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Broncos quarterback derby: What if the answer is two, not one?

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Posted at 11:50 AM, Jun 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 14:11:43-04

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The recess revs up interest. With the Broncos on break for several weeks -- rookies report to training camp on July 23, veterans follow on July 27 -- it allows for time to play the hypothetical game. While I sat in at 104.3 The Fan on Monday morning, co-host Mike Evans asked me what is the most common question received when canvassing ball fields, covering events and shopping at the grocery store.

Easy, I said: "Who will be the Broncos starting quarterback?"

No definitive answer exists. This fails to soothe nerves, but represents my honest answer. Paxton Lynch closed the gap enough this offseason to create a true competition with Trevor Siemian. First year coach Vance Joseph repeated he will only make a decision when he sees "separation." This makes sense, is fair, but is not ideal. Teams looking to make deep runs in the playoffs prefer certainty at the league's most important position. Yes, the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 with below average quarterback play. That, however, cannot be viewed as the template for success. If anything it represented an outlier. 

The Broncos won with a terrific defense that evolved into an historically special unit in the postseason. Hoping for such a replay is not a strategy. The Broncos need their offense to carry its weight. It starts with moving the chains after posting 56 three-and-out drives last season, fourth most in the NFL. It continues with better play in the red zone where Denver's touchdown percentage ranked 26th. 

Evaluating Siemian and Lynch last season proved greasy given the offensive line's struggles and the lack of running game. However, no one can receive a free pass following the lack of production.

The quarterback play must and will be better. The scheme will create more opportunities to make an impact. This is a pass-completion friendly offense. Coordinator Mike McCoy has a long history of maximizing playmakers and adapting to their strengths. 

And yet, the quarterback question exists. As I play the 'what if' game in June I wonder if the answer at the position is two not one. I have said in this space that the Broncos need a clear winner at the position in training camp to move forward. I think there will be one by the third week in August. But one victor does not exclude two players from contributing.

Hear me out. There are few things I have gleaned since returning full time to NFL coverage in the 2014 season. The league despises distractions. And the only thing more loathed than distractions are turnovers. This is not your father's NFL where Brett Favre slung the ball from his hip and erased three picks with three touchdowns. No team has thrown more than 30 interceptions since the Detroit Lions uncorked 32 in 2009. Only one quarterback eclipsed 20 last season, Philip Rivers with 21. 

It complicates the already difficult development of young quarterbacks. Everyone wants them to play now. As in this moment. Yet, the coaches don't want them to make mistakes. It's counterintuitive. They can only learn through transgressions, but the tolerance for those has shrunk to an insanely low threshold. 

This is where I return to my wandering thought on a Tuesday in June. The Broncos begin the season with three of their first four games at home. They finish with four of six on the road. They can't go all Matthew McConaughey and have a "Failure to Launch." This is where I believe Siemian could possess an edge initially.

His experience makes him the safe choice. The idea he could protect the ball well the first four games is plausible. And this is where it could get interesting. Again, play along with me. If the team is winning, but not running at an optimal level offensively it cracks the door for Lynch. He could enter with a slight margin for error, rather than be asked to rescue a slumping team.

He has an out which we have not discussed. His way of protecting the ball? Tucking it under and taking off. He is a dramatically better runner than I expected. Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 244 pounds, he moves gracefully. He is not afraid of contact. He can make plays with his feet, and diversify the offense. Staying on the field as a guy who likes to scramble remains the NFL's biggest challenge. No quarterback has pulled it off with any regularity, save for Russell Wilson, though he played in a pro style system at the end of his college career in Wisconsin. Quarterbacks who get hit get hurt. It's that simple.

This drives home my point on why I expect the Broncos to need two quarterbacks to reach their one goal: a return to the playoffs. Siemian can take care of the ball but needs to take more chances. Lynch shows no reluctance to take chances but must prove he can take care of the ball. The uncertainty at quarterback remains the dominant question about the the Broncos. 

But we could have it all wrong. The answer to success might not be one guy, but rather both.