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What are the Broncos’ options at quarterback in 2021?

It’s been a long season, Broncos Country. Even accounting for injuries and Covid-related insanity, I think I can speak for all of us when I say this year has not turned out as hoped.

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers
Is Elway locked in?
Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

It’s been a long season, Broncos Country. Even accounting for injuries and Covid-related insanity, I think I can speak for all of us when I say this year has not turned out as hoped. There’s been promise here and there, but far too often we’ve had to demonstrate blind faith. At present, the Broncos’ young offense is one of the worst units in the league by just about every measurement. No matter where you choose to place the blame, it’s ugly right now.

Two years into his NFL career, most will admit they still don’t know what Drew Lock will be. The 24-year-old has shown hints of the arm talent that led to first round talk before he slipped to the Broncos’ 42nd pick in the 2019 draft. He’s also shown the maddening decision-making and inconsistencies analysts were concerned about dating back to his Missouri days.

There remains a strong possibility the Broncos will elect to do nothing at quarterback in 2021. If Fangio, Shurmur, and Elway believe Drew Lock is one relatively normal off-season and some health luck away from a breakout season, they may elect to run it all back this off-season. Perhaps a real training camp will help even Jeff Driskel look competent.

It’s far too soon to know what Elway is going to do, but with the Broncos’ playoff hopes dead in the water, I spent the last couple days looking into the different contract situations around the league. What quarterbacks are going to be available?

Mitchell Trubisky

Let’s start this conversation with Mitch Trubisky, as he’s the current posterchild for what patience can buy you when things don’t go as hoped. The former Tar Heel was a questionable pick at the top of the 2017 NFL Draft over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Benched for Nick Foles earlier this season, the Bears coaching staff has stripped down the offense in recent weeks and Trubisky rewarded them with a three game stretch where he completed 73% of his passes with five touchdowns to just one pick.

Unless Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy buy in to Trubisky’s recent improvement, it looks like the 26-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent this spring. A 50+ game starter, Trubisky became a starter originally in his rookie year and has thrown for more than 10,000 yards in the four years since. If you care about such things, his Bears have a winning record with him at the helm. If you do care about such things, I have to ask your thoughts on Chicago’s decision to decline his fifth year option last year.

Joe’s interest: Low.

Dak Prescott

When John Elway beat Jerry Jones to Paxton Lynch in 2016, the Cowboys settled on a 6’2 passer out of Mississippi State in the fourth round. When Tony Romo couldn’t start the season, Prescott stole the job and never looked back. Since then he’s blossomed into one of the better passers in the league, even as Dallas throws money at everyone but their quarterback. When terms couldn’t be reached, Dak was franchise tagged in hopes that the two could work out a long-term extension. So far, it hasn’t happened. Prescott’s season came to an abrupt end in October when he suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. Looming cap questions and the Cowboys’ draft position mean it’s impossible to rule Prescott out until he resigns. Odds are, he isn’t available.

Working through the hypothetical situation, Prescott makes a ton of sense if Elway and the Broncos are looking to “win now” so long as he’s back to form early in 2021. He’ll turn 28 in July and has thrown for 106 touchdowns to just 40 interceptions in 69 starts. The lingering issue with Dak would be the competition for his services and what signing him would mean for the Broncos’ cap. His eventual contract numbers are probably going to be close to Deshaun Watson’s.

Joe’s interest: Call him today. Figure it out tomorrow.

Mariota or Carr

The Raiders are currently on the books for north of $32 million of their 2021 cap space to Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr. Moving on from Mariota would cost Vegas nothing against the cap, while trading in Carr for a younger model would cost $2.5 million against the cap. Jon Gruden’s history at the position suggests it’s far too soon to rule out any prospective move, but the Raiders won’t be in position to draft a top flight passer.

Mariota is more likely to be available. That said, if Gruden starts Mariota for the season finale, it could be a hint that he’s looking to crash Carr into a lake.

Joe’s interest: Maybe not the worst thing.

Jameis Winston

There is no tomorrow for the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees will be 42 before the Super Bowl, and in an effort to give him a Peyton Manning type of sendoff, Micky Loomis and Sean Payton have gone all in on this 2020 season. Regardless of how Covid impacts the numbers, New Orleans’ 2021 cap situation is quite tight, which means luxuries like a former first overall pick as QB3 probably won’t happen again.

