Paxton Lynch controls the Denver Broncos’ future

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 19: Paxton Lynch
SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 19: Paxton Lynch /

How much do the final six games of the 2017 season mean for the Denver Broncos and Paxton Lynch? Probably more than you think…

Paxton Lynch’s career trajectory wasn’t supposed to look like this.

When Lynch was drafted in the first round by the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, he was supposed to come in, give the Broncos a boost at the quarterback position (2015 was not good from Peyton from an on-field standpoint), and be the franchise’s face for years to come.

Those expectations quickly dwindled, as Lynch performed well in the preseason but not well enough to convince the Broncos’ coaching staff — led by Gary Kubiak at the time — that he could be the starter right away.

The decision to keep Lynch on the bench to start his rookie year didn’t keep him off the field, as Trevor Siemian was injured in a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Lynch came in for relief duty.

He would start two games in his rookie season, both against a couple of the toughest defenses in the league (Atlanta, Jacksonville). Those games would be less than spectacular, and the Broncos stayed with Siemian (when healthy) throughout the remainder of the year, leaving major questions as to whether or not Lynch could win the job the following year.

As it turned out, all the starting experience Siemian got in 2016 proved to be his greatest advantage in the 2017 quarterback race, and after being named the backup by a new coaching staff, Lynch badly hurt his shoulder in preseason action against the Green Bay Packers.

Now here we are, 10 games into the regular season, and Lynch hasn’t played a down. Broncos fans have been clamoring for someone like Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson, Tyrod Taylor — so many quarterbacks not named ‘Paxton Lynch’ you would hardly believe he was still part of the team.

Present company included.

But Lynch, having only played in three regular season NFL games, has a unique opportunity, one that could not be seized by Trevor Siemian or Brock Osweiler. Lynch now holds the keys to the Denver Broncos’ franchise, and has six games to make enough of an impression that the team knows they have their guy moving forward.

It’s not ideal, to say the least.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but the Broncos may have made a grave mistake not giving the ball to Lynch right away as a rookie. New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave made some comments in his mid-week press conference that seem to indicate that he’s among those who feel like Lynch being given the keys has been a long time coming:

"“He’s definitely tall so he can see the field. He can throw the ball all over the field with his strength. He just needs time on task. This will be good. This will be another step in his development of getting him on the field so he can get more time on task. You’re only going to learn from experience. You don’t learn from the sideline. This will be important for him.”Bill Musgrave, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator, on Paxton Lynch’s strengths (quotes obtained via Broncos PR)"

Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland will be Lynch’s third NFL start. His development will be fascinating to monitor, and can completely alter the way the Broncos look to change up this roster in the offseason.

I’ve often asked myself during this Broncos’ losing streak, what’s the best case scenario for this team?

Sometimes, as awful as it sounds, the best case scenario for the team doesn’t always involve winning. But that was with Siemian and Osweiler at the quarterback position, and those are two players who aren’t necessarily going to be on the roster as of opening day, 2018.

Lynch is a different story.

When Lynch was named starting quarterback, the question of ‘What is the best case scenario?’ changed.

If you ask me, I would say the best case scenario for the Broncos now is that Lynch plays well, and proves he can be the franchise quarterback moving forward. At the very least, he proves he can take next steps quickly, and put the Broncos in a position to contend sooner rather than later.

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It’s a lot to ask of a guy who is just making his third start as a professional, perhaps even incredibly unfair to Lynch, but that’s sort of where we are.

The Broncos put themselves in this situation by rolling with Siemian for as long as they did. It was hard, if not impossible, to argue that Siemian was the guy who ‘won’ the job this past offseason, but like Musgrave said, you don’t learn from the sideline.

Hopefully, that will prove to be at least somewhat untrue, as Lynch clearly had some developing to do in terms of his studying off the field. We also hope the Broncos have also slimmed down the playbook to be more efficient for the quarterbacks.

That’s where Musgrave has excelled in recent years with guys like Derek Carr, and that’s where the Broncos need him to excel now.

If Lynch can come in and play well, he will do what no other Broncos quarterback has done since week two of this season. As we saw in games where the Broncos had strong or even solid play from the quarterback position, it wasn’t overly difficult for them to get a lead or even win games.

We know that Lynch has big time talent, but we need to see it in action again. What we saw from him against the Buccaneers and even at times the Falcons last year has seemingly disappeared.

Will the Broncos go after a big name quarterback this offseason? Will they target someone early in the draft?

Those questions are — for the moment — taking a backseat to this one:

What will we see from Paxton Lynch?

Right now, that’s the most important question in Broncos Country, and he’ll be given six weeks to provide some kind of an answer.

It all starts in Oakland.