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I Remember ... the Broncos' saddest quarterback competition

Andrew Mason Avatar
June 16, 2020

Second in an occasional series

Four years ago this month, the Broncos had three quarterbacks and none of them were box-worthy.

You probably don’t know what that term means. Few do.

It refers to the raised platform on which Broncos players stand when they hold organized media sessions outside at UCHealth Training Center. At one point, the platform was a glorified box.

To be “on the box” during offseason work means that you matter as a Broncos player. Unless it’s rookie camp, you only get there at that time of year when you’re a clear starter — or a key player with “skins on the wall,” in the parlance of former head coach John Fox. Otherwise, you’re answering questions while standing on the high cut of grass that surrounds the practice field and you won’t see the box until training camp.

At this time in 2016, the Broncos did not have a clear starting quarterback. Paxton Lynch was thought to be the future. Mark Sanchez was considered to be a bridge — and when John Elway’s attempt to get Colin Kaepernick to take a pay cut to facilitate a trade from San Francisco 49ers failed, Sanchez was the only experienced option.

Trevor Siemian returned from the Super Bowl 50 team, having made the previous year’s roster after a strong preseason that forced the Broncos to find a spot for him on the 53-man roster or risk losing him via waivers. But as a seventh-round pick, he was a curiosity and a relative afterthought as OTAs began.

Not exactly the stuff of champions.

But the Broncos had just won a Super Bowl with two quarterbacks who had combined for a 76.3 passer rating and more interceptions (23) than touchdown passes (19). Those numbers don’t reveal the impact of Peyton Manning’s intellect, presence and ability to make pre-snap adjustments. Nevertheless, there was reason to believe that with a bit more statistical efficiency, the Broncos could extend their window of contention.

But in retrospect, it wasn’t going to happen, and it began with the saddest quarterback competition.

A has-been, a career backup and a never-will be.


A consequence of this year’s altered offseason is a bit more time to focus on long-term tasks. For me, one of them was organizing a decade of Excel files, old game MP4s, notes, stories and literally tens of thousands of photographs that had been saved, re-saved and copied among multiple hard drives.

One that leaped off the screen was an Excel file in which I noted how Sanchez, Siemian and Lynch fared from day to day during OTAs. In my role working in the team’s digital-media operation, I spent countless hours watching OTAs, sifting through the notes and compiling the data each day, just so I would be able to have some hard information to support whatever choice the Broncos made at quarterback when the summer ended.

In the end, I didn’t use this file much. Other things that transpired in training camp made the Broncos’ decision clear. But a couple of items caught my attention.

First, Lynch threw three interceptions in the first week of offseason practice. The second week, he had two picks. The week after that, one. Finally, in the minicamp week that concluded offseason work, he had a clean week. This was progress, to be sure.

Another number jumped out: Attempts. According to the numbers I compiled, Lynch threw 40 more passes than Siemian and 55 more than Sanchez during the course of OTAs.

Getting Lynch as much work as possible appeared to be the priority — which showed that in terms of a long-term plan, developing him indeed was the top task. But he needed to show consistency, a word that then-coach Gary Kubiak repeated when he discussed Lynch at his post-practice press conferences.

A sign of trouble arose on June 14, one day before the end of OTAs. That day, Kubiak sped up the pace and emphasized no-huddle work.

During four no-huddle periods midway through that practice, Sanchez and Siemian each completed at least 63 percent of their passes, with Siemian overcoming a rough stretch to connect on four passes in succession. Lynch connected on just 50 percent of his attempts, although he had one pass dropped.

“It was a roller-coaster ride,” Kubiak said after the practice. “Some good, some bad. I told them after practice, I said, ‘I think you guys know who the guys are that reacted the right way to the chaos.’ You can see guys that have it under control and then you see some guys that say, ‘What the heck happened there?’”

And in that same post-practice press conference, he said that Sanchez and Siemian were “right there with each other.” Lagging behind as the clear No. 3 passer was Lynch, who did better against the third team in a no-huddle period that ended the June 14 practice, but still wasn’t up to the other two — who weren’t setting a particularly high standard themselves.

Lynch never got going after that.


What would make Lynch the No. 2 quarterback was Sanchez’s own failings. The Sanchize couldn’t stop throwing to then-second-year cornerback Lorenzo Doss during training camp. Doss had six interceptions in a nine-day stretch; most came at the expense of Sanchez.

The truth of training camp was that Sanchez was Siemian’s equal across the board. But he just … kept … turning … over … the … football. His last chance came in the second preseason game, when he entered in relief of Siemian in the second quarter, guided the Broncos to a field goal and then had two consecutive drives end on strip-sack fumbles just before the end of the first half of the eventual loss to the 49ers.

The Broncos had lost confidence in Sanchez, and once you lose confidence in a veteran QB, it doesn’t return — at least not with that team. Two games into the preseason, and Sanchez was done. The decision to cut him at the end of the preseason was a formality that had been assured 13 days earlier.

Siemian was better than Lynch, but that didn’t mean he was among the best 32 quarterbacks walking the earth — typically a minimum standard for being an NFL starter. Lynch wasn’t ready then, and as the following years proved, was never going to be ready. He’s the only one of the trio currently in the NFL, but in Pittsburgh, he couldn’t beat out an undrafted rookie for playing time.

The list of quarterbacks to get roster spots ahead of Lynch in NFL includes Siemian, Chad Kelly, Geno Smith and Duck Hodges. A Mount Rushmore of forgettable QBs.


A year after the competition, camp began with Siemian, Lynch and rookie Kyle Sloter as the Broncos’ three quarterbacks. Early in one training-camp practice, I turned to a long-time friend and said, “The starting quarterback for next year isn’t on this field.”

I wasn’t wrong, but I also expected the 2018 starter to come from the draft, not for Lynch to get another shot to rebuild himself as a backup behind Case Keenum. The Broncos kept searching for Band-Aids when they needed an organ transplant — and the appropriate time to ensure that the transplant was a success, the organ wouldn’t be rejected and the scars could heal.

That’s where the Broncos sit now. The insertion of Drew Lock has given them a new lease on life. So far, the vital signs are stable and the long-term prognosis is encouraging.

The Broncos have a direction now. It is wherever Lock takes them. He’s worthy of the box. He could be worthy of so much more, depending on how the 2020 season transpires.

And it is summers like 2016 that make you truly appreciate their young gunslinger.


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