Before his clipboard-carrying stint, Winston played in 72 games with the Buccaneers. He threw for almost 20,000 yards and 121 touchdowns to 88 picks with Tampa Bay. His “no risk it, no biscuit” year under Bruce Arians is notorious, as it’s the only time in NFL history a passer had 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season. Look past that and Winston’s style of play is quite similar to Drew Lock’s. Both possess the arm talent and gunslinger mentality to chase big plays, even to their own detriment. I doubt it happens because he’d push for the starting job, but at least from afar you could make an argument that the fit is interesting.

Joe’s interest: Lukewarm.

Andy Dalton

When the Bengals let him go last year, I was quite intrigued by the 2011 second round pick. I thought his 133 starts across eight years as the guy in Cincinnati would make him an ideal veteran mentor for Drew Lock and the perfect parachute if things went off the rails this season. After he finally hit free agency, Dalton signed with the Cowboys for $3 million. He’s had some shaky moments as the offensive line crumbled around him, but does look like a solid QB2. As a 2021 option, he would make sense if the Broncos were more concerned with Lock’s injury history than progress as a starter.

Joe’s interest: Boring backup. Cool.

Cam Newton

Like Dalton and Winston, Newton is a name I kept an eye on when the QB market cooled last off-season. Early this year, he looked like he’d be yet another brilliant Belichick decision when the Patriots started 2-1 and their QB Power looked nigh unstoppable against the Seattle Seahawks. Just about everything’s gone against New England since and Newton’s rushing prowess haven’t been enough to hide the league’s worst receiving corps. Set to turn 32 in May, a return to Foxboro makes a ton of sense for the Pats as well as Newton. The veteran is already a fit in Josh McDaniels’ system and buys New England time to find a younger successor to Tom Brady.

Newton’s injury history and New England’s poor finish could lead to free agency for the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. If he does become available, I doubt Elway’s interested. Even if he is, it’s hard to imagine Newton signs somewhere where he can’t actually compete to become the starter.

Joe’s interest: A mix of intrigued and dubious.

Jacoby Brissett

This guy is easy to forget about because Philip Rivers has pushed him to the bench this year, but Brissett started 15 games last year after Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement during the preseason. While I believe he’s overexposed as a starting quarterback, he looked competent enough when pressed into duty that he could make sense as a QB2 for a team with a better alternative ahead of him. I don’t think Brissett or Elway will have much interest in bringing the former Patriot to Denver.

Joe’s interest: If he’s the “safe” QB2, I wouldn’t hate it.

Gardner Minshew

The 10th quarterback selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, Minshew fell to the sixth round before Jacksonville gave him a call. During his first season, an early injury to Nick Foles threw Minshew into the fire and he didn’t embarrass himself. The rookie won half his games as he threw for 3271 yards, 21 touchdowns, and six interceptions in 12 starts.

This year he became a bit of a lame duck, as the Jaguars made all the kinds of moves you’d expect from a team content to bottom out for Trevor Lawrence. Minshew helped the Jaguars beat Indianapolis in week one by completing 95% of his passes for three touchdowns and no picks. Since then, he tried to hide a fractured throwing hand and saw two other quarterbacks start for the Jags.

With so little talent and a date with the top of the Draft, it’s reasonable to hope whoever calls the shots in Jacksonville is open to parting with Minshew in 2021. If a lackluster supporting cast is the reason for hope with Sam Darnold, it should also apply to the former Cougar.

Joe’s interest: I’m quite intrigued.

Sam Darnold

The argument for Sam Darnold starts with the idea that the Jets have been such a poor situation he almost has to succeed in a normal NFL ecosystem. When you stop to consider Jamison Crowder, Robby Anderson, or rookie Denzel Mims are the best receivers he’s thrown to so far in the league, it’s not the craziest idea.

Last week Joe Mahoney and I went back over every quarterback this century who’s started 16 games, and you’d be surprised how similar Lock’s numbers are to “rookie” Darnold’s:

  • QBA: 58% completion, 3464 yards, 20 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 37 sacks, 6.67 yards per attempt.
  • QBB: 59.69% completion, 3350 yards, 21 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 20 sacks, 6.56 yards per attempt.

Sam Darnold will probably be available via trade after New York hires the replacement for Adam Gase. Even after winning their way out of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, Joe Douglas will probably chase a rookie quarterback to rebuild the Jets around.

Joe’s interest: I’m intrigued.

Carson Wentz

Just about every red flag shows up if you consider Wentz for too long. He played so poorly this season that he was benched for a second round rookie who went on to outplay him. He has a significant injury history. 2021 will be the first year of his four year, $128 million extension. The dead cap tied to Wentz’s contract means it’s no guarantee he’s even available. His play this season combined with the cost in both dollars and draft picks to acquire him make him a strange fit for this Broncos roster.

