ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Denver Broncos:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Paxton Lynch -- $2.584 million
Trevor Siemian -- $1.918 million
Chad Kelly -- $496,067
Key stat: The Broncos went from Trevor Siemian to Brock Osweiler to Paxton Lynch at quarterback not once, but twice, this past season. All of them struggled with turnovers as the team's 22 interceptions were the second-highest total in the league -- only the Cleveland Browns had more. All three of the quarterbacks also lost at least one fumble, accounting for four of the Broncos' 12 lost fumbles on the season. Add it up and the turnovers were the biggest reason the Broncos kept changing quarterbacks and why president of football operations/general manager John Elway has said "for us to have a chance to get better we have to get better at the position."
Money matters: Since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season, the Broncos have lived a comfortable salary-cap life at quarterback with Siemian and Lynch each still playing on their rookie deals. Osweiler played on a one-year, $775,000 deal this past season as the Browns paid him $15.225 million even though they had released him. Struggles on the offensive line and an ill-fitting scheme that resulted in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy's firing in November resulted in the erosion of Siemian's play in particular. Siemian had been one of the league's best salary-cap values as the team's starter in 2016. On the bright side, with so little spent on the quarterbacks the Broncos were able to sign Von Miller to a $114.5 million deal before the 2016 season.
Big picture: The season wasn't over for 24 hours before Elway had declared improvement at quarterback the offseason's top priority. History would say the Broncos' best chance would come in free agency given most of the team's best quarterbacks have been acquired from elsewhere. Five of the top seven passers in franchise history arrived by trade or free agency. Elway (trade), Manning (free agency) and Craig Morton (trade) are 1-2-3 in franchise history in passing yards, while Jake Plummer (free agency) is fifth and Kyle Orton (trade) is seventh. Of the top seven passers in team history, only Brian Griese (fourth) and Jay Cutler (sixth) were draft picks. The Broncos do have three of their own draft picks at the position on the current roster -- Siemian, Lynch and Kelly -- but they don't seem inclined to say any of the three has a future as the team's starter.
The game plan: If Elway says something is a top priority, then anything and everything is on the table as a potential solution. The assumption has been that the Broncos are interested in getting into the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes and would be willing to see what it would take to sign Case Keenum as well. The team's level of participation in free agency will determine if the Broncos use the No. 5 pick on a quarterback. If the Broncos sign an older quarterback in free agency to a two- or three-year deal -- that would be somebody other than Cousins since he's not yet 30 and figures to get a huge payday -- then they would be more apt to use their first- or second-round pick on a quarterback since Elway has said he wants a long-term solution. Neither Elway nor coach Vance Joseph has publicly offered that Lynch can be in any sort of competition to be the starter, but Elway did say at the scouting combine that Lynch still has a chance to have a good career in the NFL if he "continues to work to get better." Elway added, "So by no means are we kicking him to the curb." The Broncos traded up in the first round to select Lynch in the 2016 draft, and he has been unable to win the starting job, looking unsettled much of the time in his four starts. It's still unclear, however, whether Lynch would be doing that developmental work as the team's No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback.