups in a meaningless finale of a lost season, finishing with more interceptions than touchdowns.
The Broncos had seen enough — for now, at least. Elway and the front office jettisoned Siemian — Lynch’s Mount Everest, apparently — and potential Hall-of-Fame cornerback Aqib Talib, freeing up enough money to sign Case Keenum, who had the first good season of his career with Minnesota last fall. Keenum deftly parlayed that cameo into a two-year contract worth $18 million per year; a kingly sum for the Broncos’ next “bridge quarterback”, but one wholly necessitated by Lynch’s stagnation… ahem, “unfortunate circumstances”.
Now that Keenum’s already entrenched as the starter, however, Lynch will battle with another seventh-round pick — 2017’s Chad Kelly — for the backup position.
The sales pitch is already in full swing:
Lynch steps up and throws a TD laser to Isiah McKenzie in the corner of the end zone. #Broncos
— 104.3 The FAN (@1043TheFan) May 29, 2018
— 9NEWS Denver (@9NEWS) May 30, 2018
From that article: “John Elway hung in there with Paxton Lynch and dang if Broncos fans knew why.
The Bronco’s organized team activity (OTA) practice Tuesday was why.
Lynch looked good. Really good.
There was no pass rush. No one was in pads. But Lynch didn’t practice this well during OTAs last year.”
Of course, the beauty of all these “lasers” and brilliant practices against players that aren’t allowed to touch him is that they don’t have to amount to anything — the Broncos already spent $36 million to wallpaper over the holes that Lynch was to fill. Now, he has two more seasons to tease, titillate and tantalize Broncos fans — and the team gets to kick the can down the road until the 2020 season begins.
“We don’t have pads on, we only have helmets on. There’s only so much you can do… You really just can’t put too much into OTA’s.” — Broncos linebacker Von Miller, May 29, 2018
Lynch will be almost 27 years old by then; an age where franchise quarterbacks have long since solidified their hold on the quarterback job. Perhaps Lynch will have finally gone from poor Pendragon to King Paxton, who pulls forth Excalibur from the stone and creates Denver’s own Camelot, only a few years late.
John Elway still believes in it. So does Vance Joseph. So do legions of orange-clad fans who simply can’t rationalize the distinct possibly the the Broncos blew it with Lynch, like so many other teams have with so many other would-be saviors at quarterback.
But Emmanuel Sanders (who will be 33 by then), Demaryius Thomas (32), Von Miller (31), Chris Harris Jr., Brandon Marshall, Matt Paradis and Derek Wolfe (all will turn 30 in 2020) can’t afford to. Even last year’s rookie tackle, Garret Bolles, will be 28.
They can’t afford to believe the fairy tale. Peter Pan never grew old, but these Broncos will. They already have; surrendering a pair of their prime years waiting for their first-round pick to finally look like one.
Maybe one day, John Elway will be proven correct. Maybe one day, Paxton Lynch will become a franchise quarterback, the clock ticking only towards his eventual induction in Canton.
But even if all those things come to pass, Paxton Lynch won’t ever lead these Broncos — not all of them, and certainly not at their best. Neverland.
And that’s no fairy tale.