Expecting to go undrafted after suffering a torn ACL in his final college game, Trevor Siemian was close to pursuing a career in commercial real estate. He even had a job lined up in Chicago, only a few miles away from where he attended school at Northwestern University.
Turns out, he didn’t need a backup plan. Monday the Broncos announced that Siemian, the seventh-to-last pick in the 2015 draft, will be the team’s starting quarterback for Week 1 against Carolina. The announcement wasn’t completely out of left field as the Broncos tipped their hand a week earlier by allowing Siemian to start the team’s third preseason game against Los Angeles. The third preseason game is usually treated as the “dress rehearsal” for Week 1 with starters playing close to their usual snaps.
Siemian hasn’t wowed anyone with his stats this preseason (27-for-43, 285 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) but he’s outperformed first-round pick Paxton Lynch and veteran Mark Sanchez, who now finds himself on the trade block. Siemian saved his best for last, carving up the Rams for 122 yards in the first half while completing 10-of-17 passes with one touchdown and one interception.
It’s entirely possible, in fact it’s probable, that Siemian is merely a placeholder for the more talented Lynch, who was drafted 26th overall this spring following a dominant junior season at Memphis. The Broncos could have thrown Lynch into the fire by starting him against the Panthers in Week 1. But instead, the Broncos will wait until he’s ready, or at least until Siemian can no longer be trusted with the starting job.
This can often be a strategic maneuver as the Rams made a similar choice by beginning camp with Case Keenum atop their quarterback depth chart. The purpose of this was to lower expectations for first overall pick Jared Goff and not damage his confidence by putting too much on his plate. The Broncos are hoping Siemian can hold his own for at least the first few weeks while Lynch acclimates to the NFL.
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Siemian’s surprising ascent to the top of Denver’s quarterback depth chart might say more about Mark Sanchez than it does about Siemian. After the Broncos whiffed on Brock Osweiler in free agency, the team quickly snatched up Sanchez in a trade with Philadelphia. The team still viewed him as a fallback option but after talks for Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick broke down, it looked like Sanchez would have a leg up on the starting job.
That didn’t last, however, as Sanchez continuously shot himself in the foot this preseason by committing costly turnovers. It became clear that Sanchez was no longer part of the team’s plans when he sat out the Broncos’ dress rehearsal on Saturday night. Perhaps the Broncos, who are known to be shopping Sanchez, didn’t want the former Jet to sabotage his trade market by stepping on the field again and delivering another lackluster performance.
Though the idea of keeping Sanchez on as a mentor for the younger quarterbacks has some appeal, the Broncos can save $3.5 million by cutting him next week when rosters have to be trimmed from 75 to 53. They can do so without risking the conditional pick they acquired from the Eagles when Sanchez was traded in March.
The Broncos would prefer to trade Sanchez instead of cutting him and getting nothing in return, but their desperation to do so eliminates most of their leverage. Everyone in the league knows that Sanchez is a goner. The Broncos might field a few lowball offers from teams hoping to land a veteran backup. The Cowboys could be amenable to a trade after losing Tony Romo to another back injury. But ultimately it would be a surprise to see a team waste a draft pick on a player who will be a free agent in only a few days. Sanchez’s phone may not be ringing off the hook after losing his spot to a quarterback who has played exactly one NFL snap (Siemian took a knee for a loss of one against Pittsburgh in Week 15).
Denver’s quarterback competition has received plenty of attention this offseason, as it should. Obviously a battle for the most important position on a Super Bowl winning team is going to attract headlines. But keep in mind Denver had one of the most stagnant offenses in the league last season. At best, Peyton Manning was a game manager and at worst he was a liability. Osweiler was similarly ineffective. But the Broncos’ defense, led by bespectacled sack artist Von Miller, still led Denver to the promised land.
Denver’s offense will enter the year with plenty of unanswered questions. Will C.J. Anderson build off last year’s late-season success or will he lose carries to fourth-round pick Devontae Booker? Can Lynch step in if Siemian falters? Will Demaryius Thomas regain his form after disappearing in the playoffs last year? These are all relevant questions that the Broncos, as well as fantasy owners, need to ask themselves. But with such a strong defense behind them, the Broncos might be able to get by with below average quarterback play. It worked last year, didn’t it?
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Quick Hits: After spending most of the offseason at each other’s throats, the Chargers and first-round pick Joey Bosa finally decided to play nice. The two sides buried the hatchet by agreeing on a four-year, $26 million contract that includes a $17 million signing bonus. Bosa now has 12 days to get ready for the Bolts’ season opener in Kansas City … So here’s how Bryan Stork’s last week has gone. First, the Patriots traded him to the Redskins. After contemplating retirement for a few days, he finally reported to the Redskins, only to fail his physical and be sent back to the Patriots. A few hours later, the Patriots cut him. Rough week … The Patriots’ offensive line is starting to get healthy. Shaq Mason and Jonathan Cooper both returned to practice on Monday. Mason broke his hand a week ago while Cooper hurt his right foot at the start of training camp last month … Terrance Knighton was part of New England’s first wave of cuts on Monday. Pot Roast had trouble adjusting to the Patriots’ two-gap defensive scheme … According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets aren’t ready to hand over the backup quarterback job to Bryce Petty. He’s been competing with Geno Smith. If both players stick, the Jets could end up keeping four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster … Tony Romo could resume training within 3-6 weeks. He suffered a compression fracture in his back over the weekend, opening the door for fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott to start Week 1 against the Giants … Brandon Browner couldn’t survive the Seahawks’ first round of cuts on Monday. A cornerback by trade, Browner was making the transition to safety before Seattle dumped him … MyCole Pruitt sprained his MCL in Sunday’s preseason game against the Chargers. The injury is expected to sideline him for 2-4 weeks ... Kenny Stills suffered an injury scare at Monday’s practice, though his back flare-up shouldn’t keep him from playing Week 1 against the Seahawks. He’s been starting in two-wide sets ahead of DeVante Parker … The Saints acquired Chris McCain from the Dolphins Monday for a conditional seventh-round pick. He played just 42 snaps on defense last season and finished the year on I.R. with a knee injury … The Texans haven’t ruled out J.J. Watt for Week 1 against the Bears. Watt, who is coming off back surgery, has never missed a game in his five NFL seasons … Kendall Wright left Monday’s practice after suffering another strained hamstring. Even if he’s healthy, it’s unlikely Wright will have a big role in the Titans’ passing game this year with Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe hogging first-team reps … John Brown is still dealing with recurring headaches from a concussion he suffered early in training camp. The 26-year-old is coming off his first 1,000-yard receiving season … Redskins coach Jay Gruden acknowledged that Keith Marshall could be placed on injured reserve. The seventh-round rookie was only expected to miss three weeks after suffering a sprained elbow in Friday’s preseason tilt with Buffalo … Jordy Nelson returned to a full practice on Monday. It was his first full session since tearing his ACL last preseason … The Chiefs are putting Knile Davis on the trade block. Buried behind Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, Davis faces an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster … Colin Kaepernick will get some run in Thursday’s preseason game against the Chargers. Niners coach Chip Kelly hasn’t announced the team’s starting quarterback yet, but all signs are pointing to Blaine Gabbert. Kaepernick’s controversial decision not to stand for the national anthem probably didn’t help his chances … The Buccaneers and Redskins will play their preseason finale on Wednesday instead of Thursday. The game was rescheduled in anticipation of Tropical Depression Nine, which is expected to hit Florida later this week … The Jaguars won Sunday’s preseason game against Cincinnati but Blake Bortles didn’t seem too satisfied with the performance. Here’s his brutally honest evaluation.