Back in March 2016 the reigning Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos had to get out of the fast lane and ask for directions, as Peyton Manning announced his retirement and Brock Osweiler accepted $72 million with the Houston Texans — within 48 hours of each other.
Ideally, Denver was hoping to have a transition resembling that of the Green Bay Packers when Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre in 2008. Rogers would spend his first three years in the league backing up Favre, eventually making the transition into franchise quarterback almost overnight.
Similarly, Osweiler was drafted 57th overall in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Broncos and would spend the first four years of his career backing up and learning from a future Hall of Famer.
Osweiler was primed and ready to have the same Cinderella transformation, after proving himself in the regular season when he filled in for Manning, who suffered multiple injuries that eventually took him off the starting roster mid-season.
Instead, many fans were shocked when Osweiler turned down the offer extended by the Broncos to head down south to warmer weather with the Texans.
The Broncos knew that sacrifices would have to be made if they wanted to hold on to the core strength of their roster — Von Miller and the tactical defense that clinched their Super Bowl win. But with Osweiler's departure, they had some big decisions ahead of them.
Elway didn't waste much time, maneuvering to acquire Mark Sanchez in a trade with Philadelphia just days after Osweiler announced his decision. Still, Sanchez's name didn't inspire much confidence in the fanbase, who hoped the Broncos would soon be adding to their quarterback depth chart.
“We are in no hurry to add a quarterback,” head coach Gary Kubiak stated during the NFL owners meeting in Florida in late March.
The Broncos knew that good things come to those that wait and that patience definitely needed to be their virtue, as they headed into free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft.
As a result, over the next month, quarterback rumors would run wilder than a Kim Kardashian scandal on TMZ. From Colin Kaepernick to Robert Griffin III, reports of talks with any and every quarterback were supposedly on the table.
It became clear that Elway and Kubiak were rolodexing through all the leads to find the next franchise quarterback and they were making sure to turn over every stone for that diamond in the rough before cutting a deal with an established signal-caller.
Broncos Country would have to have faith that there was a method to the madness. Despite acquiring Sanchez and carrying over Trevor Siemian, a seventh round pick by the Broncos in 2015, Elway tried to reassure fans.
“We’re going to continue to look at other quarterbacks," Elway said. "We’ll stay open to everything.”
That left fans scratching their heads as to what exactly Elway and Kubiak had up their sleeves.
“I just think there’s always more than one solution to a problem,” Elway said. “It may not be exactly the solution you’d want, but in football, it’s not about taking the easy way—it’s about taking the right way.”
Mark Kiszla with The Denver Post opined on the subject in March.
“If the Broncos want to win from now on, Elway needs to consider a blockbuster trade on draft night.” Kiszla maintained that, “After stockpiling 10 picks, Elway also has something of value to bring to the trade market.”
And boy was Kiszla’s prediction spot on.
It all came together, however, on April 28th during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft when the Broncos put the last piece of the puzzle in place.
In the first round, Elway’s patience proved its value when he orchestrated a Hail Mary of a trade last minute— from pick No. 31 to pick No. 26 — with the Seattle Seahawks to select Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. The selection of Lynch proved that all negotiations left on the table, specifically with Kaepernick, were now null and void.
So who is rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch and why should you put the No. 12 jersey on your must-have Christmas list?
After a redshirt first year with Memphis in 2012, Lynch was named the starting quarterback prior to the 2013 season and would start every game henceforth, until he forwent his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.
While in Memphis, Lynch built up a powerhouse of a resume, including being named MVP of the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl, where he passed for 306 yards with four passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns.
The Cowboys even attempted to trade back into the first round in hopes of stealing Lynch before it was too late. John Elway beat him to the punch, offering Seattle better value. The loss of this opportunity kept Mr. Jones up all night.
“I got out of bed about 3 thinking about the Lynch thing, got up at 6 and before the morning was over had talked to six people about how I messed it up. I was still mad about it the next morning.”
At face value, the transition from Peyton to Paxton is as simple as two letters. On the field, however, one thing is for sure — there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done and Lynch knows he has some big shoes to fill.
“I wouldn’t say I am a project," Lynch said on Thursday night, after the Broncos selected him. "Obviously every quarterback coming out of college, we have stuff that we need to work on.”
Lynch has a strong background and a foundation of a roll-out style offense that is well matched to Kubiak’s protocol. But a developmental prospect, Lynch will need time to grow into the position and will most likely start this year as backup to the seasoned Mark Sanchez— until he settles in and proves to the coaches he can be trusted with the reins.
With the size of Osweiler and the potential of Manning, Lynch not only gives Denver the perfect molding material for the future of the franchise but his natural athletic ability is also considered to be above that of any other quarterback Kubiak has had in his rotation in a long time.
Even better, Lynch was selected at a fraction of the cost of an established quarterback. Although, Lynch may have seven less NFL starts than Brock Osweiler, he comes at a price tag $63 Million dollars cheaper, clearing up cap room to lock in the defense the team needs this fall to defend their crown.
So rest easy this spring, Broncos Country, because the March madness we all endured proved to be worth it. As they say, April showers bring May flowers and we are ready to see growth sprout on the field in the Mile High City.
Jeannae Elyse Bierstedt is a Columnist for Mile High Huddle. You can find her on Twitter @JeannaeElyse.
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