The last pass Trevor Siemian threw in a game that counted (read: not the NFL preseason) was a seven-yard completion to Dan Vitale, during Northwestern's win over Purdue on Nov. 22, 2014.
His next meaningful attempt will come on the NFL’s 2016 opening night, in a Super Bowl rematch between Siemian’s defending champion Broncos and the Carolina Panthers.
The Broncos announced Monday that they will turn their quarterback job over to Siemian, declaring him the victor in a competition that also included Mark Sanchez and first-round pick Paxton Lynch. It’s no surprise given how the race has played out over the past few months, but it does reemphasize one thing made clear by the front office’s approach to this off-season: GM John Elway and coach Gary Kubiak believe that they can win with just about anybody under center.
That sounds like a knock on Siemian. It’s not. Well, not really.
It is merely a presentation of the facts. After Manning announced he would retire, the Broncos drew a hard line in the sand on contract negotiations with Brock Osweiler, then eventually watched him leave for Houston. Elway picked up Mark Sanchez immediately after that and later drafted Lynch, but neither constituted anything close to a sure thing.
So when training camp rolled around with Siemian, Sanchez and Lynch as the only viable options, it was quite clear that Denver’s aim was to repeat its 2015 approach—a brilliant defense, strong run game and playmaking pass catchers picking up an unsettled QB spot.
Granted, it’s not easy to find a legitimate starting quarterback in this league, hence Houston’s rather exorbitant offer to Osweiler. But when the Broncos balked at matching or exceeding that offer, they made their bed for 2016. The only way the outlook shifts now is if a surprise comes down the pike as other NFL teams whittle their rosters to 53. Kaepernick, for one, is believed to be on the bubble in San Francisco.
Kaepernick has created a stir this preseason by refusing to stand for the national anthem before games. His NFL future is murkier than ever. He does have one thing in common with the Broncos’s current collection of quarterbacks, though: None has been all that impressive in the preseason.
Siemian did help the Broncos to TD drives in each of his past two games, both starts, while completing 20-of-31 passes. But he also fired an interception per outing. It’s hard to say that he has been demonstrably better—and some would argue he has been worse—than Sanchez.
So we arrive back at the question Manning and Osweiler forced the football world to consider last season: Does it matter?
Manning exited as the Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but he was arguably the worst player to see extended minutes during Denver’s win over Carolina last February. He completed just 55% of his passes in the playoffs, averaging 179 yards per game.
“The thing about replacing Peyton—nobody is going to replace Peyton,” Siemian said, via the Broncos’s website. “Those shoes are a little too big to fill. For me, I’m not reading too much into anything and trying to be the best teammate and leader I can be.”
He could replace that version of Peyton, perhaps. However, while Manning lacked in arm strength and accuracy in his final season, he will go down as one of the smartest in-game quarterbacks in league history. Managing the huddle and adjusting the line pre-snap sound like basic components of a QB’s job, but Siemian can only dream of being able to process his surroundings the way that Manning did. If there is an underrated aspect of Manning’s absence, the Broncos will feel it in those between-the-ears ways.
That said, so long as Von Miller, Chris Harris & Co., are destroying opposing offenses, the main job of the Broncos’s quarterback is to not turn the ball over. If he can successfully audible or complete a pass here or there, all the better.
The Broncos will find out in 10 days how many of those responsibilities Siemian can handle when it’s real.
It goes without saying that Elway and Kubiak would love Siemian to run with the gig and elevate the passing attack beyond where it was a year ago. In reality, the end game is for Siemian to keep the wheels on until Lynch is ready to inherit the job, be that in 2016 or later.
When Lynch does, depending on how he develops, the Broncos might regain an edge at the quarterback spot. Until then, they’ll ride with Siemian and hope for the best.