It’s a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Punta de Mita, a resort town on Mexico’s west coast—sunny, 80 degrees, a slight breeze blowing off the Pacific Ocean—when Trevor Siemian’s phone rings with the call he has been waiting for since Halloween. But he doesn’t hear the familiar ringtone. That’s because his iPhone is buried in his fiancée’s beach bag, and he’s standing with her in the W Hotel’s shallow, blue-tiled pool, a bottle of Pacifico in hand.
When Siemian gets out of the pool a half-hour later, he sees he has two missed calls from his agent, Mike McCartney. He hurries to find a quiet spot, away from the live band playing poolside, and calls back.
McCartney picks up. “Hey, don’t say anything to anybody. Act dumb if they call.”
The NFL’s new year ushered in a deluge of trades, 22 so far in March—coming into this season, the average number of March trades since 2000 was 7.2. For most, a trade is reduced to names scrolling across the ticker or popping up in a tweet. For the players themselves it’s a life-altering moment, and in Siemian’s case, the culmination of a months-long drama.
OCT. 31, 2017
The Broncos have an off-day after dropping a Monday night game in Kansas City, their third straight loss. Siemian and fiancée Bo Podkopacz are watching TV at his apartment when Phil Rauscher, assistant to head coach Vance Joseph, calls. Hey, can you swing by when you get a chance? Coach wants to talk to you.
Siemian gets a sick feeling in his stomach. Going in on an off-day to talk to the head coach is never a good thing, especially after throwing three interceptions that Joseph had referred to as “horrific decisions” while addressing the press after the game. In Joseph’s office, Siemian gets the bad news: They’ll be starting Brock Osweiler in Philadelphia on Sunday, and will be exploring quarterback options until they find the right fit. “It’s tough to swallow,” Siemian says now. “At first you’re pissed off because you think you should be playing, and then you go through this self awareness phase and it’s like, Well, shoot, I haven’t played very well… You kind of drive yourself crazy a little bit, like, man, what do I gotta do to get better?”
As he leaves Joseph’s office, Siemian has a feeling this is the beginning of the end for him in Denver. “I knew from that point on,” he says, “that it would probably be unlikely that I would be the guy here.”
It’s a tough realization considering that just a few months earlier, Siemian thought he was on the brink of a breakout season. “Playing 14 games the year before, plus preseason, I felt like I had experience and I was ready to keep growing and developing as a player,” he says. “I felt really good about it going into the year.”
Siemian, 26, ultimately started 10 games in 2017—he was the only Broncos quarterback to win even a single game as a starter (5-5)—and had some good moments in Denver. He won the post-Peyton Manning quarterback competition, and beat then-reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton in his first NFL start, the 2016 season-opener. But, on Halloween one year later, it appears his time in Denver has ended with a thud.
Siemian did make three starts in December, though his season ended with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder suffered on a Thursday night in Indianapolis.
The year winding down, McCartney calls Siemian with an idea. “Now isn’t the time to talk about this, but I’m thinking about exploring trade options for you.”
The agent also calls Denver GM John Elway and Joseph to plant the idea. “No complaints here or hard feelings,” McCartney tells them, “but as you guys head into your offseason meetings, if trading Trevor makes sense to you, you have my blessing.”
JAN. 14, 2018
Siemian, recovering from the second surgery on his left shoulder, watches the Vikings-Saints playoff game on TV. Minnesota trails by one with 10 seconds left and the ball at their own 39-yard line, their season on the verge of ending. He is watching Case Keenum closely, as the Vikings’ unlikely star gathers his teammates in the huddle before one last desperation play. Siemian hopes he is looking at his future. “I don’t know if Case Keenum had a bigger fan going into the playoffs than me,” he says. Siemian was a seventh-round pick; Keenum was undrafted. Neither was supposed to become a starter in the NFL. Keenum, stepping in for Sam Bradford and playing football in mid-January, is proof that perseverance pays off.
