KUSA – John Elway’s tenure as the Broncos’ general manager may well come down to this: Tony Romo or Paxton Lynch?
And yes, Trevor Siemian may sneak in yet again and become the Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2017. He might even be the smart way to bet.
But in terms of Elway’s vision for the Broncos near and far, his roster-building strategy for this season and beyond, his crossroad decision is Romo or Lynch.
If Romo becomes available through his release from the Dallas Cowboys – a transaction many observers deem unavoidable because of his monstrous, if non-guaranteed, remaining contract, plus the team’s proven young replacement in Dak Prescott – the Broncos are expected to at least discuss whether to pursue the veteran quarterback.
So will several other teams who are far more famished at quarterback than the Broncos. If the price tag on Romo’s new deal becomes $13 million per year, the Broncos may not compete. If Romo is willing to take a few million dollars less to play for a team with an immediate chance to compete for the Super Bowl, it would be surprising if the Broncos didn’t listen.
If the Broncos do land Romo – two years after completing a successful, second-chapter run with Peyton Manning — it may place a portion of Elway’s executive legacy into a box that houses the likes of George Allen and his “Over the Hill Gang,’’ and Al “Just Win Baby” Davis.
Allen nearly won a Super Bowl with the aging Billy Kilmer at quarterback in 1972, stymied only by the greatest team of the Super Bowl era, the undefeated Miami Dolphins. Davis won two Super Bowls with Jim Plunkett, a journeyman who won his first at 33 and next at 36.
Romo will be 37 on April 21. When healthy, Romo has been a big winner and prolific passer in the regular season, but his playoff resume, while impressive statistically, shows just two wins, none past the first round. Even if he is no Peyton Manning, Romo would likely give the Broncos their best chance to win it all in 2017.
Signing Romo, though, would clearly show Elway believes Lynch, his first-round draft pick last season, is not ready for The Show. It also would leave Siemian wondering where he stands.
Romo would not sign up with the Broncos to compete. Given the interest he is expected to garner, Romo will land where he has assurances of stepping in to start.
Given his age, it’s possible Romo could become a Bronco with no more than two years fully guaranteed on his contract. That still pushes Lynch back to year four. The Brock Osweiler Plan, in other words. Elway’s intention when he traded up in the first round to nab Lynch was to not have the quarterback sit for three years.
On draft day, Elway said he thought Lynch would be ready “sooner rather than later.’’ Yet, Lynch’s first year ended with the concern he will have to improve dramatically in the offseason to become starter-ready in year two.
Signing Romo would also signal the Broncos do not believe they can win big with Siemian. They went 8-6 with Siemian in his first year as a starter in 2016, but that was not enough to qualify for a playoff spot.
Romo would be about winning big now. Going forward with Lynch would mean the Broncos are willing to take some lumps as their young quarterback endures growing pains. That doesn’t mean the Broncos have to concede. The Baltimore Ravens went 11-5 and won two playoff games in 2008 with Joe Flacco, a rookie quarterback from Delaware.
But Lynch would mean patience. Would Elway be willing to go 8-8 in return for moving Lynch a step closer to developing into a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback? Such a notion doesn’t seem to be passing through Elway’s DNA.
Sticking with Lynch would also mean he may yet again lose the starting quarterback competition to Siemian. As they line up now, Siemian is more advanced than Lynch as an NFL quarterback. Siemian is an overachieving, seventh-round draft pick. He is steady, not spectacular. Can the Broncos go deep in the playoffs with Siemian? Perhaps with an improved offensive line, an average running game, and new coaching help of Mike McCoy and Bill Musgrave he can.
It would look funny, though, if the first-rounder Lynch sits a second season behind the seventh-rounder Siemian.
To date, Elway’s GM legacy is exemplary. Five division titles in five years, plus two Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy before a 9-7 hiccup in year six. Even Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots suffered through a 9-7, non-playoff season in year two of their 16-year dynasty.
But this isn’t baseball where history counts. This is the NFL where only tomorrow matters. Romo would have people criticizing Elway’s first-round draft pick. There already have been recent misses with second- and third-round picks.
And heaven forbid, the Broncos don’t win with Romo. He had some big statistical years from 2011-13 and the Cowboys still went 8-8, 8-8 and 8-7.
Ultimately, though, Elway and 30 other NFL general managers have to figure out how to beat Brady, who turns 40 later this year, and the Patriots. Does Romo give the Broncos their best chance of upending the Pats? Or are they better off bringing along their first-round draft pick with the idea Lynch can eventually win a Super Bowl?