Wentz is the kind of quarterback a team chases because they believe some combination of the injuries, coaching staff, and supporting cast held him back. They’re not the same person, but the Broncos just had one of these QBs in Joe Flacco. With a young roster and presumably a QB in Lock, decision-makers still have some hope that acquiring Wentz makes next to no sense. At all.

If the Broncos show signs that they’re interested in Carson Wentz, I promise to try to go back over his tape with an open mind. On this side of it, I’m not at all interested and hope the Broncos look elsewhere.

Joe’s interest: Nonexistent.

Jimmy Garappolo

Sort of the forgotten man in the 2021 QB talks, believe it or not, the 49ers were able to cut bait with Jimmy G after the Super Bowl last year. Doing so this off-season carries less than $3 million in dead money. Maybe Shanahan looks at his banged up roster and decides Garappolo is the best shot he has at another Super Bowl appearance. Or maybe Shanny looks at the market and decides he can find a better fit for his offense. Heck, maybe the Niners finish badly enough to believe they can package a few picks to trade up for one of the rookie passers in this upcoming class.

Beyond the potential availability, it’s hard to argue for Garappolo. Like Lock, he’s missed significant playing time over his NFL career. Thanks to injuries, Jimmy G has played in just about 54% of the 49ers games over the last three seasons. When he’s been on the field, he’s been a competent if limited passer. In a Shanahan offense that’s become infamous for how easy it makes life on the signal caller, it’s hard to imagine his performance won’t slip a bit in his next locale. If he becomes a free agent, he’s probably looking for a starting gig or a chance to fight his way to one. If he doesn’t, it’d take draft picks to acquire him and the Broncos would add a $20+ million QB contract to the books.

Joe’s interest: Very low.

Matthew Stafford

If the Broncos were done with patience and wanted to chase a Super Bowl title in 2021, there’s no option that makes more sense than Matthew Stafford. The first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft has almost 45,000 passing yards in his NFL career. He’s drawn rave reviews from guys like Aaron Rodgers. With 279 touchdowns to 143 picks, he’d step into the starting lineup as the finished product most hope Drew Lock will develop into.

Stafford will also cost a boatload of picks to acquire, as the Lions would eat roughly $20 million to move him. It also should be considered that he will turn 33 in February. While this isn’t necessarily old for a quarterback in the modern NFL, it’s at the end of what most consider the prime years. More concerning is his injury history.

Truth be told, I see Stafford as a big name to sell clicks more than a realistic option Elway will consider. If I’m wrong, I’ll reevaluate.

Joe’s interest: You could talk me into it.

The NFL Draft

Mathematically, it looks like the Broncos are set to pick between 7 and 13 in the upcoming NFL Draft. There are some scenarios where they could feasibly get to 5 or finish as low as 15, but neither looks likely.

This is significant, as it pertains to the quarterback position due to persistent speculation that the upcoming QB class will have three or even four players land inside the top five picks. We know Trevor Lawrence will go first, maybe second if the world is upside down in 2021. Justin Fields and Zach Wilson look like they’ll fight it out to be the next name called, while Trey Lance is on the outside looking in after a single game at North Dakota State this year.

Everything we’ve heard from analysts tied into the Broncos so far suggests they’re looking at Lock for QB1 in 2021. If Lock is getting a patient run at the starting job for another year, I’d rule out a first round quarterback and probably the Day two prospects as well. Keep in mind that things could change both quickly and quietly on this front. If the Broncos believe they need to trade up for a Wilson or Fields, we probably won’t know until they’re either in the talks or finalizing the deal.

Joe’s interest: Let me get back to you.

Poll

If they’re all available, who should Elway chase in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Mitch Trubisky
    (37 votes)
  • 17%
    Dak Prescott
    (747 votes)
  • 4%
    Marcus Mariota
    (205 votes)
  • 2%
    Derek Carr
    (119 votes)
  • 1%
    Jameis Winston
    (48 votes)
  • 1%
    Andy Dalton
    (64 votes)
  • 0%
    Cam Newton
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    Jacoby Brissett
    (39 votes)
  • 5%
    Gardner Minshew
    (232 votes)
  • 7%
    Sam Darnold
    (330 votes)
  • 1%
    Carson Wentz
    (60 votes)
  • 0%
    Jimmy Garappolo
    (38 votes)
  • 17%
    Matthew Stafford
    (757 votes)
  • 12%
    A rookie QB
    (549 votes)
  • 23%
    No one. Lock is the guy.
    (982 votes)
4224 votes total Vote Now