Vincent T. Conroy-Villarreal @mrconroy2u AAVSPORT
PHOENIX- With the NFL Combine concluding in the upcoming days and free agency set to commence, the Denver Broncos, after being forced to sit from the sidelines in their championship defense, will look to reload this offseason with expectations being mile high.
Against popular conception, general manager John Elway has very few holes to address before training camp. His free agency shopping list should be relatively small, addressing only absolute needs at offensive guard and the defensive tackle positions during the free agency legal tampering period. Ideally, his focus should be concentrated on targeting depth across the entire offensive unit in the upcoming draft. Don’t be fooled, if Elway can reconstruct the offensive line, the Broncos’ Super Bowl window is still theoretically wide open. Even after Manning’s and Kubiak’s retirement along with Wade Phillip’s dismissal, the Broncos remain to be New England’s lone kryptonite in the American Football Conference.
Even with management’s decision to not pick up Russel Okung’s four-year option, the collective talent of the offensive line remains to be skeletal at best with no heir apparent in place at the left tackle position. Elway’s offseason moves will prove to be critical not only for the longevity of the Broncos title window with an elite defense aging, but for his drafting ability as well. Elway has gotten the benefit of the doubt at evaluating talent with his defensive selections, but picks like Monte Ball, Michael Scholfield and Cody Latimer have been lackluster and borderline bust worthy at best. While his 2017 offseason tasks prove to be predictable and sensible for the most part, Elway’s upcoming decision on the quarterback position proves to be just as unpredictable as the Colorado weather.
Even though the prognosis of the Broncos’ inability to make the playoffs lies on the shoulders of inadequate offensive line play and the inability to stop the run on defense, most Bronco faithful feel that an upgrade at the quarterback position is warranted after missing the postseason for the first time since 2011. Spanning over the last five years, the Broncos have won 67 regular season games, which is tied for second-most in the NFL over that period. However, when anyone outside of Peyton Manning has been the signal caller for the Broncos, no quarterback has won more than nine games in a season over the last ten years. Jay Cutler (2006) and Trevor Siemian (2016) are the only quarterbacks to surpass the.500 mark since 2004, when Jake Plummer lead the Broncos all the way to the AFC Championship game.
According to Mile High Report, Tony Romo is still a top target for the Denver Broncos and speculation remains that Trevor Siemian will be traded to either the Buffalo Bills or the San Francisco 49ers. The 49er trade seems plausible with new head coach Kyle Shanahan implementing an offensive scheme similar too Gary Kubiak’s. Paired with Colin Kapernick opting out of his current contract, the 49ers are in desperate need of a veteran quarterback that has seen a substantial amount of playing time. While even though I agree that Romo is arguably a huge upgrade at the quarterback position in Denver, I strongly feel that Siemian is the best option for the Broncos moving forward.
While Tony Romo is a 37-year-old quarterback that is on the back side of his career, he has been unable to string together a clean bill of health over the last three seasons. While he is 16-5 in all competitions over the last four years, the four-time pro bowler’s best chance to win his first Super Bowl ring as a starting quarterback most likely resides with the Denver Broncos. If Denver wants to capitalize on Romo’s diminishing abilities and go all in again on a championship run, he is perhaps the most viable upcoming option available on the free agent market.
However, Romo remains to be only a stop gap, short-term solution until the Broncos find a long-term answer to their revolving quarterback carousel. Over the last ten years, only two franchises have won a championship with free agent quarterback acquisitions. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning prove to be the outliers to this assessment. Another concern I have with the Broncos bringing in Romo is his health concerns. While Manning had looming, medical concerns coming into Denver, Romo has outright been unable to prove he can stay consistently healthy throughout his entire career.
Three back surgeries, ankle surgeries and a shattered collarbone has limited his physical abilities and as an elder statesman at the position, I question his durability behind Denver’s current offensive line. Manning will go down as one perhaps one of the best to quarterbacks to play in the NFL. It was a calculated decision as free agents of that capacity are usually never available outside of Reggie White, his acquisition will go down as one the best in NFL history. The same cannot be said for Romo impending free agency tour. These concerns should prompt the Broncos brass to seriously consider all of their options, including the ones they currently have on their roster.
