To start the second quarter on Monday night, Broncos president and general manager John Elway was shown in his luxury box peering down at the field with a pair of binoculars.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian was almost certainly in his line of sight. At that point, Denver’s starting quarterback was working to salvage a 29.2 quarterback rating and 50 percent completion rate. He’d already thrown an interception and the Broncos were down 14 points, and it could have been worse—had it not been for a botched trick play by the Chiefs deep in their own territory, the deficit might have sat at 21.
And it did get worse amid a 29-19 loss. Before halftime, Siemian threw his second pick of the night on a rollout to his right side. As the route progressed in front of him, it seemed like three different receivers flashed momentarily in open space amid Kansas City’s terrorizing zone defense. Siemian hurled the ball to Jordan Taylor, who was breaking back toward the quarterback, but the pass seemed to anticipate the opposite. Defensive back Ron Parker had the easy grab. A third interception—this one in the fourth quarter—looked startlingly similar, just floated to the middle of the field instead. Overall, he finished 19-of-36 for 198 yards with one touchdown and those three picks.
Should any of those picks been the pass that ended his tenure as Broncos starter? When the Broncos’ coaching staff digests the All-22 tape Monday night and Tuesday morning, how will those balls balance against a second half that showed toughness and a notable number of dropped passes from Denver wideouts? Elway and head coach Vance Joseph may have left themselves no choice.
As the San Francisco 49ers proved on Monday night, teams are not waiting around for the quarterback anymore. Kyle Shanahan effectively skipped the line of tanking teams hoping to hit the lottery this April and made his move. The Eagles traded their way to the No. 2 pick in 2016 after finishing the 2015 season 7-9. The Texans found their future under center after finishing 9-7.
So here stands Elway with a world-class defense ticking away before his eyes. The offensive line came together fairly well—in the case of Garett Bolles and Ron Leary at least—thanks to his bullish efforts this offseason. Demaryius Thomas is still an elite wide receiver. How much longer will standing and watching be enough?
This is not to say Elway hasn’t been trying. He worked his way up the draft board for a chance to mold Paxton Lynch. He stashed Chad Kelly. He re-signed Brock Osweiler. Given the circumstances surrounding each moment—the 2016 draft, 2017 draft and 2017 free agency—it was about the best he could do at the time.
Sitting at 3-4, the next pivot seems obvious: Move to Lynch whenever he’s healthy enough to start. A 1-1 record last year and a stat line consisting of a 59 percent completion rate, 497 yards, two touchdowns and one interception require further examination. Lynch (shoulder) practiced for the first time this season last week. And if that doesn’t work?
The camera panned back to Elway toward the end of the night, with a little less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. His head was resting on his hand—a visual interpretation of the angst and uncertainty. If that inevitable pivot to Lynch doesn’t work, then what?