Three words rarely have so much meaning. Quarterback. Denver. Broncos. When put together to form a job title, the three words together have a powerful effect on Broncos fans. Such is the curse that comes along with the blessing of John Elway. You sell your soul to the devil a bit. Here, fans, is one of the true legends of the game. Enjoy him for 16 years, then spend eternity trying to replace him. Problem is, you struggle to enjoy the legend, struggle to realize just how special that person is until he is gone, and the eternity begins.
For all intents and purposes, the Broncos have had three main heirs to the Elway throne - Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler. Each enjoyed some success - Griese got the Broncos to the playoffs, Plummer to the AFC Championship Game, while Cutler seemed to be the chosen one. Each, for various reasons, failed in their attempt. Having the three dreaded words Denver Broncos Quarterback in front of your name can wear a person down. We saw it with Griese, with Plummer - even with Cutler to an extent, who never seemed comfortable in Elway's shadow, with the weight of a city on his shoulders.
Now the Broncos try again, with a new coach, and perhaps a new mentality, both as a football team and a fan base. Sure, being the Quarterback of the Denver Broncos is always going to be a bit different, but will it be the focal point it once was? Let's take a look at the next era of Broncos quarterbacks (for a season anyway), and instead of trying to replace Elway, simply enjoy them for who THEY are, and not who they will never be.
#8 / Quarterback / Denver Broncos
Nov 14, 1982
2009: $995,000, 2010: Free Agent
via trade with Chicago Bears(2009)
Does anyone who has taken a snap for the Broncos in the last decade have more pressure than Kyle Orton does this season? We all know about the trade, and many of you are still bitter about it. Oh, and of course Orton is playing for his next contract. Not an enviable position, to say the least. Learn a new offense, win over a new locker room and deal with an angry fan base, all while trying to get paid. I get the feeling Orton wouldn't have it any other way.
To look at Orton's past performance is a practice in futility. Face it, the Bear's offense wasn't one to be considered revolutionary. Orton has better weapons, a better line, and possibly a better run game in 2009 than he did at any point in his career. Plus, whether you are on board with Josh McDaniels or not, Orton will have better coaching. At 26 years old, Orton is just now heading into the prime of his career. What does all that mean? It could mean the perfect storm of success for Orton and the Broncos.
I'm not going to try to BS you. Far from it. The quarterback position is a huge question mark, especially with the struggles the defense has had the past couple years. I'm not going to try and convince you that Kyle Orton is going to come in and dominate. What I do believe, however, is Orton will be put in situations to succeed. McDaniels will game plan to Orton's strengths, and avoid his weaknesses. The only plays in a game plan will be ones Orton is completely comfortable with and will be focused on efficiency and effectiveness. In other words, the Broncos are going to try and outwork the other team every snap, every down, starting with the quarterback.
So where do we get our hope? To me, it's pretty simple, really. If we start with the assumption that the weapons the Broncos have are better than those of the Bears, we can feel good about Orton's 21-12 record as a starting quarterback. Being Broncos fans, we remember when winning at home meant something. Orton is 15-2 at home since coming into the NFL in 2005. We also can look at the first 7 games of the 2008 season, when Orton was the starter for the Bears, and seemed to be settling in --
- 1,669 yards
- 10 touchdowns
- 4 interceptions (5 games without an interception)
- 143 completions
- 230 attempts
- 62.2 completion percentage
- 7.26 per attempt
- 4-3 team record
Few people remember how good Orton was over his first seven starts last season. He was efficient and in games three through seven threw for at least 199 yards every outing. The Bears lost by three points at Carolina (the second best team in the NFC last year), lost in overtime to Tampa Bay (the Buccaneers scored 10 points in the final 3:11, including a touchdown with seven seconds left, to tie) and lost on a last-second field goal at Atlanta after a heinous decision to squib kick after Orton completed what should have been the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left. The Bears were 4-3 with three excruciating losses to good teams, and Orton was a big reason for their success. Remember the great start Jay Cutler had last year?
