Five quarterback solutions for the Denver Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The quarterback question is the bottom line of the Denver Broncos‘ offseason.

Coach Sean Payton benched Russell Wilson with two games remaining in the 2023 season. The five-year, $242.6 million contract extension the Broncos agreed to in 2022 is now a significant factor in what the Broncos will, or even can, do moving forward if Wilson is released (as many in the league expect).

Owner/CEO Greg Penner said just after the season that “the financial part of it is a significant component, in terms of how this works out in the future, but that’s not what will drive the decision. The decision will be driven by what’s in the best interest of this football team winning games.”

Ahead of the NFL combine, let’s sift through what the Broncos could do at quarterback:

Keep Russell Wilson

One more year? Releasing Wilson before free agency would bring an $85 million dead money charge to the Broncos salary cap over the next two seasons.

That would be a move general manager George Paton dubbed “extreme” just after the season, even as he said the Broncos were “prepared for any scenario” with the salary cap.

During Super Bowl week, Payton said he and Wilson had a “great relationship” and that a decision hadn’t been made. But Wilson’s Denver home is up for sale and multiple sources close to him have said he expects to be elsewhere.

After the very public benching and Wilson’s assertion that the Broncos threatened to bench him halfway through the season if he didn’t adjust his contract, many personnel executives in the league consider the chances of him giving the team a break on his contract very small. One termed it “infinitesimal.”

Viability level: Little/no chance.


Trade up in the draft

Trading up into the top two or three picks to get one of the best quarterback prospects on the board would require capital — and plenty of it. Last season the Carolina Panthers sent the Chicago Bears two first-round picks (’23 and ’24), two second-round picks (’23 and ’25) and wide receiver DJ Moore to move from No. 9 to No. 1.

The Bears hold the No. 1 pick this year because of that trade, so to think they would accept anything that doesn’t rival what they received last April is a pipe dream. They know what it’s worth.

The Broncos haven’t had a first-round pick since they selected Pat Surtain II in 2021 and have had just three picks among the top 45 in the past four drafts combined.

Denver has the No. 12 pick, so it would need to bulk up any potential trade offer to move up near the top. Including Surtain or other high-profile players in a trade would also reduce the talent on a team that hasn’t finished above .500 since 2016. The Broncos have six picks in the April draft and no second-rounder.

Essentially, they would be attempting to bring a rookie quarterback prospect to a depth chart that was carved up to get him.

Viability level: Sure, it’s possible, but the price tag is knee-buckling.


Sign a veteran QB

Beyond a possible $35.4 million cap hit in 2024 if they release Wilson, the Broncos have Jarrett Stidham on the books for a $7.3 million against the cap. Overall, they are projected to be $13 million over the cap.

Wilson’s release would also limit what aisle of the free agent quarterback market the Broncos could work. Paton has said the team didn’t expect to be in the “first wave” of free agency this time around.

Baker Mayfield likely performed his way out of a Broncos’ post-Wilson budget. Gardner Minshew and Sam Darnold could be fits in Payton’s offense if the price is right, but the question of whether any veteran the Broncos could sign on a limited budget will play better than Wilson’s 26 touchdowns in 15 games will follow the team for an entire season.

Viability level: Still the most likely, but limited resources to do it.


Go with Stidham

Payton put Stidham in the lineup for a “spark” with two games remaining in the season. The Broncos went 1-1 as Stidham went 40-of-66 passing for 496 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

The Broncos scored 14 and 16 points, respectively, in those games, among their lowest outputs of the season.

Economically, the easiest path to absorb the cap implications of Wilson’s release would be if Stidham, who signed a two-year deal before last season, is rewarded the job. Stidham said at season’s end he was “very confident I can be the guy for us.”

It could also be a significant indicator that the Broncos have decided to point to 2025 to really dig in for a quarterback solution.

Viability level: A likely outcome if free agency doesn’t bear fruit.


Draft a prospect and wait-and-see

The Broncos could simply ride it out at No. 12 in the first round and see the quarterback frenzy unfold in front of them. If the quarterback they like somehow comes down to them, select him and prepare him to play, whenever that time comes.

Brock Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 draft, is the current patron saint of mining for draft gold on Day 2 or 3. But he didn’t start a game until Week 14 of his rookie year and the 49ers had a 13-4 team around him.

Or having seen the frenzy, the Broncos could trade down, get some much-needed draft capital, take the best players available when they’re on the clock and grab a quarterback they believe has developmental qualities.

That puts Stidham, or another veteran, at the top of the depth chart, at least initially. The wild card is that many leagues scouts and personnel executives already say they are not overly enthused about the potential 2025 quarterback draft class.

Viability level: Even with just six picks, one of them should be a quarterback.

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