Just then, Keenum connects with Stefon Diggs on the Minnesota Miracle, a 61-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs as time expires. “That sequence of events was so cool to watch,” Siemian says. “I’ve been in Case’s shoes, obviously not the same experiences, but I know what it’s like to be kicked in the teeth a little bit in this league. Case has gone through a bit of a tough stretch, but to see him playing really well, I was so fired up for him.”
At a press conference, Elway makes it clear he is looking to improve at quarterback and will explore all options to land a new starter. With the organization’s position clear, Siemian and McCartney start to talk, over a series of phone calls, seriously about a trade.
Not that Siemian has any choice—no one would offer him a starting job for 2018—but McCartney thinks the best thing for his client’s long-term development is to land a role as a backup to a seasoned veteran, similar to his rookie year when he was Denver’s third quarterback and Peyton Manning was the starter. “Competing for a starting job is not what is important now,” McCartney advises Siemian. “I am eager for you to take a step back to go forward.”
Siemian agrees. When he was a rookie in the same quarterback room as Manning, he learned how to prepare for every possible look from a defense and how to take thorough notes. During quarterback meetings, the future Hall of Famer would literally pick up Siemian’s pen and hand it to him if he noticed the rookie wasn’t taking notes during an moment he thought was important. “It was like, Hey, you need to be writing this down,” Siemian remembers. “He would show it to you in front of your face.”
But because Siemian only took one regular season snap as a rookie (a victory formation kneel-down), there was a lot he couldn’t know when he shared the QB room with Manning. “Now I have all these real experiences that I went through playing that I didn’t have my rookie year,” he says. “I’m in a room with Peyton and Brock and I don’t have much context with what is going on. When you play you have a little different perspective, it’s not just diagrams in a playbook. You have to have a feel for concepts that you can only get from being in a bunch of games.”
New to this whole trade thing, Siemian asks McCartney if a deal is even possible considering he’s still under contract. McCartney walks him through the basic logistics and also prepares him for the possibility of getting released. Siemian says with a laugh: “I’m hanging on by the seat of my pants and we’ll see what happens.”
While in Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, McCartney attends a late afternoon meeting with the Broncos at the J.W. Marriott to discuss Siemian’s future. The Broncos express again how much they appreciate the young quarterback and that the way the season went down wasn’t all his fault. When McCartney asks if they would consider trading Siemian, the team seems open to it, but not in any hurry to do so. “I don’t anticipate it is going to happen right away,” McCartney says. “It may not happen at all in the spring, it could be one of those that goes into camp. They aren’t going to tell me what their intentions are.”
Without explicit permission to seek a trade, an agent can’t shop his client to other teams, so when McCartney meets with teams about other clients during the combine weekend, he’s only able to suggest that they might want to do their homework on Siemian, because who knows what could happen in Denver? One night in Indianapolis, McCartney bumps into some old friends who work for the Vikings at the hotel’s bar area. He mentions that they might want to check out Siemian. After all, who knows?
Later, during the blur of combine weekend, McCartney hops in an Uber. He wants to call Siemian to give him an update during his ride, but settles on a text to say he’ll call later because he is paranoid his driver might overhear.
With the NFL’s legal tampering period open, agents can talk prospective free agents contracts. McCartney is overwhelmed by interest in Kirk Cousins, and has several conversations that day with the Vikings. At some point during those discussions, Siemian’s name comes up. McCartney seizes the opportunity to advocate for another one of his guys, and tells the Vikings why Siemian would be the ideal backup for Cousins, if Cousins chooses to play in Minnesota.
“I’ve always felt like the quarterback room is extremely important, and Kirk and I in particular have talked about this for years,” McCartney says. “In my opinion, the No. 2 quarterback has the most profound effect on the quarterback room, because if his sole desire is to help the starter prepare and do everything that he can to be successful, that can room can flourish, and I personally see Trevor having that attitude with Kirk.”
Later on the same night, Broncos beat writer Nicki Jhabvala reports on Twitter that Denver has received calls from teams interested in Siemian.