Just for fun, Schwab also shows Cutler's stats for the first 7 games. Remember, the Broncos started 3-0 and Cutler was doing interviews anywhere and everywhere he could -
Jay Cutler, 2008 through seven games
- 1,862 yards
- 13 touchdowns
- 7 interceptions (2 games without an interception)
- 163 completions
- 254 attempts
- 64.2 completion percentage
- 7.33 per attempt
- 4-3 team record
I'm not saying Kyle Orton will ever be the physical wonder that Jay Cutler is. Cutler has been blessed with rare physical tools. What I am saying, in the NFL, efficiency and effectiveness, the game that is played above the shoulders, is more important. Kyle Orton has proved he can play that game with lesser talent and coaching. He'll now get the chance with everything on the line career-wise to do it with the coaching, with the talent around him.
From a purely personal standpoint, being a Big Ten guy, I watched a lot of Orton when he was at Purdue. Sure, you can't rely on college performance to make an opinion on professional ability, but I am certain Orton can make all the throws and has the arm and makeup to be a damn good NFL quarterback. In other words, the Broncos could do a lot worse.
#2 / Quarterback / Denver Broncos
Aug 29, 1980
3/4/2009: Signed a two-year, $6 million contract. The deal included a $1.5 million signing bonus. Another $3 million is available through incentives. 2009: $1.96 million, 2010: $2.54 million, 2011: Free Agent
Signed as a Free Agent(2009)
The backup plan this season is Chris Simms. The Broncos paid Simms a lot of money to assure themselves of his services. Whether or not Simms is the insurance policy the Broncos need remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, Simms is as tough as they come; he has already proven that.
The way Chris Simms handled himself in Tampa Bay, playing through a bad injury, losing his job and never really getting the chance to win it back, didn't get overlooked by coaches and players around the League. Simms also has the pedigree, being the son of Broncos-killer Phil Simms.
As for on the field, there is not much of a sample for Simms. In 2005, Simms started 11 games, completed 61% of his passes and threw 10 TDs to only 7 picks. He had the Buccaneers in position to beat the Washington Redskins in the playoffs if not for a dropped TD pass. Then, of course, came the spleen injury in Week 3 of the 2006 season. On September 24, Simms was taken off the field after taking hard hits from the Carolina Panthers defense. Simms returned to the game and even led a successful scoring drive, but remained in physical distress and was taken to a nearby hospital after the game. Tests revealed a ruptured spleen, and Simms immediately underwent emergency surgery. In the aftermath, Simms said he lost five pints of blood before the operation and conceded that another 45 minutes without treatment could have been fatal.
The last two seasons have been about getting healthy for Simms, physically and mentally. The Broncos present Simms a golden opportunity to prove he is back, and Simms provides the Broncos a backup that has starting experience, and more importantly, has had success at the NFL level. Like with Orton, the Broncos could do a lot worse at backup than Simms, even if he hasn't played in awhile.
The goal of a backup quarterback is to get a team through 4 games. Chris Simms, if called upon, will be able to do that, and he will only get stronger and better as the season wears on. I'll be keeping a close eye on Simms, both at Training Camp and during the preseason to see if his mechanics have come back and if he is mentally healed from his horrible ordeal.
#3 / Quarterback / Denver Broncos
Oct 21, 1984
6th Round Draft Pick(2009)
There is something special about the quarterback position in Denver. It was that way before the Jay Cutler fiasco, and will likely be that way moving forward through 2009 and beyond. Forgetting, for one second, all that happened this offseason and looking ONLY at the three players on the roster right now, the Broncos seem to be solid, if not spectacular at Quarterback.
If Kyle Orton stays healthy, I see no reason for him not to have a season where he throws 20-25 TDs, completing 65% of his passes for somewhere around 3,500 yards. Perhaps that is the best-case scenario, but I believe in the team concept. As good as Jay Cutler's abilities are, he had one helluva supporting cast, all of which are back in the fold. If you, like some, believe that Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall were the RESULT of Cutler, then we'll agree to disagree.
After Orton, there are questions. I believe Chris Simms could come in for a few games and be effective, but he needs time to get his "football legs" under him. An early injury to Orton could be devastating.
John Elway isn't coming through that door anytime soon. We should all appreciate what #7 did and never, ever forget what he meant to us and the Broncos. To that end, what makes Elway so great is the fact there will never be another one like him. That's what being a legend is all about. Let's stop trying to find the next Elway, and focus on winning football games and becoming relevant in the National Football League once again.