Trevor Siemian, the seventh-round Northwestern product played exceptionally well in his first year of starting in the NFL. While he only finished 27th according to Pro Football Focus, he finished 21st in total QBR with an 84.6 mark, threw for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. He performed well for a quarterback with low expectations set forth for him from management. When given a clean pocket, he showed the poise necessary to win games in the NFL. While Siemian is limited as a passer, Denver’s offensive unit regressed in Gary Kubiak’s second year at the helm of calling the plays. When CJ Anderson injured his knee against the Texans and was lost for the remainder of the season, the Broncos offense became dependent and predictable on the one-two punch abilities of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. With little to no tight end production since the departure of Juluis Thomas, Denver’s red zone efficiency has dwindled to one of the least productive units in the NFL. Compared to the 2015 and 2016 season, the offense without question took a step back. However, the quarterback play took a quantum leap forward from a statistical standpoint.
His Pro Bowl alternate invitation and captaincy nod should speak volumes to how the locker room values the third-year player. Prior to his week four non-throwing shoulder injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (which hindered him for the rest of the regular season), Siemian shined in a road victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even with a reshuffled offensive line, Siemian made NFL history by winning in his first career road start in dramatic fashion. Completing 25-32 passes for four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a near-perfect 132.1 quarterback rating, Siemian had the Broncos primed for what seemed like another postseason run.
Unfortunately, his grade-three shoulder injury proved to be more severe than what was expected when Siemian opted for surgery on Jan. 5. Whether the Bronco medical staff acknowledged the extent of Siemian’s injury at the time remains to be seen but regardless, Siemian started in 14 games for the Broncos and earned the respect of his teammates while playing injured throughout the entirety of the season. At the end of the season, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, discovered more damage than originally thought while executing the procedure on Jan. 5 in Los Angeles.
The extent of this injury without question will affect Siemian’s offseason. With a new coaching staff in place, his offseason immersion into the offense will more than likely be given to the incumbent backup and 2016 first-round selection, Paxton Lynch. Also, if Denver is likely trying to find a trade suitor for Siemian, his injury proposes an issue, considering he is now “damaged goods” that likely won’t be ready for full contact until the beginning of the season.
Outside of Siemian’s injury, his season from a statistical standpoint, his tangible upside and status in the locker room perhaps has validated his right to be the starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. His performance created a dilemma for Elway that he did not foresee. However, the elephant in the room that no one has assessed is the fact that Romo is still under contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Without question, Dallas and Jerry Jones, who has a strong personal connection with Romo, wants to get fair compensation for Romo’s services. Jones affection for his long time signal caller very well could hinder his likelihood of being released. If Jones wants value for the Eastern Illinois product, he likely would want fair trade value for Romo’s services. Dallas has all the leverage in this deal.
Furthermore, with a little over 40 million dollars available to spend towards the cap space, Denver would have to likely force Romo to take a substantial pay cut to accommodate the other needs this team has. Paying for a player of Romo’s qualities does not simply make sense. It is a luxury decision and the Broncos can invest that money in other areas. Right now, Romo is due to make 14 million dollars this year on his current contract with the Cowboys, with that number to increase as high as 20 million next year. Based on numbers provided by Over The Cap, Trevor Siemian makes more sense for the Broncos based on an economic stand point. Not only his he cheap, but his return value is invaluable.
While Trevor Siemian is not the most glorious or sexiest option for the Broncos, he is the logical choice for the team for the foreseeable future until Paxton Lynch is prepared to take over the reins. While the Mile-High City has always been recognized by its spectacular defense and electric quarterback play, the likes of Elway and Manning has spoiled. Siemian may not be the quarterback we want, but he is the quarterback Denver deserves. Trevor Siemian is the Savior.