It’s not often the defending Super Bowl champions are shopping for a starting quarterback in the months following the big game, though the Denver Broncos find themselves in that very situation this offseason.
Peyton Manning announced his retirement from the NFL on March 7, just 29 days after the Broncos’ victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Manning played 18 seasons in the league and is in the ever-popular ‘greatest of all time’ discussion. He won Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts and bookended his career with another. He’s only the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era — the other being his boss, John Elway — to end his career with a championship, and the only to win a Super Bowl as a starting quarterback for multiple teams.
All that said, Manning wasn’t much of a positive factor for the Broncos on the field last season. He had by far his worst statistical season as he threw just nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions in ten regular season games. He was serviceable in the postseason with two touchdowns and an interception but was really just trying not to lose the game. That fact alone should give fans hope that the team can pick up right where they left off with a new starting quarterback.
Denver moved up from No. 31 to No. 26 in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft to select Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. He’ll likely start from day one and is in the ideal situation to have immediate success.
The Broncos’ defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season with 283.1 points per game surrendered. Their pass defense led the league while their run defense was No. 3. Denver’s defensive dominance carried the team with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler behind center and through the postseason with a mostly-ineffective Manning. They’re being talked about in the same breath as the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Steel Curtain of the 1970s and the Seattle Seahawks‘ Legion of Boom in 2013.
Lynch has the size, mobility and arm talent to be an effective professional quarterback. He was compared to Cam Newton by former NFL head coach Jon Gruden during Lynch’s appearance on an episode of Gruden’s QB Camp on ESPN. The rookie says that Newton is the player he tries to model his game after.
Regardless of Lynch’s abilities, he’s without question stepping into the best situation of any rookie quarterback in the Class of 2016. It’s normally in the best interest of the player to hold the clipboard for a year or more, though this is a unique situation. Lynch won’t be asked to do too much, therefore immediate playing time should aid his development.
He’ll be competing with veteran Mark Sanchez for the opening weekend start, whom the Broncos acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason. They’ll kick off the NFL season on Thursday, September 8 as they host the Carolina Panthers in a Super Bowl 50 rematch.