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The Forest Through The Trees: What Is Happening At Quarterback For the Denver Broncos

I've been asked the same question multiple times, on multiple platforms.  What are the Broncos doing at quarterback.  Now, before we get started, what I am going to say here is not NEWS.  Many of you probably feel the same way.  I just want to get all my thoughts here, in one post, instead of on Twitter, or in a radio interview.  This, of course, is my home, and it should be here for all to see - and come back to - in the future.

In my post/rant about the Tebow billboard yesterday, there was a comment from TollyVolley127 that led me to finally putting all my thoughts 'on paper':

A lot of people have been throwing out that you suggested that the 2012 QB may not be anyone we have on the roster. im wondering if you have any more comments on that or if it was just a random pondering.

It got me thinking.  I have said that, multiple times.  You can see it on Twitter - HERE and HERE - and on the radio, most recently on the Brandon Spano Show on Tuesday night, a segment you can listen to here:

So now it is here.  The quarterback of the Denver Broncos in 2012 is not on the roster.  Obviously this is just an opinion, but a look at the actions of the Broncos makes it pretty obvious. 

I say this with no real preference as to who plays quarterback this Sunday against Cincinnati.  There are so many problems with this team - so many injuries already piling up - that it is going to be hard for the Broncos no matter who is under center.


Many people wonder why.  Why not give Tebow a chance now?  From those I've talked to, it comes down to the veterans.  Guys like Champ Bailey, Brandon Lloyd.  The feeling is the coaching staff would have a huge problem on their hands in the locker room should a guy be replaced if he's the best man for the job.  None of us are in the locker room, but from all accounts from those that are on a daily basis the only place a quarterback controversy exists is on the outside - in the stands and in the media.  The locker room is reportedly behind Kyle Orton.

Rebuilding teams that are committed to the young quarterback on the roster will play through the growing pains.  Several people have brought up Cam Newton - though I disagree with the comparison. 

Newton was the #1 Overall pick, a pick made specifically to rebuild the franchise around by the guys whose jobs hinge on Newton's success.  The first thing the Panthers did after drafting Newton was to surround him with not one, but TWO security blankets - Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey.  The Panthers then resigned DeAngelo Williams to provide a strong running game and they made sure Steve Smith stayed in town.  That is plenty to work with, and bringing in the two tight ends is key - they are building an offense around what Cam does well, and providing him with weapons that make the task of playing quarterback that much easier.  It's what you do when you are trying to develop your franchise quarterback.

'Your' is the key word, here, isn't it.  In this case, Tim Tebow isn't John Fox's or John Elway's quarterback.  Brian Xanders, as we all know, has distanced himself from all Josh McDaniels picks.  Again, there is no new news here.  It needs to be restated - over and over at times - because people don't want to believe it.  John Elway has no reason to hitch his cart to Tim Tebow - no matter how much you want him to.

The Broncos aren't trying to build a team around the things Tebow does well because they are not vested in him.  I think we all agree that Tebow will always be a different quarterback - and that's fine - but if you are going to put your lefty quarterback in to learn on the job would you really draft a rookie Right Tackle whose known more as a run blocker to protect his backside?

Think about it.  It doesn't appear the Broncos are trying to develop Tebow to be the starter.  Why not?  The answer isn't hard - they are not preparing for Tebow to be the answer because they want someone else to be the answer.  Hard to deal with, for some, but looks pretty obvious to me.

People have said to me that it is up to the coaches to get the best out of the investment they were handed.  That they owe it to the team to make that investment pay off even if the investment was made by a prior regime.  That is partially true.  It is John Fox's job to do the best job he can do - and win as many games as he can - with the 53 players he is given. 

That is not John Elway's job.

Elway's task is to build a team that can be successful over the long-haul.  His job is to find the quarterback of the future - be it on the roster, via free agency or in the Draft.  Elway has stated over and over what he believes a championship quarterback in the NFL looks like - a guy that can take snaps from under center - drop back in the pocket - make progressions - and deliver the football.   He has told us over and over again.  We simply don't want to hear it - or listen.

In the past, those two positions were the same man - Mike Shanahan, then Josh McDaniels.  It didn't work.  Now, John Elway and John Fox have clearly defined roles - Elway will supply the players, Fox will coach them.  So while it is up to Fox to get as much out of the players he is given - no matter how they came to the Broncos - Elway does not have the same responsibility.  He is being brought in to return the organization to glory and he knows it is going to take time.  He also knows if his legacy is on the line he is going to do it with his own guys.  Period.

So what about Orton?  He's not an investment made by Elway or Fox.  Exactly.  Right now, based on what John Elway, John Fox and veteran players have said, Kyle Orton is the best option at quarterback right now.  That's all.  They are not attached to Orton any more than they are to Tebow.  This is Year 1 for Elway and Fox.  They are coming back next year no matter what happens in 2011.  Kyle Orton will play this year, and barring something unforeseen and drastic, will be somewhere else in 2012.

