MERILATT MONDAY

The Broncos are taking a big gamble with their QB search

Mar 18, 2024, 4:00 AM

The Denver Broncos are playing an NFL version of musical chairs. The music is about to stop. And there’s no guarantee that they’re going to find a seat.

In fact, it’s looking more and more likely that they won’t secure a chair. With each passing day, the list of potential quarterbacks continues to dwindle.

Right now, the Broncos have only two quarterbacks on their roster. Jarrett Stidham is listed as the starter, with Ben DiNucci as the backup. Neither player is a bonafide QB1. Neither is likely to lead Denver to their first winning season in eight years and the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

The Broncos are in this situation because they decided to part ways with Russell Wilson. Two years after pulling off a blockbuster trade for the Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Denver chose to move on, eat an NFL-record $85 million in dead cap over the next two seasons and voluntarily hop back on the QB carousel. As has been the case since Peyton Manning retired following Super Bowl 50, the Broncos are trying to fill a void at the most-important position in sports.

They had three options for finding a new quarterback. Denver could make another trade, sign a free agent or draft someone. As time goes on, only option C appears to be a viable path.

Mac Jones was traded to the Jaguars. Sam Howell was sent to the Seahawks. And Justin Fields got moved to the Steelers.

Kirk Cousins signed with the Falcons. Baker Mayfield re-upped with the Buccaneers. And Sam Darnold chose the Vikings.

Who’s left? Well, not much.

Ryan Tannehill is the best free agent still on the market. At 35, the veteran QB is hardly an upgrade from Stidham.

Zach Wilson is likely going to be traded before next season. But he’s been a bust with the Jets, making him a gamble for any team hoping a change of scenery turns the former No. 2 overall pick.

That’s about it. The list is dwindling.


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To some extent, that’s not a bad thing. If the Broncos don’t acquire a quarterback via trade or free agency, it becomes almost assured that they’ll draft one in April. And for those hoping for the franchise to finally rebuild around a young QB, that’s music to their ears.

There’s only one problem with that plan. There’s no guarantee that the Broncos will be able to get the QB they covet, whoever that might be.

If Denver held a top-three pick in the draft, there’d be virtually no risk that they wouldn’t be able to snag a quarterback. Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye would be heading to the Mile High City.

But the Broncos are sitting at No. 12. At that spot, they’re a long way from being able to control their own destiny when it comes to drafting a QB.

As many as six teams ahead of Denver in the draft could be in the quarterback market. Chicago, Washington and New England are all expected to pick a QB in round one. The Giants, Jets and Vikings could, as well.

That means the Broncos might be stuck with the seventh-best quarterback in the class, a player who would be an enormous reach at No. 12, or they’ll have to move up in order to get J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix or whichever QB has gotten Sean Payton’s attention during the lead up to the draft. But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

Denver would need to find a team willing to trade with them. That takes a partner, which adds a variable to the mix that is outside of the Broncos control.

And it would force the team to give up a lot of draft capital. Packaging picks to move up isn’t a good way to start a rebuild, where every selection matters when it comes to restocking a depleted roster.

There are reports that the Giants have honed in on McCarthy. What if the Vikings become fixated on Nix? Then, the Broncos are going to be out of luck. They won’t be able to move up for their guy even if they want to.

That’s the position Payton and George Paton have put Denver in. The head coach and general manager have rolled the dice that they’ll find a suitable replacement for Wilson. They’ve doubled down by not adding a viable option via free agency or through a trade.

There’s a chance that the music stops on draft night and the Broncos can’t find a chair. It’s becoming more and more likely that Denver enters next season with Stidham and DiNucci as their quarterback options.

That would be a disaster. That would make the Broncos one of the worst teams in the NFL.

It’s been an ugly offseason in Denver thus far. And if things don’t break right on draft night, it’s going to get even worse.

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