2016 Broncos Season — The Search for a Signal Caller
The Denver Broncos off-season is progressing, but there's still a lot of uncertainty about who plays quarterback. The NFL Draft begins Thursday, and that should bring some clarity. Until then, let's look at the options.
What we know: The Broncos have two quarterbacks on the roster — Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. They are the defending champions and neither of the two quarterbacks that played last season — Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler — is still on the roster. That's not ideal. John Elway has said the Broncos will have at least three — possibly four — quarterbacks in camp, and all will compete to be the starter. So who will that third man be? There are a number of possibilities.
Option 1: Trade for Colin Kaepernick
About: The Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers had a deal in place for this a few weeks ago. In fact, Kaepernick came to Denver and met with John Elway about the team and fit. The problem is, the financials don't work. Denver won't pay more than $7 million for another quarterback. Kapernick's salary is guaranteed for 2016 at $11.9 million. That's a $4.9 million difference. So far, no one has budged. Kapernick won't forfeit $4.9 million, and shouldn't. The 49ers don't want to pay $4.9 million for a player not on their roster. And the Broncos won't go over $7 million. Further complicating things is the fact the 49ers wanted to make this trade based on getting a top quarterback in the draft. With the Rams and Eagles moving up, that doesn't seem likely. That's why, in the words of John Elway, this trade appears to be "dead."
Option 2: Trade for Josh McCown
About: Broncos fans are cringing right now, but this was a legitimate discussion a few weeks ago. The Browns signed RG3 and seemed poised to draft a quarterback with the second pick. That made McCown expendable. Basically the thought has to be he's a veteran who can run an offense and compete. Of course, coming off a disastrous year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014 and one that wasn't much better in 2015 with the Browns, that's not saying much. Now, with the Browns having traded down in the draft and no longer likely to draft a quarterback, this seems like an unlikely proposition. Given RG3's injury history, the Browns would be wise to keep a veteran backup.
Option 3: Sign Ryan Fitzpatrick
About: Many pundits have salivated over this prospect since the Broncos have good receivers and Fitzpatrick looked solid for the New York Jets last season. However, this doesn't seem to have much traction. Fitzpatrick's best option is probably re-signing with the Jets. And there's also the problem of money. Fitzpatrick wants more than what the Broncos want to give. His options are getting more limited, but this still seems like a stretch for the Broncos.
Option 4: Sign Brian Hoyer
About: I wish this seemed like a stretch, but it actually seems like a distinct possibility. Hoyer interviewed with the Broncos last week, and could be the kind of affordable veteran that the team would look at. What sours people on Hoyer is memories of his playoff game. Four interceptions, a fumble, and a lop-sided loss will do that to you. But during the season he was... OK. With Houston he posted a 60.7 percent completion rate, 2,606 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven INTs. Not lighting the world on fire, but serviceable. With a decent running game and good defense, he could help the Broncos be contenders for the playoffs.
Option 5: Draft a quarterback
About: This seems to have the most traction. The Broncos are currently at the 31st pick in the first round. At that spot in mock drafts the Broncos have been projected to select either Paxton Lynch, out of Memphis, or Connor Cook, of Michigan State. Both are among the top five prospects at the position, but both are regarded as something of a project. In addition, the Broncos have looked at Christian Hackenberg, of Penn State, and Dak Prescott, of Mississippi. If they went that route, it would make sense to see them draft a quarterback in the second round or later. This, again, seems like a reasonable possibility and would give them two young players to compete at the position.
My Prediction: The Broncos draft a quarterback and roll with Mark Sanchez as the starter for one year.
Why: On the surface, this seems kind of crazy. How can the Super Bowl champs defend the title with Mark Sanchez as their man? First, it's important to look at what the Broncos had in terms of quarterbacking last season, to which you'd respond Peyton Manning, a surefire Hall of Fame player who holds most of the league's passing records. That's true, but last year's Peyton Manning wasn't the Manning we'd known and loved for so many seasons. Here were his stats: 10 games, 59.8 percent completions, 2,249 yards, nine TDs and 17 INTs. Yikes!
But what about Brock Osweiler, you say. Here's his numbers: 61.8 percent completions, 1,967 yards, 10 TDs and six INTs in eight games. That's not bad, but it is about on par with the numbers from Hoyer last season. Now consider Mark Sanchez's numbers during the 2014 season under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. In nine games he completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 2,418 yards, 14 TDs and 11 INTs. Again, feels about on par with last year's stats from Osweiler and Hoyer. Again, these aren't lighting the world on fire, but they could be serviceable depending on the team around them.
Bottom Line: Sanchez is a veteran who has a 4-2 playoff record and has played in two AFC title games. He's saying the right things, and I've been impressed with how he's carried himself with the Broncos. He even led an off season passing academy in Southern California. He's also an affordable option that is in the final year of a contract. That means that after 2016 if it doesn't work out, you can move on.
Drafting a quarterback — ideally Lynch or Cook in round one — gives you a prospect to learn and compete alongside Siemian, a player the Broncos are high on. After a year, one of them can step into the starting role, or you can search for another quarterback. Either way, given the Broncos' cap situation and the options available in the market, this makes the most sense.
I never thought I'd ever say this, but I could actually see Mark Sanchez being the right bridge quarterback to the next era for the Broncos.