By Woody Paige
John Legend – the former Denver Broncos Hall of Famer, not the singer-songwriter – once famously said of the Broncos’ quarterback circumstances: “”We don’t have a Plan B. We’re going with Plan A.’’
After the euphoria of the Super Bowl, in the off-season, John Elway was forced to contemplate Plans B-Q in regard to the QB once Peyton Manning retired to the roast-beef circuit and Brock Osweiler signed a $72 million contract with Houston.
But the Broncos’ Executive Vice President of Everything Football was all Smile High last weekend.
He and the Broncos settled on Plan S, and that wasn’t Sanchez, but, rather Siemian.
Mark Sanchez was released Saturday. Nobody here cares. Good-bye, Marky Mark. We hardly knew ye. Hello, Dallas Cowboys.
Trevor Siemian officially is the Broncos’ 45 all-time starting quarterback and the first “”S’’ quarterback since Mickey Slaughter started 18 games at the position from 1963-65. The E-Train, Elway, was the longest-tenured starter – for 231 regular-season starts over 16 seasons from 1983-1988. He had an “”S’’ on his chest.
At the other end of the Broncos’ spectrum were old-timer George Shaw, Jarious Jackson, Chris Sims, Mark Hermann, John Hufnagel and Bill Musgrave, All were one-start wonders.
It is assumed that Siemian will start more often.
His coach, Gary Kubiak, started five games in his nine-year career as Elway’s backup.
Who was second in starts? No, not Manning with 57. Craig Morton started 64 games for the Broncos from 1977-1982.
And, for those keeping score at home, Timmy Tebow, the baseball player, started 14 games for the Broncos.
Sanchez goes on the long list of quarterbacks who were invited to the Broncos training camp, but didn’t make the regular-season roster. The most renowned name Steve Spurrier. Brady Quinn never started a game for the Broncos.
How did Siemian, the 250th choice in the 2015 draft, make it to the top with the Broncos?
By the process of elimination.
When Osweiler decided on March 10 to stick it to the Broncos, Elway initiated the process with the Broncos trading the next day for Sanchez. Elway said: “”This is just the beginning.’’ It actually turned out to be the beginning of the end for Sanchez, who spent six months losing the job.
While the Broncos searched for quarterback alternatives, Siemian stood in the shadows.
The Broncos deliberated about:
Veterans Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford, Josh McCown, Mike Glennon, AJ McCarron, Brian Hoyer, Case Keenum and Josh Johnson, and draft picks Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, Dak Prescott and Paxton Lynch.
Plan A was Kaepernick to the point Elway invited him to his home in suburban Denver. But the San Francisco quarterback wouldn’t agree to reduce his guarantee money of $11.9 million by $5 mil.
Best deal the Broncos didn’t make and the best money Elway never spent. Kaepernick won’t start for the 49ers, won’t stand for the National Anthem and won’t even talk to his biological mother in Colorado.
Bradford was too expensive with too poor a resume. He just was sent to the Vikings for a No. 1 draft pick. Fitzpatrick wanted too much cash. The Broncos checked out RGIII and decided no way, and he has been mediocre for Cleveland in exhibitions. Reserve quarterbacks Glennon, McCown, Kennum and McCarron couldn’t be pried away, and Hoyer is a loser.
Hackenberg, drafted in the second round by the Jets, gave a historically-terrible performance in the final exhibition, completing only 11 of 31 passes for 54 yards and a 90-yard pick-six. Cook slipped to the fourth round (Raiders) and has been lost in camp.
Dak Prescott, who the Broncos liked and brought to Denver for a visit, also fell to the fourth round and was taken by Dallas. He has become the find of the draft, throwing and running for seven touchdowns and compiling a 106.8 QB rating. With the injury to Tony Romo, Prescott is a starting quarterback and rookie of the year contender.
The Broncos ultimately decided on Paxton Lynch (first round), who is not advanced enough to start, but advanced enough to pass the sinking Sanchez.
And look who’s the surprise starting quarterback.
Sal Paolantonio of ESPN, one of the very best pro football reporters and analysts in the business, now has reported that Elway, the Old QB, talked with Siemian, the Young QB. “”“Just go out and play,” Sal quoted Elway as saying to Siemian. “Don’t worry about making mistakes. Don’t worry about turnovers. You’re going to make mistakes. But just bounce back.”
That was a problem in the second exhibition, which he started. Siemian led the Broncos immediately down the field for a touchdown in the first quarter. Yet, later, he threw an interception returned for a touchdown. And he looked like a kid who had lost his lunch money afterward. He didn’t complete another pass in his next possession, and Gary Kubiak removed him from the game and put an arm around Siemian, somewhat, I guess, to console him. “”I’ll buy your lunch,” Kubiak might have said.
This is a long way from when Elway and I talked before Tim Tebow started his first playoff game for the Broncos against Pittsburgh. Tebow had helped get the Broncos to the postseason after taking over for Kyle Orton in mid-season. But he was tentative, and many of his passes were, to use baseball pitcher terms, a bit outside (by yards) or seemed like sliders thrown in the dirt in front of home plate. I asked Elway if he intended to have a meeting with Tebow before Steelers game. “”No, I don’t want to mess with his mind.” So I said to Elway: “”What would you say to him?”
Elway didn’t pause.
“”Pull the trigger.”
That was the money shot. Elway said it all with three words. Don’t hesitate. Don’t overthink. Just throw the ball. Elway actually put another word in his description.
Elway’s words went viral on the interview and in social media. “”Pull The Trigger” became the rallying cry for Tim Tebow. When asked about the story I wrote quoting Elway, Tebow replied: “”He’s right.”
Guess what? Tebow did pull the trigger, especially on the first play of overtime when he hit Demaryius Thomas on a short slant, and Thomas raced 80 yards for the winning touchdown.
Tebow played awful the next week in New England and finally, and mercifully, was removed with injured ribs.
He never started or played another game with the Broncos, and never started again in the NFL.
I wonder if Elway also told Siemian: “”Pull the trigger.”
Elway, Kubiak, Hannibal Smith (leader of TV’s “”A Team”) and the rest of us will find out soon enough, perhaps Thursday night in the season opener against Carolina, if this Plan S comes together or falls apart.
(This column has been updated since originally appearing The Gazette and in a number of newspapers throughout the country.)