The Pittsburgh Steelers have made it a habit in recent years of bringing in other teams’ first-round picks, whether it’s been Darrius Heyward-Bey or Eric Ebron, Tyson Alualu or Joe Haden, Mark Barron or Paxton Lynch. And then, of course, there was Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Needless to say, the variety of contributions the team has gotten from these players has run the gamut. Recently, much focus has been placed on Lynch, formerly the 26th-overall pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2016 NFL Draft. Denver, coming off a Super Bowl victory, in fact traded up to get Lynch.
So how did it come to be that he was available to be signed by the Steelers, to their practice squad no less, a couple of weeks into the 2019 season? Well, that’s a long story worth exploring as a prelude to his possible redemption arc, which achieved, would be the culmination of a long journey, something I will detail in two parts over the course of the next two days. Today, I will cover his first two seasons in 2017 and 2017 with the Broncos and the circumstances involved.
A three-year starter at Memphis, Lynch completed 63 percent of his passes, throwing for 8863 yards with 59 touchdowns to 23 interceptions. In his junior year, he threw 29 touchdowns to just four interceptions, completing 67 percent of his passes for 3776 yards before declaring for the draft.
As a rookie in Denver, following Peyton Manning’s retirement, he was put into a competition for the starting job right away, a three-way affair between himself, former first-round quarterback Mark Sanchez, and second-year former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian. Many didn’t take it seriously at the time when John Elway suggested they were serious about Siemian being given a chance, but he ended up their primary starter for the next two years.
“I felt very strongly that he had won the job, and that’s exactly what I told the quarterbacks and the football team”, then-head coach Gary Kubiak said of Siemian in 2016 after naming him the starter over Sanchez and Lynch. “I thought he deserved the right to go out there and be our starter”.
A year later, Kubiak was gone, Vance Joseph—and much of the staff turned over—was new to the building, and once again, it was Siemian versus Lynch for the starting job in 2017. Siemian won again, with Joseph saying at the time that he was the “clear-cut winner”. “Trevor was more consistent on what we asked those guys to do”, he added. “Trevor is the guy”.
As a rookie, Lynch would start two games, both times because Siemian had gotten injured. He completed 49 of 83 pass attempts for 497 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, going 1-1. In his second season, he would spend most of it sidelined due to injury.
Brock Osweiler was brought back to be the backup to Siemian, who would be benched due to performance. As Lynch was returning from injury, Osweiler, too, was benched, in favor of Lynch. He would complete nine of 14 pass attempts for 41 yards and an interception before being injured again. He was again declared the starter ahead of the finale that season. “The plan is to play Paxton, that was kind of the plan last week, if he was healthy enough to play”, Joseph said at the time. Multiple times, he would say, “we want to see him play”. He was, of course, just in his second season at the time, with three starts, and having spent most of his second year injured.
He would go 21-for-31 in that game, throwing for 254 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a three-point loss that saw the Broncos overcome a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit before the Kansas City Chiefs hit the game-winning field goal as time expired, though it should be noted Kansas City was resting starters. And so began the Patrick Mahomes era, just as the Lynch era ended.
Author’s Note: Please excuse the bad Star Trek pun in the title.