FREE AGENCY 2023

There’s an ex-Broncos QB who might be a good free-agent backup-QB fit for Sean Payton

Feb 20, 2023, 10:57 PM | Updated: Feb 21, 2023, 2:37 pm

Russell WIlson isn’t going anywhere — at least not this year.

And Job No. 1 for Sean Payton in restoring the Broncos to their old luster revolves around doing that for Wilson himself.

But Wilson missed two games in 2022 to injuries. He sat out three games in 2021 while still with the Seattle Seahawks. At age 34 heading into the 2023 season, the Broncos can’t count on him to start every game.

In other words, they need a backup who can not only steady the ship, but give them a chance to win.

Denver could bring back Brett Rypien; he is a restricted free agent.

However …

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SEAN PAYTON OFTEN LIKES EXPERIENCE IN HIS NO. 2 QB:

When the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, Mark Brunell was Drew Brees’ QB. Yes, the same Brunell who started for the Jacksonville Jaguars during their late-1990s salad days. In 2021, Payton carried Trevor Siemian behind Jameis Winston. Two years earlier, Teddy Bridgewater was Drew Brees’ understudy.

And the patron saint of enduring No. 2 QBs, Chase Daniel, sat five years behind Brees, most recently 2017. Luke McCown also spent four seasons in his 30s backing up Brees under Payton.

And all that doesn’t account for the years invested in utility player Taysom Hill. While the Saints had Hill, they usually had a more traditional QB often in reserve.

Backup QB is not a spot Payton likes to leave to chance. Thus, this is one area where it would seem like the Broncos would spend more than they have.

So, who’s on the market?

***
A FEW POSSIBILITIES:

Let’s start with two QBs who know Payton well:

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, DOLPHINS: He played for Payton in New Orleans during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He filled in well for Drew Brees in 2019, posting a 99.1 passer rating. What’s more, the Saints won all five of his starts. And no Broncos QB since Super Bowl 50 has a better passer rating in a Denver uniform than Bridgewater’s 94.9 figure. But he’s suffered three concussions since October 2021. Health is the concern here, not whether Bridgewater can handle the role — if anything, he’s the most qualified person for the job. And Payton is still a Bridgewater supporter; as he said early last season, “He’s an outstanding player.”

CHASE DANIEL, CHARGERS: No one has milked more out of being a career backup than Daniel, who stepped in during the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ regular-season finale at Denver and made a nice acquittal of himself, throwing a touchdown. Daniel can learn a system quickly and is an excellent, ego-free sounding board for the starter. Being the backup is as much about personality as proficiency, which is what’s kept Daniel around — even though he has just five career starts heading into his age-37 season.

AND THEN …

MIKE WHITE, JETS: He’s earned a bigger role than the Jets are giving him, and their season might have been markedly different had he played more at the expense of the struggling Zach Wilson.

BAKER MAYFIELD, RAMS: When the Panthers waived Mayfield last season, I thought the Broncos should have put in a claim on the former No. 1 overall pick. At the very least, it would have improved the Broncos’ backup situation. Alas, they didn’t, and in his third game as a Rams fill-in, he made mincemeat of the Broncos in a Christmas Day drubbing. That day showed why he still has potential, but Mayfield’s path likely relies upon being prepared for understudy work.

SAM DARNOLD, PANTHERS: Like Mayfield, Darnold had some flashes last season. Like Mayfield, Danold led his team to a drubbing of the Broncos. Can he handle the role of a backup? If not, it appears likely that someone will give him a chance to compete to start.

JACOBY BRISSETT, BROWNS: Three times in his career, Brissett has found himself in an extended starting role after something happened to the starter. And the truth is, none of those seasons have gone well for the teams. But Brissett had a career-best 88.9 passer rating last year.

GARDNER MINSHEW, EAGLES: Two years ago, Minshew was the target of speculation when the Jaguars nudged him down the depth chart in favor of Trevor Lawrence. He made a great deal of sense for the Broncos then. His short-to-intermediate accuracy would seem to make him a good fit for Payton.

ANDY DALTON, SAINTS: Dalton didn’t join the Saints until after Payton left the organization. So, the connections aren’t there like they are with Daniel or Bridgewater. But he’s proven in his post-Bengals years that he can handle the capricious winds of fate as a No. 2 well.

DREW LOCK, SEAHAWKS: Geno Smith’s career season — and good health — ensured that Lock remained planted to the Seahawks bench last year. He doesn’t get mentioned as a possible starter much these days, and now has just three starts over the last two seasons to his name. There is no denying the arm strength with Lock, but does he have the right mindset to be a backup? Because at this point, it looks as though his career is headed toward career-understudy status.

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OTHER UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:

Brandon Allen, Bengals
Kyle Allen, Texans
C.J. Beathard, Jaguars
Tim Boyle, Bears
Josh Dobbs, Titans
Jeff Driskel, Texans
Joe Flacco, Jets
Blaine Gabbert, Buccaneers
Josh Johnson, 49ers
Case Keenum, Bills
Trace McSorley, Cardinals
Nick Mullens, Vikings
Nathan Peterman, Bears
Mason Rudolph, Steelers
Cooper Rush, Cowboys
Easton Stick, Chargers
Jarrett Stidham, Raiders
Nate Sudfeld, Lions

***

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There’s an ex-Broncos QB who might be a good free-agent backup-QB fit for Sean Payton