9:59 a.m. CT: It’s a Wednesday; Siemian has been in Mexico since Monday. McCartney calls on his way to his downtown Chicago office, figuring Siemian might need to get catch up on the quarterback carousel and anything else he might have missed while in vacation mode.
3:03 p.m.: McCartney gets word that a trade to Minnesota could be coming, so he calls Siemian again. “I hear you are going to get traded to the Vikings,” McCartney says. “How awesome is that?” Pretty awesome, Siemian agrees.
4:30 p.m.: NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport texts McCartney; he’d heard Siemian is getting traded to the Vikings. Can you confirm? Rapoport asks. McCartney doesn’t have confirmation of the trade just yet, so he calls someone he thinks would know. The source says yes, the trade is in the works.
7:39 p.m.: McCartney’s phone buzzes with a text from his source. The Siemian trade is real. McCartney texts Broncos director of football administration Mike Sullivan and tells him to thank John Elway for doing right by Siemian. The official deal: The Broncos send Siemian and a 2018 seventh-round pick to the Vikings in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round pick. Along with the Vikings, several other teams were interested in Siemian—Atlanta, where his former quarterback coach Greg Knapp was recently hired, was one of them.
Siemian and McCartney talk one more time that night. McCartney tells him he’s officially a Minnesota Viking. “I’m beyond thrilled,” McCartney says. “This is an absolute perfect fit.”
“I’m pumped,” Siemian says. “I don’t think I could have gone to a better place.” He can’t wait to tell Podkopacz the news. She grew up a Vikings fan in a Minneapolis suburb and had brought Siemian, a Florida native, back home to Minnesota many times. She can’t believe they’ll be moving to the Twin Cities.
Even though Siemian had been preparing to be traded for a few months now, he didn’t expect it all to happen so quickly. “I didn’t absorb it right away,” Siemian says. “It’s my first time going through all this, so the point where it actually happens and the realization hits you, it was a little delayed.” He’s sad to think he’ll soon be leaving Denver and his teammates there. But he describes himself as a “constant optimist,” so he’s already thinking about his to-do list: Reach out to Cousins, find a new place to live, finish rehabbing his shoulder in Minnesota. He’s never met Cousins before, but feels like he knows him through McCartney and is excited to work with him closely.
Soon after getting the news from McCartney, Minnesota offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski call. They know he’s in Mexico, so they keep the conversation short. DeFilippo brings up the time three years ago when he was one of just a few NFL coaches to work out Siemian before the 2015 draft. Only the Broncos and the Browns made the trip to Evanston to check out Siemian’s arm—DeFilippo was the Browns offensive coordinator at the time. Siemian is certain that history played a role in Minnesota’s trade for him.
While his cell service in Mexico isn’t always reliable, he doesn’t hear from anyone with the Broncos.
Minnesota athletic trainer Tom Hunkele picks up the team’s newest quarterback from the airport around noon. Siemian gets his medical exams done first, and then heads to the brand-new Vikings facility, the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. Stefanski gives Siemian a tour of the team’s new building, which opened two weeks ago. Siemian is impressed by the unusually tall ceiling of the indoor practice field (“specialists can kick and punt indoors!”) and the locker room that features two fireplaces. “It’s jaw-dropping,” Siemian says. “I sure as hell haven’t seen anything like it.”
That night, he dines with DeFilippo, Stefanski, and assistant receivers coach Drew Petzing at Butcher and the Boar, a trendy downtown Minneapolis spot. “It was a lot to digest in a short amount of time,” Siemian says of his quick 24-hour Minnesota visit (or perhaps in reference to the beef long rib he ordered).
The next morning, he tours U.S. Bank Stadium before his flight back to Denver. On Friday, he’ll pack up his black Hummer H3 for the road trip to Minneapolis and leave Denver behind for good. “I don’t see myself getting too nostalgic,” he says. “I’ll probably have a podcast on, or an audio book.”
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