All that being said, why not play Tebow?  That's a fair question.  We've already discussed on reason - the players in the locker room want Orton.  Another reason, and we shouldn't underestimate it, is money.  We've all seen the way Tebow's contract is structured.  He reportedly has an escalator clause in his contract the DOUBLES the value if he should play 55% of the snaps in any season from 2010-2012. 

Again, not new news, but here is how it breaks down.  Tebow signed a 5-year deal that was essentially worth $9.7125 million in 2010.  It contained several bonuses and escalators - most contracts do - that could have taken the value all the way to a whopping $33 million.  Some of those are considered 'Easy To Earn', so the NFLPA will often report the value of the contract with those included. 

For Tebow, one of those is a $1.5375 million playing time bonus.  It was considered 'Easy to Earn', so Tebow's contract is often reported as a 5-year, $11.25 million deal.  To get it, Tebow needed to play 35% of the offensive snaps in 2010, or 45% of the snaps in any season from 2011-14.  Here's the problem - Tebow hasn't done that yet.

There is another incentive - considered a 'mid-tier' incentive that would actually DOUBLE the worth of Tebow's contract - from $11.25 million(including the $1.5 million playing bonus) to $22.5 million should he play 55% of the offensive snaps in two of his first three seasons(2010-2012) or 70% in 2013.  It also includes some provisions about the Broncos making the playoffs, and personal goals(Pro Bowl, QB Ranks, etc).

Another bonus was the $6.275 million that was due 29 days after the start of the 2011 league year.  The Broncos made that payment to Tebow in late August since the league year started after the Lockout. You see where this is going, right?  The Broncos already were in to Kyle Orton for $9 million.  They have made a payment to Tim Tebow for over $6 million.  They could be looking at another $1.5 million if Tebow plays a ton - PLUS even more should several of the thresholds be met.

Ironically, the Cleveland Browns had similar escalators in the contract they did for a 1st Round quarterback draft in the mid-20's.  His name is Brady Quinn and he has yet to hit ANY of the playing time bonuses that were included, even the ones considered 'Easy'.

Now, before you go looking for a bridge, I AM NOT SAYING the Broncos are keeping Tebow off the field to avoid paying him.  The honest belief around the Broncos is Kyle Orton is the best quarterback on the team - and that is the reason he is playing.  If the Broncos are going to struggle to win games, however, and they already have $15 million tied up in the quarterback position, you can see why they wouldn't be eager to see that number jump any higher.

This is a business and we should never forget that.  It was the reason the Broncos tested the waters on trading Kyle Orton before the season - get a team to take on the contract while adding assets at the same time was seen as a win-win for the team.  Once the Dolphins and Orton couldn't work out a deal, the Broncos had little choice.  If they release Orton - who had already gained the support of the veterans in the locker room - it sends the wrong message to the team.

Now, there are certainly counter-arguments to everything above.  I get that.  This certainly isn't a post the is Pro-Orton, Anti-Orton, Pro-Tebow or Anti-Tebow.  It's simply a vomit-pile of circumstances that lead me to believe that the Broncos are going to go through 2011 with the guy they feel is the best man at quarterback on any given Sunday, then, once the season is over cut bait with all of them and draft a quarterback in 2012.

What sucks - and it surely does - is the lack of hope it leaves for 2011.  Could the Broncos be swayed later in the season to start Tebow in order to appease the fans - especially if the sell-out streak that the team is proud of - and should be - is in jeopardy?  Perhaps, but by that time the season could well be lost - and the fans could be as well.  Orton will continue taking snaps until he gets hurt - and judging by the beating he took on Monday night that will happen soon - or until late in the season, say, Week 14, just like last year.

The Broncos hired John Elway to bring the Denver Broncos back to glory.  He's a Legend, for everything he did on and off the field in Denver.  What the team may have underestimated, however, was the impatience many fans feel towards the losing and ineptitude the team has displayed over the last 5+ years.  Elway isn't going to be given the grace period that he deserves, and it looks as if John Fox will not storm out of the gates in his first season they way Josh McDaniels did - which bought McDaniels time that Fox may not have with the fans.

Regardless, however, the Broncos are firmly set in their plan and Elway/Fox will be given the time to see this through the way THEY want to do it.  What remains to be seen is whether they will succeed or fail.  One draft class is in the book and the results look promising.  Another class, the Class of 2012, will likely hold the most important piece of all, the Franchise Quarterback of the future for the Denver Broncos.  At last, the successor to John Elway, literally hand-picked by Elway himself.

Stay tuned!