ENGLEWOOD — The Denver Broncos began 2017 ensnared in a dreaded quarterback competition and they're ending the year entangled in another.
Paxton Lynch lost out to Trevor Siemian last summer and it's doubtful after missing most of the season that he could beat out Brock Osweiler this week in a fair fight.
But this week is about splitting snaps at practice, not even-handedness.
Osweiler is coming off one of the best performances of his career, "but we have to consider the team's future at quarterback," coach Vance Joseph said Thursday. "That's fair for all of us."
The Broncos want to see Lynch play over the final two weeks so they can have more fodder to determine if their 2016 first-round pick is a bust or a late-bloomer.
Ideally, the Broncos would prefer to have one QB taking almost all the snaps as Peyton Manning used to. That's how offenses build cohesion, develop rhythm and create chemistry.
There aren't really any workarounds to finding all those attributes while still searching for answers under center.
"How do you make up for it? Well, you kind of don't. That's why most teams don't do it," Joseph said Thursday.
"It's not ideal to play three guys and have three different starters. It's not what you want to do, but that's where we're at. We're going to play the hand we're dealt and make the best of it."
The knock on Siemian coming into the year was that he was injury-prone, and he went on IR last week with an injured left shoulder.
Lynch has proven even more fragile, however.
He sprained his left shoulder in the preseason and his recovery was excruciatingly slow. He was inactive for the first nine games and made his 2017 debut at Oakland last month, where he was knocked from the game in the third quarter and spent the remainder of the game sobbing on the sideline over a sprained left ankle.
Inactive the past three weeks, he'll at the very least be active Sunday at Washington when the Broncos (5-9) visit the Redskins (6-8), and next week against Kansas City.
"I'll say this, our goal is to see him play before the year is out," Joseph said. "We have two more games to do that. My concern is making sure he's healthy enough to play at a high level. He has an ankle injury and he hasn't practiced in three weeks. He's a quarterback that can use his legs when he's in danger, so I want to make sure he's right. That's about it."
Lynch's grasp of pro offenses and defenses, his maturity level and his work ethic have all come into question since general manager John Elway moved up in the 2016 draft to select him.
But it's his health that's holding him back right now and that's what could lead to Osweiler getting the start Sunday.
Lynch has been limited at practice all week.
"That's the issue. That's why we're taking our time trying to figure out if he's ready to play, so we can evaluate him," Joseph said. "That's why we didn't name a guy yesterday or the day before."
Osweiler led Denver to three TDs and had a 147.7 passer rating in Denver's 25-13 come-from-behind win at Indianapolis after Siemian was knocked from the game with an injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder.
Once Peyton Manning's heir apparent, Osweiler left for Houston in free agency in the aftermath of Denver's Super Bowl 50 victory last year, but he found his way back to Denver this summer after being traded by the Texans and released by the Browns.
He compared his departure from Denver to touching the hot stove as an inquisitive youngster "and you learn real quick how nice that stove is when it's not hot."
Although Osweiler loves Colorado, he might have once again priced himself out of the Broncos' plans with his superb relief performance last week as he'll be one of the more experienced quarterbacks to hit free agency this spring.
NOTES: CB Chris Harris Jr. said he feels he didn't get a Pro Bowl nod because he's only been targeted 48 times — second fewest among the league's starting cornerbacks — and therefore couldn't put up big numbers as he has in the past. He said next season he hopes the Broncos keep him outside and quit moving him into the slot, which he said diminishes his chances to make game-changing plays.