The Broncos face a lot of interesting decisions this offseason, so for the next couple weeks I’ll blog on the team’s question marks at each position group. First up, the quarterback spot:
Is Kyle Orton the answer? Orton started the season very well, and some prematurely wondered if he would be in the Pro Bowl. Well, the AFC has picked through eight quarterbacks because of replacements for injuries and the Super Bowl, and Orton wasn’t among them. The Pro Bowl voting is flawed, but there really hasn’t been a “What about Orton?” outcry as Jacksonville’s David Garrard got picked for the game (although, in fairness, Orton probably would have been a better pick). Orton’s stats show his strengths and weaknesses: He won’t make many mistakes and the Broncos can win with him, but unlike the top quarterbacks in the game, there aren’t many times when he will take the team on his back and win a game by himself – he didn’t have any transcendent performances during either of Denver’s four-game losing streaks, for example. And the problem for the Broncos is that they have to figure out what that is worth.
Orton is one of the players affected by the unrestricted/restricted free agency issue. If there’s no new collective-bargaining agreement, he will be restricted. If Orton is restricted they could put off the decision on offering a long-term contract for another year. But the Broncos will ultimately have to decide if they want to play it safe with Orton, a good but not great quarterback, or gamble they can find an elite-level quarterback.
What about the backup? For Broncos fans that don’t think Orton is the answer, there’s a small problem: It doesn’t appear anybody on the roster is the answer. Chris Simms didn’t play well when he got his chance and he might not be back. Having Tom Brandstater as the No. 2 would be risky. He looked good in his last two preseason games, and became quite popular among Broncos fans, but he still has a lot to prove considering his good games came in exhibitions against second- and third-stringers. Having some veteran stability behind Orton is probably prudent.
Will Denver draft a quarterback? Denver will have the 10th or 11th overall pick. What if one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen or Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, slip? Or what if Denver likes one of the second-tier quarterbacks a round later? After the season, coach Josh McDaniels didn’t rule out investing a high pick on a quarterback.
“Would I be opposed to drafting any position inside the top 10? If that’s the question, the answer is no,” McDaniels said. “Whoever the best player is for our team at that position, if we feel like that’s what we need, then we would do it.”
There are risks with that. Highly drafted quarterbacks have a notorious track record. And, as the Broncos found out in 2006 with Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler, having a veteran starter looking over his shoulder while being backed up by a big-name rookie can have a terrible impact on a season. While the Broncos will certainly do their homework, and most likely Clausen and Bradford will be drafted in the top nine picks anyway, if either one falls it will trigger a very interesting (and long-lasting) debate among Broncos fans.