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Can the Denver Broncos and Sean Payton land the NFL's next Baker Mayfield? Ranking the many candidates

Zac Stevens Avatar
January 22, 2024

With names such as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and C.J. Stroud starting at quarterback in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs over the weekend, Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield, believe it or not, were the only No. 1 overall picks starting at quarterback.

Wildly enough, they were also the only quarterbacks starting on teams that did not draft them.

In fact, both quarterbacks were kicked to the curb by their original teams. The Los Angeles Rams traded multiple first-round picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford and threw Goff in the trade as a bonus. Goff has been anything but a throw-in for the Lions as he’s quickly become Detroit’s franchise quarterback.

The Cleveland Browns shipped Mayfield to the Carolina Panthers for a mid-round pick after acquiring Deshaun Watson. After bouncing around from Carolina to the Los Angeles Rams in 2022, Mayfield won the starting job in Tampa Bay this year and led the Buccaneers on a playoff run.

If the Broncos move on from Russell Wilson, they’ll be in the market for a starting quarterback.

Could Sean Payton find his quarterback of the future by trying to revive the career of a former top pick in the draft?

There are plenty of players Payton and the Broncos could explore to find the next Goff or Mayfield.

Part 1 of this two part series will take a look at the surprisingly long list of quarterbacks drafted in or near the top 10 that will be free agents this year that the Broncos could potentially sign. Along this path, Denver would be attempting to find the next Baker Mayfield.

Part 2 of this series will focus on the quarterbacks drafted in or near the top 10 that Denver could trade for and hope to find their own version of Detroit’s Jared Goff.

Free Agent Signing — The Baker Mayfield Route

Listed from most realistic to least realistic

Jameis Winston

  • Drafted: No. 1 overall in 2015
  • Most recent team: Saints
  • 2023 stats: 264 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, 3 INTs, 53.2% completion, 57.4 passer rating, 35.7 QBR, 0 starts
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes.

This wouldn’t be the first time Sean Payton tried to revive the former No. 1 overall pick’s career. In the seven games Winston started for Payton in New Orleans, the Saints went 5-2 and Jameis threw for 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions. A reunion would make a whole lot of sense.

Sam Darnold

  • Drafted: No. 3 overall in 2018
  • Most recent team: 49ers
  • 2023 stats: 297 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, 1 INT, 60.9% completion, 85.1 passer rating, 49.6 QBR, 1 start
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes.

Darnold is about to be on his fourth different team since entering the NFL. Yet he’ll only be 27 years old. When San Francisco signed the former No. 3 overall pick last year, there was a belief he could take the starting job away from Brock Purdy. That did not happen. But if the Broncos sign him, he would certainly compete for Denver’s starting job.

Ryan Tannehill

  • Drafted: No. 8 overall in 2012
  • Most recent team: Titans
  • 2023 stats: 1,616 passing yards, 4 passing TDs, 7 INTs, 64.8% completion, 78.5 passer rating, 35.1 QBR, 8 starts
  • Could Denver afford him? Most likely.

After the first two seasons in Tennessee — in which Tannehill threw for 55 total touchdowns to only 13 interceptions — his career has gone straight downhill. Additionally, Tannehill is a few months older than Russell Wilson. If Denver goes after the veteran, he will be a bridge quarterback, not the future at the position.

Carson Wentz

  • Drafted: No. 2 overall in 2016
  • Most recent team: Rams
  • 2023 stats: 163 passing yards, 2 passing TDs, 1 INT, 70.8% completion, 99.8 passer rating, 90.4 QBR, 1 start
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes.

Wentz would almost literally be following in Mayfield’s footsteps if he were to have success as a team’s starting quarterback next year. Baker’s previous team was also the Rams. The former No. 2 overall pick, however, hasn’t been a team’s full-time starting quarterback since 2021. That year, he did have 27 touchdowns to only seven interceptions with the Colts.

Marcus Mariota

  • Drafted: No. 2 overall in 2015
  • Most recent team: Eagles
  • 2023 stats: 164 passing yards, 1 passing TD, 1 INT, 65.2% completion, 82.5 passer rating, 59.7 QBR, 0 starts
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes.

In the past four seasons, Mariota has only gone into one season as the team’s starting quarterback. He didn’t even finish that season as the team’s starter.

Baker Mayfield

  • Drafted: No. 1 overall in 2018
  • Most recent team: Buccaneers
  • 2023 stats: 4,044 passing yards, 28 passing TDs, 10 INTs, 64.3% completion, 94.6 passer rating, 54.4 QBR, 17 starts
  • Could Denver afford him? No.

The best way to replicate Baker Mayfield’s success with the Buccaneers this past year? Sign Baker Mayfield. Unfortunately, the No. 1 overall pick had too good of a season and the Broncos will not be able to afford him… if Tampa Bay even lets him hit free agency.

Josh Rosen

  • Drafted: No. 10 overall in 2018
  • Most recent team: Vikings practice squad in 2022
  • 2023 stats: Did not play
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes.

Rosen’s career is over.

Robert Griffin III

  • Drafted: No. 2 overall in 2012
  • Most recent team: Ravens in 2020
  • 2023 stats: Did not play
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes?

It feels like forever since Andrew Luck and RG3 played, yet Tannehill, who was in their draft class, started half of the Titans games this year. Obviously, this won’t happen.

Andrew Luck

  • Drafted: No. 1 overall in 2012
  • Most recent team: Colts in 2018
  • 2023 stats: Did not play
  • Could Denver afford him? Yes?

Could you imagine?

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